By the end of the nineteenth century, India was Britain’s biggest source of revenue, the world’s biggest purchaser of British exports and the source of highly paid employment for British civil servants and soldiers all at India’s own expense. We literally paid for our own oppression.
Taxation remained onerous. Agricultural taxes amounted at a minimum to half the gross produce and often more, leaving the cultivator less food than he needed to support himself and his family; British estimates conceded that taxation was two or three times higher than it had ever been under non-British rule, and unarguably higher than in any other country in the world. Each of the British ‘presidencies’ remitted vast sums of ‘savings’ to England, as of course did English civil servants, merchants and soldiers employed in India. (After a mere twenty-four years of service, punctuated by and including four years of ‘home leave’ furloughs, the British civil servant was entitled to retire at home on a generous pension paid for by Indian taxpayers: Ramsay MacDonald estimated in the late 1920s that some 7,500 Englishmen were receiving some twenty million pounds annually from India as pension.)
While British revenues soared, the national debt of India multiplied exponentially. Half of India’s revenues went out of India, mainly to England. Indian taxes paid not only for the British Indian Army in India, which was ostensibly maintaining India’s security, but also for a wide variety of foreign colonial expeditions in furtherance of the greater glory of the British empire, from Burma to Mesopotamia. In 1922, for instance, 64 per cent of the total revenue of the Government of India was devoted to paying for British Indian troops despatched abroad. No other army in the world, as Durant observed at the time, consumed so large a proportion of public revenues.
Unlike 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 isIndia Shastra: Reflections on the Nation in our Time, acollection 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.
An extensive collection of 100 essays, India Shastra makes for discerning reading, and offers much food for thought 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, writes Monica Arora.
Hardcover: 492 pages
Publisher: Aleph Book Company; First edition (29 January 2015)
As a public figure and an eminent politician, Dr Shashi Tharoor has carved a unique niche for himself in public perception and media, owing to his several “trysts with destiny”–of both favourable and unfavourable hues–on social media platforms as well as in real life. Truth, it is said, is sometimes stranger than fiction; and who could be a better example of having lead such a chequered life amidst harsh scrutiny and comments–some warranted and some unwarranted– from all quarters of socio-political arenas and platforms?
What can be said undeniably of this extremely charming, suave and articulate writer-politician with a large body of experience–he was the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, which he served for 29 years, he was a former Minister of State for External Affairs in the Government of India; currently he has been re-elected as a Member of Parliament from the Thiruvananthapuram constituency, and chairs the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs–is that he is a very insightful writer and an author par excellence. His astute sense of perception, and his understanding of both the micro-level of Indian politics at the grassroots as well as the holistic picture at the macro-level, is evident from his latest book India Shastra: Reflections on the Nation in our Time. An extensive collection of 100 essays, it makes for discerning reading, and offers much food for thought 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.
The Hindustan Times has published a short interview with author and politician Shashi Tharoor on June 21. Tharoor’s masterpiece, The Great Indian Novel, is on the paper’s list of greatest Indian novels.
“It was ambitiously conceived and written with all my heart and soul, but “greatness” is a quality for others to judge,” he says when asked if he always knew he was writing a great piece of work. “I am glad it is still in print a quarter of a century later, and after 42 reprints, Penguin is planning to bring out a Silver Jubilee hardback edition in October.”
Accusing Tharoor of ‘affair’, wife Sunanda says will seek ‘divorce’; Tharoor says his Twitter account was hacked
Union Minister Shashi Tharoor’s wife Sunanda Tharoor Wednesday alleged that her husband was having an “extra-marital affair” with a Pakistan-based journalist and that she would “seek divorce”.
Sunanda Tharoor was speaking to The Indian Express shortly after the minister claimed his Twitter account had been hacked. His claim came after purported controversial tweets were posted from his account and were believed to be addressed to the Pakistan-based journalist.
First the bad news. Amitav Ghosh’s last instalment of the Ibis trilogy and Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Girl will not be written in 2014.
But there is plenty that will be. After all those years, English August, er, Upamanyu Chatterjee will come up with Fairy Tales at Fifty. Allen Sealy too will be writing the intriguing The Small Wild Goose Pagoda after about a decade and Shashi Tharoor will get back to fiction with Border Crossing. The Lives of Others by Neel Chatterjee, on a Bengali family in decay, No Country by Kalyan Ray, a piece of historical fiction voyaging from New York to Ireland to Bengal to Canada, the much-awaited Idris by Anita Nair and The Gypsy Goddess by Meena Kandaswamy are some of the interesting Indian fiction that will come out soon.