Indian journalist and writer Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay in conversation with Kitaab’s Interviews Editor, Dr. Debotri Dhar

Women are shown in the (love jihad) campaign as being incapable of taking independent decisions – they can only be seduced or abducted; they cannot, by choice, fall in love with a man of another community […] Religion today is not a route to finding peace. It is a tool to subjugate the enemy other.

Nilanjan MukhopadhyayWhen one reads Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay (columnist and author of The Demolition: India at the Crossroads and Narendra Modi, The Man, The Times, published by Harper Collins and Westland respectively), one is immediately struck by his incisive understanding of Indian politics. Engaging in knee-jerk generalizations may be particularly easy given the currently polarized political climate, but his critiques are more meticulous–and munificent when they need to be.

When we first got in touch, I absent-mindedly addressed him as Professor Mukhopadhyay (as an academic, “Dr. and “Prof.” being my default modes). He wryly confessed that he was not a fan of formal education, and was a college dropout. (“Couldn’t resist that wisecrack!” he said.) As someone who agrees that college can sometimes seriously interfere with education, I was delighted. “Then I shall always address you as Prof. M,” I responded, with equal parts of affection and admiration. In our chat below, he generously shares his views on religion, right wing politics, journalism, “love jihad”, Modi, masjid, gender, caste, and the challenges ahead for Indian democracy.

Did you always want to be a journalist? Do share some of your insights on journalism.

I couldn’t have been anything else but a journalist because of the unplanned manner in which I got into the profession. I joined Jawaharlal Nehru University almost straight out of school, to pursue a 5 yr integrated MA course in Russian Language & Literature. But I had an unarticulated angst against formal education. I wanted to be a self-made person and did not wish this route to be through formal education. But by the time I came to JNU, the option of becoming an entrepreneur was foreclosed. I did make some money on the side by picking up stray assignments as a guide for Russian tourists but did not see myself as a lifelong ‘Raju Guide’ type.

I also used to take pictures at the time and was secretary of the photo club, and a friend who was working in a monthly magazine asked if I was willing to do the photos for a story on Chambal dacoits. This was in 1981-82, prior to the big surrenders of Malkhan Singh and Phoolan Devi. I did the pictures and when they were published, I quite liked seeing my name in print – my first byline. Around the same time, a Mrinal Sen retrospective was being screened. During a break, a friend and I saw Mrinal Da in the lobby and mustered courage to seek an interview. He heard that we were students and invited us for breakfast the next day at the hotel where he was staying. I typed out the interview after transcribing it by hand from my tape recorder. That was the first time I had typed anything – and with a single finger, one on each hand!

Shashi TharoorUnlike many Indian writers, Dr. Shashi Tharoor needs no introduction. India has not produced many charming, suave and articulate writer-politicians like him. He served as the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations for 29 years, and thereafter joined the rough and rumble of Indian politics. He was a former Minister of State for External Affairs in the Government of India and currently serves as a Member of Parliament from the Thiruvananthapuram constituency in the Indian state of Kerala. His latest book is India Shastra: Reflections on the Nation in our Time, a collection of 100 essays on contemporary India and events from its recent history that have contributed to its present state of affairs in the political, social, economic, cultural and communal arenas.

Kitaab’s Editor-in-Chief Zafar Anjum interviewed Dr. Tharoor in connection with his recent book.

India Shastra is a collection of 100 essays written by you over several years. Being an active politician, how do you find time to write essays? Is disciple crucial for you as a writer?

Dr. Shashi Tharoor: Discipline is crucial for any productive activity, but in my case it really has been a question of finding time despite my best efforts! I won’t deny that I have some experience in getting 24 hours out of every day, since all my books were written alongside demanding, full-time professional life as well, first at the United Nations and now in the service of the people of Thiruvananthapuram who have given me a renewed mandate as their Member of Parliament. I must confess it is easier to write essays — and at the next level, publishable non-fiction– than it is to write fiction. With the former, once I know what I want to convey, it is merely a question of sitting down and articulating it in so many words. If I am interrupted by my other work while writing, I can always go back to the essay, pick up the threads and finish the argument. With fiction, on the other hand, one has to weave a world of the imagination and an alternate reality, to which even a minor distraction could do damage, as a testament to which you will find numerous unfinished drafts of novels I had to discard not just because of lack of time but more due to the frequent interruptions that shattered my fictional worlds. That is why my works of fiction have been fewer than my non-fiction books, though I am now planning to sacrifice a couple more hours of sleep and determined to bring to life a novel that has been in the making in my mind for some time now.