In every person’s life there comes a time when nothing seems to be going right. It seems to be easier to give up than try and struggle through the situation. In such situations, when one is looking for a ray of light to shine through the darkness, what better than reading about other people who have struggled and come out winners? In sharing (and reliving) the experiences of these people, one may find solace and inspiration. Autobiographies of some people are living proof of how ordinary men can lead extraordinary lives. They are inspirational in that they are of men from among us who took the road less travelled and created a new path for everyone else to follow.
There are undoubtedly many autobiographies available today; in fact so many that one may not even recognize the authors, let alone feel compelled to read about their lives! Yet there are some timeless tales of courage, strength, determination and complete faith in the Supreme Power that can reach out and touch lives despite cultural, religious or language barriers. I have enlisted some of them below and these must feature on everyone’s reading list. They are stories of courage and faith that gave these people strength to find a way where none existed.
Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
The life of the man who started the movement to abolish apartheid in South African – Nelson Mandela – has to be one of the most inspirational books to read. Set against the backdrop of slavery and racial discrimination, this is the story of a young man who dared to hope of freedom when even dreams were not permissible. This book is the description of the political situation existing in South Africa and one man’s struggle to change it. Despite some 28 odd years’ imprisonment, this man emerged from confinement knowing that his wait was definitely worth it. He went on to become the President of his country and his fight for human rights was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize.
The book was made into a movie just last year with Idris Elba playing Nelson Mandela.
Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth
Mahatma Gandhi was born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and little did he know that one day he would be renowned as the Father of the Nation he belonged to. This book tells his life story, from early childhood to the inception of the ahimsa or non-violence movement. Gandhi was not the ideal child in his youth; in fact he narrates quite vividly his experiments with all things forbidden to one of his background. As the title suggests, Gandhi spent his life experimenting with the various aspects of truth that left a profound impact on him and his way of thinking. It is a book that accounts for the various steps he took in his quest which ultimately led him closer to the Supreme Power. For those trying to follow the path of truth, this book can be an eye-opener as it narrates not only the success but warns against possible failures as well.
Autobiography of a Yogi – Paramhansa Yogananda
With people like Steve Jobs and Elvis Presley claiming to read this book for inspiration, it is undoubtedly one of the must-read books of the millennium. The Autobiography is a simply written book that talks about the author’s love of God and his search for the Spiritual Guru who would help him attain enlightenment. With the help and blessings of his Guru, Yukteshwar Giri, the author set-up the first Yogoda School and later travelled to America to establish the Self-Realization Fellowship. The book recounts the Yogi’s meeting with different spiritually inclined personalities who made him feel the presence of the Divine even more. Though born as an ordinary man, his life was extraordinary because of the faith he felt in a Power beyond his understanding. This book is an inspiration for those who seek enlightenment as well as those who disbelieve spiritual miracles. The narration is simplistic, yet it is filled with description and images (when possible) and emphasizes that God is omnipresent.
My Land and My People: The Original Autobiography of His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet
Also referred to simply as His Holiness, the Dalai Lama is a personality revered not only by the Tibetans, but all those who come in contact with him. There is none who has not been moved by the compassion and generosity that emanates from his physical presence; and the same has been captured in his autobiography. In his book, the Dalai Lama talks about the suffering of a small peace-loving community at the hands of the mighty Chinese. It is the story of faith and determination even while looking death in the eye. This first narrative by the Dalai Lama fills hearts with empathy while also educating us with the actual incidents that surround the event.
The Story of My life (Enriched Classics) – Helen Keller
A book dedicated to the inventor of the modern mode of communication, Alexander Graham Bell, this book is the story of Helen Keller. Born as a normal child, Helen Keller was trapped in a world of her own when she became deaf and blind at the age of nineteen months. Though destined to a life of isolation, Helen challenged all possible obstacles through sheer grit and determination. She was crippled with the loss of two senses important for communication, but honed her skills in the other three to experience life. She used her own disability as the platform to advocate for opportunities to others in similar situations. She campaigned for many causes that could be considered progressive for the times she lived in. It is an amazing read simply because it opens doors to a world that we live in but have not fully discovered with all our senses.
The abovementioned books are five of the most inspirational autobiographies of all time. On the surface, the selection of the books may seem incongruent, but there is an underlying current that unites them all. They are stories of courage and determination. They are tales of lives dedicated to bringing about a change for the greater good. They are all the struggle of ordinary persons in their journey towards the extraordinaire. They all talk about how they ploughed on despite the obstacles that constantly hindered their passage. They did not give up when one of lesser conviction might have, and they inspire us to do the same.