Stories from Tharoor junior

Kanishk Tharoor follows in dad’s writerly footsteps

  • Published 15.01.16
Kanishk Tharoor signs a copy of Swimmer Among the Stars: Stories for a reader at Oxford Bookstore. Picture: Pabitra Das

A self-confessed “history nerd”, Kanishk Tharoor, who though “sold his soul to academic history”, always wanted to “exercise his interest through fiction”. With his maiden collection of short stories, Swimmer Among the Stars: Stories (Aleph Book Company, Rs 499), writer-MP Shashi Tharoor’s son seems to have realised his dream. 

Author Amit Chaudhuri launched the book at Oxford Bookstore on January 6. In the audience sat Kanishk’s mother

Tilottama Mukherji as well as authors such as Devdan Chaudhuri, Saroj Mukherji, Ruchir Joshi and Jayant Kripalani.

Chaudhuri called the young man a “writer of peculiarity”. Kanishk’s literary style reminded him of Walter Benjamin’s work on Franz Kafka, he said, but was quick to mention that Kanishk’s stories were not political allegories and concluded that he was a “genuinely interesting writer”.

While answering a question from the audience, Kanishk pointed out that though his stories dealt with estrangement and a sense of dislocation, he did not want them to be linked with his life. There is a world beyond him which attracted and inspired him. For instance, the story A United Nations in Space was inspired by a news report — the Libyan parliament taking refuge in a Greek car ferry in 2014 in order to escape the civil war.

Born to an eminent father who spent more than two decades in the United Nations and a mother who is a professor of literature, Kanishk described how his childhood was spent in a house full of books, how politics has always been a part of their family conversations and how as a child he and his brother were always entitled to have an opinion. As a child, he had heard about an elephant that was sent to Morocco as a diplomatic gesture. This inspired his first story in the book, Elephant at Sea. 

Kanishk majored in both history and literature from Yale University. He called the past his “second home”. Therefore turning to the past for source material came naturally to him. As a child, the first set of stories that he had written was rather improbable, he said, about a naval captain set in the Mauryan empire! 

Kanishk emphasised the apolitical aspect of his stories. He read an excerpt out of Tale of the Teahouse, set in, as he described, “some apocryphal city in Central Asia”, but the tea house was inspired by the cha-khana of Calcutta. The real inspiration for the story was the film The Fall of Otrar (1991). But he revealed how his story was thought to be inspired by the siege of Baghdad and he got the taste of how an author’s work can be interpreted, even misinterpreted, in different ways.

The author also read out from the eponymous story, Swimmer Among the Stars, which revolves around an issue that is close to his heart — the disappearance of languages. 

“Languages interest me because of the way they can divide the world and the experience of it. And we as authors play a role in the disappearance of languages, because we choose to write in English instead of our mother tongues,” he said. 

Kanishk is currently working on a novel. He revealed that the thing he aspired to was consistency and that pure moments of inspiration often came in the shower.

What: Swimmer Among the Stars: Stories, a collection of short stories.
Who: Kanishk Tharoor, debut writer. You’d have read his articles in various foreign and Indian publications. 
PS: He’s the son of writer-MP Shashi Tharoor.

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