The Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, since 2009, Dr. Shashi Tharoor is also the bestselling author of over twenty books, both fiction and non-fiction, including “The Great Indian Novel,” “India: From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond,” “The Hindu Way: An Introduction to Hinduism,” and “An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India,” for which he received the Sahitya Academy Award in 2019, among others. He was formerly Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and contested for the post of Secretary-General in 2006. He also serves as Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology. Dr. Tharoor holds a doctorate in International Relations and Affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. His new book “Pride, Prejudice, and Punditry” offers a compilation of some of his best published work, literary as well as journalistic, along with some new work. “Pride, Prejudice, and Punditry” marks the culmination of over 50 years of Dr Tharoor’s writings as he was only 10 when his first short story made it into print.
In this interview, he talks about “Pride, Prejudice, and Punditry” while reflecting upon his writing journey, his desire to write a biography on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, and his thoughts on whether he is open to getting his works adapted into series / films, among other things.
Q. “Pride, Prejudice, and Punditry” offers a compilation of some of your best published work, literary as well as journalistic, along with some new work. How did you choose what to include and what to exclude?
A. It was very difficult! Right up to today I keep thinking of things I would have loved to have put in but did not. On the other hand, the book is intended to whet the readers’ appetite for my work, so those who read an excerpt from one book in this volume might choose to go back to the original and read the full work.
Q. Were you ever tempted to come out with a book consisting only of your fresh work instead of clubbing it with your old writings? Could you please elaborate upon the fresh content in the book?
A. Well, I do have a lot of books consisting only of fresh work – this volume was conceived as a bit of a monument to my forty years of writing books, so it had to be the way it is. The new bits in the book offer a lot of variety too – the speeches and poems have not, for the most part, been published before, and some of the other material gave me a chance to do a fuller treatment of some people and issues that I had written about more briefly earlier.
Q. You first got published at the age of 10 and so what was it like to revisit your old writings? With the benefit of hindsight, did you come across any that you felt haven’t aged well?
A. We did not go that far back! The earliest material in this book is an excerpt from Reasons of State, my doctoral thesis. So there are no juvenilia in this selection, though you can find some of my teenage writings in my short story collection The Five Dollar Smile.
Q. Your work as a writer over the decades shows great diversity. Tell us about your literary influences and inspirations. What would be your advice to aspiring writers who are struggling to get published?
A. Just keep writing. It’s a skill that gets better with practice. As for my literary inspirations, I read widely and eclectically, so I allowed a range of influences into my consciousness. But because I did not confine myself to one kind of reading I did not limit myself to one kind of writing either.
Q. At the book launch event in Delhi you talked about your plans to write a biography on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. What can we expect from it? When will it be out?
A. I hope I haven’t jinxed myself by announcing a book I haven’t begun to write! Am still reading and researching and will need to feel I have enough grasp of the essentials of his life before I can begin to write. Your question will only be answered in the course of that writing.
Q. A lot of Indian literary works which couldn’t be adapted earlier are now getting adapted as web series. The episodic form allows a greater scope to tell stories that are sprawling in nature as opposed to films which tend to have a fixed duration). How do you look at the trend of web shows? Would you like any of your works to get adapted as a series or a film?
A. Who wouldn’t? But I am one of those authors who write mainly for the printed page, so my work has not lent itself easily to the cinematic treatment. Still, a producer has optioned my novel “Riot” for a web series, and out of my non-fiction there are plans for “Why I Am a Hindu” to be made as a series too. A couple of producers are also discussing “An Era of Darkness” with my agent in London. So I might yet get on that web-series bandwagon one day.
Q. What are your other upcoming literary projects?
ST: I have long wanted to go back to fiction. So after the biography on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, perhaps I can finally clear the decks to return to my first love.