Shashi Tharoor’s Bookless in Baghdad

bookless in baghdad

I write, as George Bernard Shaw said, for the same reason a cow gives milk: it is inside me, it is got to come out, and in a real sense I would die if I could not – Shashi Tharoor in The Hindu dt September 16, 2001.

One would think what an self-absorbed writer Shashi Tharoor would be with those lines comparing him to Bernard Shah or even thinking about him on the same lines as the bearded great. At least I was offended when I read this on the newspaper, back in 2001. What next ? I started to read his subsequent columns. Ever since, the only time I got a little bored was when Tharoor started delving into Mahabharata. I actually enjoyed reading his columns on a Sunday Hindu. It even led me to read his books Riot and The Great Indian Novel. By now, I’m absolutely sure that Shashi Tharoor is a gifted writer. Not only he writes lucidly but he also makes his point loud and clear. One could sense the sides he takes, even during the beginning of a column.

Bookless in Baghdad is Shashi Tharoor’s latest book. Its a collection of essays primarily on literature and writers. And its arousing to read a writer’s take on other writers. Not just that but also the political and social commentaries keep this book afresh. Though this book should have been clearly named anything other than Bookless in Baghdad, the book delivers all your would expect as a reader. Bookless in Baghdad is the name of a column which describes Tharoor’s wandering in Baghdad. The title of the book is more of a sales pitch than a perfect title. So we can forgive the publishers for the want of more sales than an eternal title. Some of the selected columns have been written for Hindu. And this was the special book that I never disclosed but mentioned in a previous post.

The essay that moved me is the analogy of India in comparison to the epic Mahabharata. As mentioned earlier for someone like me who was bored by his lectures on Mahabharata, this was a cool take. Shashi Tharoor, to what I’ve read from his novels and columns, believes and makes you agree that the plurality of India is it’s biggest strength. This is clearly reflected in this essay and makes one feel proud about the land he comes from. I am sure this is not cheap patriotism selling but a realistic analysis on India’s strengths and of course it’s weaknesses. If you are the type of dude who thinks India is loud and laughable, this is dedicated for your, departed soul.

In essays about books & writers, I just couldn’t say how much I’m impressed with this man’s prodigious talent. Even the first essay details books, childhood and his growing up with books. From Enid Blyton to Hardy Boys, Shashi Tharoor has grown up exactly the same way you, me or any middle-class Indian would grow. You would be instantly attached to this book just after this first essay. It certainly brought back my childhood memories and made me yearn for those read-like-crazy days. Thats probably one reason, I was feeling lost and rambling about not been able to read books as before.

Heck !! even if you are not a PG Wodehouse fan you would appreciate the heights of stardom PG enjoys in India. An essay centers around PG Wodehouse and his everlasting books. Not to mention the special interest of Shashi tharoor on PG Wodehouse. Shashi Tharoor seems to be a big fan of Salman Rusdhie and has been covering most of Rushdie’s books and appearances whenever he gets leisure time. His essay on Salman’s re-appearance after fatwa and the aftermath was just gossip to me. His tribute to RK Narayan was at its best. Even as a staunch hater(!!) of RKN, Tharoor writes about the loss of RKN and how the literary world would miss him. I didn’t find myself at ease in this essay but I’ve to say its one’s choice. Also I found Shashi Tharoor to make some fairly arguable arguments on the old man’s writings.

Though I couldn’t relate too much to the essay, or I should call it a boast, on St Stephen literary skills, I think it was one essay which Tharoor was wanting to get out for a long time. It was an attribute to his college and we can excuse that as a trade-off for his classy narration of Neruda’s poems.

If you are an aspirin or aspiring writer/reader, start here for Shashi Tharoor. Not only you would chance on a guy so prodigious also you would harmonize that he possibly be one of the best writers from India, for a long time to come.

15 responses to “Shashi Tharoor’s Bookless in Baghdad”

  1. Chenthil Avatar

    The comments for this post will not get into double digits 🙂


  2. VK Avatar

    Hi Lazy…which web hosting are u using ? where did u register the domain ?? i need some info on that…please do mail me


  3. Arun Avatar

    Hi Lazy,
    Shashi Tharoor was one of the personalities who was honoured in recently concluded IAAC. I saw him in the opening night ceremony and this article triggers me to read his book.

    Regards,Arun Vaidyanathan


  4. Dreamweaver Avatar

    The great Indian Novel is the best retelling of Mahabharata that I have come across. Of course, Maniratnam’s Thalapathi comes a very close second.

    Nice post again.


  5. Nilu Avatar

    Sashi Tharoor is one guy I hate for being a commie and still read.

    But best from India? You are kidding right?


  6. tilo Avatar

    Chenthil :-).


  7. senthil Avatar

    lazy is definitely of best is too much for this very average writer.


  8. Lazy Geek Avatar

    Ammani, Sorry about that. I was still making corrections to that and you were too early. Still, fulla padam paakama release pannathu en thapputhaan !!

    Chenthil, I know you are just right and talking from experience here.

    VK, I went with Great support from them.Registered with an indian domain registrar.

    Arun, I bet you should be reading this. Most certain.

    Dreamweaver, Yes it is the best re-telling of Mahabharata and thats one reason, I’m upset about him talking about the epic again and again. kind of boring.

    Nilu and Senthil, I am saying he could be one of the best in the long time to come. If it was mis-leading, I’m sorry. I think the best is Tagore, Bharathi, RKN and Salman Rushdie. Naipaul is just close but not there atleast thats my list.

    Senthil, If you have read TGIN of Tharoor you would agree or have you read it already ?


  9. Nilu Avatar

    Here is to diprove Chenthil 😉


  10. Zero Avatar

    Nilu, you beat me! 😉


  11. Chenthil Avatar

    It is sabotage 🙂


  12. tilo Avatar

    Chenthil – I still declare you the winner here


  13. Lazy Geek Avatar

    However, the post has more than 10 comments, most of them is this game of getting two digit numbers, including this comment.


  14. raj Avatar

    no of relevant comments = 5. This one makes it 6:-)
    shashi taroor’s columns – strangely, lazy , I got around to reading his columns around the same time in 2001 with the same GB Shaw quote catching my attention. It helped that he frequently touched upon PGW. Remember a good article on PGW’s popularity enduring in India and waning in England.

    Amidst th HAHK’s and EGLE’s , do keep writing such stuff. Gotta go and get this book. Cheerio.


  15. Ram Prasad Avatar

    I wanted to share the one sentence from “Bookless in Baghdad” that I loved the most. This one shows up right towards the end of the book’s Preface. Shashi Tharoor is talking about the pleasures that books have given him:

    “To me, books are like the toddy tapper’s hatchet, striking through the rough husk that enshrouds our minds to tap into the exhilaration that ferments within.”


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