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What did Shashi Tharoor ‘throw out the window’ at his book launch?

Writer-MP discusses writing, wordplay and Wodehouse at the launch of ‘Pride, Prejudice and Punditry’

Priyam Marik | Published 21.12.21, 04:00 PM
Besides containing all his major non-fiction articles, 'Pride, Prejudice and Punditry' also has excerpts from Tharoor’s three novels

Besides containing all his major non-fiction articles, 'Pride, Prejudice and Punditry' also has excerpts from Tharoor’s three novels

Amit Datta

After more than 40 years of published writings and over five million words to his name in print, how does Shashi Tharoor keep churning out ideas? Is there no such thing as a saturation point for him?

“I have ideas bubbling over in my mind all the time. Unlike some writers, who only have one story to tell and find 15 different ways of doing so, I try to make each of my books different from the other,” smiled Tharoor.

The prolific writer and MP from Thiruvananthapuram was in Kolkata over the weekend to unveil his latest book, Pride, Prejudice and Punditry at a session titled Kitaab, organised by Prabha Khaitan Foundation, at ITC Sonar. 

Pride, Prejudice and Punditry, which is a collection of Tharoor’s writings across fiction, non-fiction and poetry, was launched by actor-MP Mimi Chakraborty, followed by a conversation between Tharoor and dancer Shinjini Kulkarni.

Tharoor with fellow Parliamentarian Mimi Chakraborty

Tharoor with fellow Parliamentarian Mimi Chakraborty

Amit Datta

“When was the first time you wielded a pen to write a book?” Kulkarni began, to which Tharoor replied: “I have never actually used a pen for a book, since I was an early adopter of word processing. My first book, Reasons of State (1982), was diligently produced on a typewriter.”

Aside from the light banter, Kulkarni also touched upon critically relevant issues of the day, asking Tharoor on his differentiation of “nationalism” and “patriotism” and whether it was something more substantial than semantic hairsplitting. “Patriotism is about love for your country, but nationalism is a sort of blind love that puts your country first, above all else, which is why nationalism can be harmful,” the diplomat-turned-politician replied. 

Formative influences

The conversation segued into Tharoor’s formative influences and the role of P.G. Wodehouse in making him the writer he is today. “I haven’t written much like Wodehouse, but I’ve read him for pleasure since I was 11. Some of his work may seem quite silly and light-hearted, but they also constitute a source of escape, particularly in today’s world,” said Tharoor, who admitted that he had prepared several drafts of a letter to be sent to Wodehouse while being a member of the Wodehouse Society at St. Stephen’s College. Unfortunately, Tharoor had rejected each of those drafts himself: “I was never satisfied, and then the man eventually passed away.”

Shinjini Kulkarni and Shashi Tharoor

Shinjini Kulkarni and Shashi Tharoor

Amit Datta

Wodehousian humour led Kulkarni to ask Tharoor about his stand-up comedy act a couple of years ago. “I enjoy a good laugh and don’t mind humour that is produced at my expense either. Sadly, as a country, we are a fairly humourless breed, especially in politics where being funny can often prove to be dangerous,” Tharoor pointed out.

As for Tharoor’s favourite word, one of India’s most famous wordsmiths admitted that he was “particularly fond of ‘defenestrate’, which means to throw someone out of a window, but it’s a word that can be used figuratively in several contexts.”

Had his life as a politician “thrown out the window” the fiction writer in him then, one wonders. 

While concluding the session, Tharoor held out hope for his readers, tongue firmly in eloquent cheek. “If my voters return me to the world of fiction, I’d be happy to write another novel (his last was Riot in 2001). But in order to write fiction, you need not just time, which is scarce enough for me already, but also a space inside your head that can populate a parallel universe.” 

Tharoor also took questions from the audience, some of which produced interesting answers.

Tharoor is swarmed by admirers as he signs copies of his book

Tharoor is swarmed by admirers as he signs copies of his book

Amit Datta

In response to his choice of title, Tharoor said, “‘Pride’ is for my pride as an Indian in all things Indian, ‘Prejudice’ is for those whom I have attacked for their prejudice, and ‘Punditry’ is for everything I choose to have an opinion on… At the end of the day, the title revolves around my experience as an Indian, which is an identity I take very seriously. India matters to me and I hope to matter to India.”

Making things awkward

Finally, when asked about his memorable speech chastising British colonialism at Oxford Union in 2015, Tharoor narrated how the “speech had made things a bit awkward ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United Kingdom later in 2015. I got a call from the PMO asking me how I thought the matter should be handled, whether the Prime Minister should bring up the British injustices against India as mentioned in my speech or whether he should ignore it. I suggested that he say something along the lines of, ‘While people have come here and addressed what has happened in the past, my visit is about focusing on relations between our countries in the future.’ So, you can rest assured that I didn’t scupper the Prime Minister’s visit in any way!”

Amit Datta

I have been a fan of Dr. Tharoor’s writing for a long time now. I’m heavily into non-fiction, especially when it comes to his books. As usual, he had all of our undivided attention. I’m also glad to have got the chance to catch up with him after the event. He had previously signed a copy of the book for me, which is quite something!

Arjun Chakrabarty, actor

Last updated on 21.12.21, 04:00 PM
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