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.