Not quite the Tharoor essential … – The New Indian Express

Express news service

Let’s be clear about this. If you have reveled in the refreshing shine Great Indian novel and turned the pages of Riot with a sort of dark musing, Pride, prejudice and punditry would not seem to be the essence of delight, or the incisive author, that may be Shashi Tharoor. But if you let that stop you from grabbing your copy of the book, you’ll be missing out on more than you think.

Pride, prejudice and punditry is a collection of 64 essays written over the past two decades, plus 11 works of fiction and poetry.

Tharoor classifies the essays into 10 groups – the giants (of modern India), Indian politics, the world, on the Hindu way, cricket, humor, “the word” and on “the life of a writer” . Almost all of the essays are reprints, excerpts, or improved versions of things already published, and therefore may not be of great novelty value to a Tharoor aficionado. Most of the essays, in the different categories, don’t reach the kind of height that Tharoor’s past works would make you expect. And yet, there is something about this book that you won’t easily find between two other covers.

READ ALSO | The importance of being Shashi Tharoor

The series of essays on the giants of modern India, for example, is for the most part quite tasteless. For someone who has brilliantly performed Mahatma Gandhi as Bhishma and Jawaharlal Nehru as Dhritarashtra, Tharoor’s essays on Gandhi and Nehru are pretty mundane. The appropriation of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel by Narendra Modi is a bit disappointing. But his essay on Rabindranath Tagore is of a whole different kind – not without criticism (hence the charm), but sincere in the appreciation of what was worth praising in Tagore.

Perhaps the best series of essays is the one that talks about Tharoor’s time at the United Nations (UN), almost reaching the top. The inspired defense of the UN as an organization is far superior to any centerpiece by any political scientist or encyclopedia entry. This was probably because he had lived some of his best years looking at the organization from the inside out. The essay on former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (who happily signs “Free Man” after being mistaken for the actor, who looks as much like Mandela as he does) is overflowing with a kind of affection. and tenderness that is rare in public life these days.

Tharoor’s heartfelt account of his abortive candidacy for the post of UN Secretary-General, without malice to any, and with a hint of disappointment, is extremely valuable to anyone interested in the world of diplomacy – even though Tharoor barely raised the curtain in that direction.

Essays on Indian politics are of the usual type, nothing pleasantly original or assiduously elaborate. But the essay in which the writer talks about her own contacts and thoughts on Narendra Modi is completely different in her perspective on the man members of Congress have grown to hate without knowing why. The demonization of the Prime Minister prevents engagement in the phenomenon that is Narendra Modi, and Tharoor avoids that. He praises Modi where he thinks it is due, and challenges the Prime Minister where he thinks the man and the phenomenon need to be questioned.

It is by challenging Modi and his form of Hindutva politics that Tharoor consciously opens up. In another series of essays, he talks about being a Hindu by belief and practice. While not refreshingly original, the value lies in Tharoor challenging the Hindutva narrative not by striking dozens of temples ahead of the election, but by wrapping up the truth about Indian society and the world in general by using Hindu terms of reference – i.e. refusing to let Hindu nationalists dominate the discourse on Hinduism with their hate propaganda.

Among the connoisseurs of Indian English authors, Shashi Tharoor is a name that promises a lot, delivers a lot and delights the connoisseur with his gift of the English language. He has recently become the butt of ridicule among a section of Indians who hate his command of the language because they hate his politics. If you are influenced by these trolls and memes, you don’t have to worry about this book. If, on the other hand, you like to read good English prose, invest your money in Pride, prejudice and punditry. Is it worth it.

Pride, Prejudice and Punditry: The Basics Shashi Tharoor
By: Shashi Tharoor
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Pages: 600
Price: Rs 999

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