Shashi Tharoor

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A philosopher is a lover of wisdom, not of knowledge, which for all its great uses ultimately suffers from the crippling effect of ephemerality. All knowledge is transient, linked to the world around it and subject to change as the world changes, whereas wisdom, true wisdom is eternal, immutable.

Shashi Tharoor (Malayalam: ശശി തരൂര്‍; Born 9 March 1956 in London) is an Indian politician, author, journalist, and a former diplomat who is currently serving as Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala since 2009. He also currently serves as Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology.


  • To speak of Hindu fundamentalism, is a contradiction in terms, since Hinduism is a religion without fundamentals. To be an Indian Hindu is to be part of an elusive dream all share, a dream that fills our minds with sounds, words, flavours from many sources that we cannot easily identify.
    • The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone. p. 64.
  • Every Hindu may not be conscious of the finer points of his faith, but he has been raised in the tradition of its assumptions and doctrines, even when these have not been explained to him. His Hinduism may be a Hinduism of habit rather than a Hinduism of learning, but it is a lived Hinduism for all that.
  • I do not look to history to absolve my country of the need to do things right today. Rather I seek to understand the wrongs of yesterday, both to grasp what has brought us to our present reality and to understand the past for itself. The past is not necessarily a guide to the future, but it does partly help explain the present. One cannot, as I have written elsewhere, take revenge upon history; history is its own revenge.


  • No Indian nationalist leader ever needed to say: We have created India; now all we need to do is to create Indians.
  • We all have multiple identities in India; we are all minorities in India. Our heterogeneity is definitional.
    • The Hindu, "License to Be Himself", April 1, 2001
  • Pluralist India must, by definition, tolerate plural expressions of its many identities.
    • The Hindu, "After the Dust is Settled", April 15, 2001
  • India shaped my mind, anchored my identity, influenced my beliefs, and made me who I am. ... India matters to me and I would like to matter to India.
    • The Hindu, "The Shashi Tharoor column: A departure, fictionally", Sunday, September 16, 2001 Available Online
  • I was not blinded by faith, but the encounter was indeed astonishing at several levels. In our private talk, Sai Baba uttered insights about my family and myself that he could not possibly have known....He waved his hand in the air and opened his palm. In it nestled a gold ring with nine embedded stones, a navratan. He slipped it on my finger, remarking, "See how well it fits. Even a goldsmith would have needed to measure your finger."
  • "It was as if he had heard what I wanted," she said. But a skilled magician can do that, and it would be wrong to see Sai Baba as a conjurer. He has channeled the hopes and energies of his followers into constructive directions, both spiritual and philanthropic.
  • The only possible idea of India is that of a nation greater than the sum of its parts.
  • What is most important to me is Jawaharlal Nehru's idea of India, India as a pluralist society and polity, an idea which is central to India’s survival, which has held now in the four decades after his death and which is all the more in need of defending.
    • Edited transcript of remarks, 11/13/03 Books for Breakfast, "Nehru: The Invention of India" Available Online
  • India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.
    • World Policy Journal, "Reflections", Volume XXI, No 2, Summer 2004 Available Online. Also in Bookless In Baghdad (2005), Penguin Books India, p. 27.
  • In building an Indian nation that takes account of the country's true Hindu heritage, we have to return to the pluralism of the national movement.
  • The memories of the first Independence Day may have faded, but the power of that magical moment must never be forgotten.
  • Does NRI (Non-Resident Indian) stand for Not Really Indian or Never Relinquished India? I believe a little of both!
    • Media, Culture & Society, Vol. 27, No. 3, 371-390 (2005)DOI: 10.1177/0163443705051749, © 2005 SAGE Publications, "Creating immigrant identities in cybernetic space: examples from a non-resident Indian website, Available Online
  • Indian nationalism is the nationalism of an idea, the idea of an ever-ever land, emerging from an ancient civilization, shaped by a shared history, sustained by pluralist democracy.
    • The 125th Anniversary Jubilee Lecture, St. Stephen's College, Delhi, November 12 2005, "India: from Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond" Available Online
  • The pluralism and the linguistic diversity of India is something of which we can truly be proud.
    • The Hindu, "Things that happen only in India", Sunday, Aug 13, 2006 Available Online
  • The pluralism and the linguistic diversity of India is something of which we can truly be proud.
    • The Hindu, "Things that happen only in India", Sunday, Aug 13, 2006 Available Online

The Great Indian Novel (1989)[edit]

