His father, Chandran Tharoor, and my father, Tharoor Damodar, were cousins. I do not remember having met Shashi Tharoor (former Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information at the United Nations and senior advisor to the Secretary General) although I do remember meeting his father once, and visiting the wonderful home of Parameswar Uncle (Tharoor Parameswar, Chandran Uncle’s elder brother, headed Reader’s Digest in India for many years in Bombay) in 1975. My father, Parameswar Uncle and Chandran Uncle were good friends, a friendship that lasted years. When my dad passed away in 1984, their condolence letters were among the first to arrive. We still have those letters.
Shashi, like me, has a Calcutta connection. He studied in the City of Joy and then in the mid-1970s left the city to pursue higher studies. He completed a Ph. D. in 1978 at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he received the Robert B. Stewart Prize for Best Student. I had always wanted to meet him but somehow never got around to. In January this year, I had met his mother, Lily Aunty as we call her, in Palakkad.
Well, I finally managed to catch up with Dr. Tharoor earlier this week at the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, which along with the Madras Book Club, had arranged for him to speak about his new book, The Elephant, The Tiger, & The Cell Phone. In spite of heavy rain, the auditorium was packed and many had to stand or sit outside the main hall. It was, of course, vintage Shashi Tharoor. Talking about the lethargic (elephant), sprightly (tiger) and modern India (cell phone), Shashi painted a broad canvas that took a macro view of the country that was and is. It is not possible to write all that he said into a blog like this.
The Elephant, The Tiger, & The Cell Phone describes the vast changes that have taken place to turn sleeping India into a country that has made a mark in science and technology, a country that today has a middle class population of more than 300,000,000, as large as the population of the United States. The book is divided into five parts – politics, economy, culture, society and sport – and in it Shashi dwells on the pros and cons of the rapidly changing world.
I asked him how he felt while running for the post of UN Secretary General, whether he had any regrets at losing out to the Korean. He said that he felt he had a fair chance of winning, otherwise he would not have stood at all. He had come second out of seven candidates, and that it was not so bad. Yes, he is enjoying his new freedom, able to paint on a wider canvas.
Shashi is now chairman of the Dubai-based Afras ventures. He had joined the staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva in 1978. His key responsibilities included peacekeeping after the Cold War. In January 1998, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, named him the ‘Global Leader of Tomorrow’.
Shashi is the award-winning author of nine books (including the Commonwealth Writers’ prize), as well as hundreds of articles, op-eds, and book reviews in many publications including the
New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the International Herald Tribune, Time, and Newsweek.He has been writing a fortnightly column in The Hindu since 2001 and now also writes a weekly column for The Times of India.
Pic: With Dr. Shashi Tharoor