Book review by Debraj Mookerjee
Title: The Hindu Way – An Introduction to Hinduism
Author: Shashi Tharoor
Publisher: Aleph; 2019
At sixty-four (though he does not look his age), the last thing you wish to remind readers about Shashi Tharoor, diplomat, litterateur and now politician, is that he was once a prodigy. But indeed, he was. An outstanding achiever in college, he graduated with history in 1975 from St Stephen’s College, Delhi, where he was elected president of the student union, and also helped found the Quiz Club. By 1976, he had an MA in International Relations from The Fletcher School at Tufts University in the US. In 1977, he earned a master’s in law and Diplomacy, and in 1978, at age 22, he was awarded a Ph.D. at Tufts. After a three-decade old career with the United Nations, Tharoor decided it was time he tried his hand in politics. At the UN he has played referee; it was time to actually start playing the game by taking to the field. Sought by all political parties, he decided to join the Indian National Congress. He has since won two consecutive terms to the Indian Parliament from his parent state of Kerala.
The Hindu Way, his twenty-first publication, embodies a bit of everything that represents him. It reveals the extent of his scholarship and knowledge, especially on a subject that is difficult and complex and diverse (Hindu philosophy presents deep challenges even to lifelong scholars). It marks out the territory he wishes to reach by way of an international readership that might be interested in discovering the tenets of Hindu thought. And most significantly, it foregrounds Tharoor the politician. More on the third and final assertion later, for that is almost the real story within this story. And nothing, please, on the numerous controversies that have underlined his journey through public affairs; this is a book review, not a vanity piece.
Among his numerous nonfictional works, perhaps the most interesting and widely regarded is the 2016 book that emerged from the 5 million YouTube views his Oxford debate participation of 2015 earned, wherein he tore into the colonial exploitation of India with panache, marshalling facts and subtle arguments to disrobe all pretence that British rule in India might have donned. An Era of Darkness (2016) published in the UK as Inglorious Empire (2017) solidified an opinion held by many – Tharoor’s years spent with the UN were not wasted; he brings great nuance and arguments into the public sphere with linguistic elegance that is matched by few. In 2018, he published Why I am a Hindu. The Wikipedia entry on the work is spot on, “Tharoor intended the book to be a repudiation of Hindu nationalism, and its rise in Indian society, which relied upon an interpretation of the religion which was markedly different from the one with which he had grown up, and was familiar with. In seeking to address this concern, he wanted to position the debate as one within the Hindu faith, and therefore wrote about his own personal identification with the religion.”