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.

Shashi_TharoorThe unnecessary controversy over the use of Hindi by the government in official communications and social media revealed two essential truths about our country. The first is that, whatever the Hindi chauvinists might say, we don’t have one “national language” in India, but several. The second is that zealots have an unfortunate tendency to provoke a battle they will lose – at a time when they were quietly winning the war.