Book by Shashi Tharoor: "The Great Indian Novel", ISBN 0140120491
  • This is my story of the India I know, with its biases, selections, omissions, distortions, all mine.... Every Indian must for ever carry with him, in his head and heart, his own history of India.
  • The British are the only people in history crass enough to have made revolutionaries out of Americans.
  • Basic truth about the colonies, Heaslop. Any time there's trouble, you can put it down to books. Too many of the wrong ideas getting into the heads of the wrong sorts of people. If ever the Empire comes to ruin, Heaslop, mark my words, the British publisher will be to blame.
  • The vehicles of human politics seem to run off course, but the site of the accident turns out to have been the intended destination.
  • India has been born and reborn scores of times, and it will be reborn again. India is forever, and India is forever being made.
  • Bureaucracy is simultaneously the most crippling of Indian diseases and the highest of Indian art forms.
  • Like India herself, I am at home in hovels and palaces, Ganapathi, I trundle in bullock-carts and propel myself into space, I read the vedas and quote the laws of cricket. I move to the strains of a morning raga in perfect evening dress.
  • The British had the gall to call Robert Clive 'Clive of India' as if he belonged to the country, when all he really did was to ensure that much of the country belonged to him.
  • How easily we Indians see the several sides to every question! That is what makes us such good bureaucrats, and such poor totalitarians. They say the new international organizations set up by the wonderfully optimistic (if oxymoronic) United Nations are full of highly successful Indian officials with quick, subtle minds and mellifluous tongues, for ever able to understand every global crisis from the point of view of each and every one of the contending parties. That is why they do so well, Ganapathi, in any situation that calls for an instinctive awareness of the subjectivity of truth, the relativity of judgement and the impossibility of action.
  • Dissent, is like a Gurkha’s ‘khukri’ , once it emerges form its sheath it must draw blood before it can be put away again.
  • On Gandhi: Don’t ever forget, that we were not lead by a saint with his head in clouds, but by a master tactician with his feet on the ground.
  • On "Priya Duryodhani": She was a slight frail girl, with a thin tapering face like kernel of a mango and dark-brown eyebrows that nearly joined together over high-ridged nose, giving her to look of a desiccated school teacher at an age when she was barely old enough to enroll at school. She had dark and lustrous eyes. They shone from that finished face like blazing gems on a fading backcloth, flashing, questioning.
  • There is, in short no end to the story of life. There are merely pauses. The end is the arbitrary intervention of the teller, but there can be no finality about the choice. Today’s end is, after all tomorrow’s beginning.
  • The instinctive Indian sense that nothing begins and nothing ends. We are all living in an eternal present in which what was and what will be is contained in what is, or to put it in a more contemporary idiom, that life is a series of sequel to history.
  • A philosopher is a lover of wisdom, not of knowledge, which for all its great uses ultimately suffers from the crippling effect of ephemerality. All knowledge is transient, linked to the world around it and subject to change as the world changes, whereas wisdom, true wisdom is eternal, immutable. To be philosophical one must love wisdom for its own sake, accept its permanent validity and yet its perpetual irrelevance. It is the fate of the wise to understand the process of history and yet never to shape it.
  • We Indians, Arjun, are so good at respecting outward forms while ignoring the substance. We took the forms of parliamentary democracy, preserved them, put them on pedestal and paid them due obeisance. But we ignored the basic fact that parliamentary democracy can only work if those who run it are constantly responsive to needs of the people and if parliamentarians are qualified enough to legislate. Neither condition was fulfilled in India for long. Today most people are simply aware of their own irrelevance to the process. They see themselves standing helplessly on the margins while professional politicians and unprofessional politicians combine to run the country to the ground.
  • We Indians are notoriously good at being resigned to our lot. Our fatalism goes beyond, even if it springs from, the Hindu acceptance of the world as it is ordained to be. I must tell you a little story - a marvellous fable from our puranas that illustrates our resilience and self-absorption in the face of circumstances. A man is pursued by a tiger. He runs fast, but his panting heart tells him that he cannot run much longer. He sees a tree. Relief! He accelerates and gets to it in one last despairing stride. He climbs the tree. The tiger snarls below him, but he feels that he has at last escaped its snapping jaws...
  • But no - what’s this? The branch on which he is sitting is weak. That is not all: wood-mice are gnawing away at it: before long they will eat through it and it will snap and fall. The branch sags down over a well. Aha! Escape! Perhaps our hero can swim ? But the well is dry and there are snakes writhing and hissing on its bed. As the branch bends lower, he perceives a solitary blade of grass on wall of well. On top of the blade of grass gleams a drop of honey. What is our hero to do? What action does our puranic man quintessential Indian, take in the situation? He bends with the branch and licks up the honey.... What did you expect? Some neat solution to the problem? The tiger changes its mind and goes away? Amitabh Bachchan leaps to the rescue? Don’t be silly. One strength of Indian mind is that it knows some problems cannot be resolved and it learns to make best of them. That is the Indian answer to the insuperable difficulty. One does not fight against that by which one is certain to be overwhelmed; but one finds the best way, for oneself, to live with it. This is our national aesthetic. Without it, india as we know it could not survive.

"The Shashi Tharoor column: The creation of India," 2001[edit]

The Hindu, "The Shashi Tharoor column: The creation of India ", Sunday, August 19, 2001, Available Online

  • Our founding fathers wrote a constitution for a dream. We have given passports to their ideals.
  • India imposes no procrustean exactions on its citizens: you can be many things and one thing.
  • In India we celebrate the commonality of major differences; we are a land of belonging rather than of blood.
  • Ultimately, what matters in determining the validity of a nation is the will of its inhabitants to live and strive together.

Nehru: The Invention of India[edit]

Book by Shashi Tharoor: "Nehru: The Invention of India", ISBN 155970697X.

  • If India had a Latin version of the American motto E Pluribus Unum, it would be E Pluribus Pluribum.
  • If America is a melting pot, then to me India is a thali -- a collection of sumptuous dishes in different bowls. Each may not mix with the next, but they combine on your palate to produce a satisfying repast.


  • Extra judicial killings are not acceptable in a society of law.


  • When you ask, rightly, why is today's Muslim feeling offended when Ghazni or Ghori are denounced, the answer is because it is instrumentalised to demonise them today.
  • Partition, split of the nationalist movement didn’t happen over ideology or geography. It happened on one key question – is religion the determinant of our nationhood.
  • In India, history was pressed into the nation-building project. There was a desire to allay over some unpleasant details, the destruction of temples, some of the horrors that happened while stressing on the commonalities that also featured throughout the ages.

Quotes on Tharoor[edit]

  • Shashi Tharoor will be just a puppet in the hand of Sonia Gandhi family, who will be the real driver.


External links[edit]

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