Shashi Tharoor at KLM on Friday. (Anindya Shankar Ray)
The next session was supposed to be on “faith, fiction and fame” but the “devotee” came an hour early on Day 3 of the Kolkata Literary Meet, being held at the Book Fair in association with The Telegraph.
“Call me your devotee, Sir,” gushed and blushed a lady in red when Shashi Tharoor took the Lit Meet stage on Friday evening for a session titled “Thoroughly Tharoor”. And thoroughly Tharoor it was, more so for the women in the packed auditorium, if the questions were any indication.
“With due respect to Sunanda Ma’am (his wife), may I please take home that bottle?” the lady continued, pointing to a mineral water bottle from which Tharoor had been sipping for the past 40 minutes.
She was not alone. A young law student took the mike when the floor was opened for questions and said, “Sir, you are very, very handsome. Even my mother thinks you are very, very handsome. I want to know, how do you handle all this attention from female fans?”
Even as the Google Dome, where the Lit Meet is being held, erupted in laughter, the dapper minister-writer smiled calmly and quipped: “I embrace it but not them.”
Tharoor was in conversation with writer-economist Sanjeev Sanyal on his journey as a writer over the decades. “I started writing when I was six, and I published my first piece when I was 10,” said Tharoor.
The evening saw a vibrant discussion on his early short stories — some of them are set in Calcutta or written when he was growing up here — as well as his fiction and non-fiction titles. Having delivered his last non-fiction book, Pax Indica, in the middle of last year, Tharoor revealed he was now writing fiction again, after a gap of 12 years, the last being Riot in 2001.
“But I had barely written two pages when I was made minister (of state for HRD) and in the last three months, I haven’t put down a single word for the novel.”
While others in the audience quizzed Tharoor the writer, a student of St. Xavier’s College had a question for Tharoor the politician.
“Salman Rushdie was supposed to come to the Kolkata Literary Meet but he wasn’t allowed to. How would you as a politician and Congressman deal with such a situation?”
It was Tharoor the diplomat who answered. “As a minister one may not speak about another government’s action but generally I would like to say that we are living in a culture of competitive intolerance. I would much rather we lived in a culture of competitive tolerance.”
And what about the bottle? As he stepped off stage, Tharoor made sure the “devotee” was not denied.