There were many reasons I pounced on this book when I saw it in the bookshop. I enjoy Shashi Tharoor’s language skills, because they really are effulgent. The second reason is that I had already picked up Era of Darkness, and although hadn’t got far, was rather enjoying it. And the third reason is that a bunch of boys off Tinder have likened me to the guy. I thought it was mildly funny, and in some sort of solidarity with the dude, I got his book.
Author: Shashi Tharoor
Premise: As far as I can tell, this book is meant to reclaim liberal Hinduism from the clutches of the Hindutva brigade. And the path the author has taken to do so is by loudly proclaiming how 1) he is a Hindu; 2) why he is a Hindu; 3) what parts of Hinduism he feels are relevant; and 4) how this is heavily divergent of the Hindutva brigade.
Tharoor is not an expert on the religion; nor does he claim to be. He is writing this oeuvre from the standpoint of an ordinary practitioner of the religion, even though his standing as a public personage makes him rather less ordinary overall.
Writing: The language and sentences are smoooooooooooth. The vocabulary is top notch, and fulfils all expectations of Tharoor’s ability. It reads very much in his voice, so there is no doubt that the man himself has penned this book. You can almost hear his unique cadences in the prose. Interesting experience for me, because it is one of the few times I’ve read an author who I have heard speak. [Stephen Fry is another example.]
Pace: Absolutely excruciatingly slow. I could barely read 4 pages at a time, before falling fast asleep. There is much pontification in the book, and I will sum up my disjointed thoughts in the following section.
Conclusion: At first, I was thrilled to read the first parts of this book. It felt like my thoughts and feelings were admirably and articulately described. However, as I progressed further, I am less than enamoured because there is nothing new for an ordinary Hindu with a reasonable amount of exposure to the religion.
The second thing that struck me was the nearly consistent referrals to his other works. It felt rather self-aggrandising. Perhaps I am reading too much into it, because I feel that there must be a better way to convey his messages.
Furthermore, as the book progresses, it becomes a series of quotations from other people’s work, slightly padded out with his observations. I perhaps expected too much when I anticipated some analysis that was new and thought-provoking. Here, I read his thoughts, which are then buffered by expressed thoughts of other thinkers. The converse is also true: to give credence to the divisive thinking process of the Hindutva brigade, he quotes from their works liberally too. It is all very confusing to ricochet from one consciousness to the next with such rapidity. Perhaps this was a major contributing factor the extreme boredom I felt while reading the book.
Finally, this was my biggest takeaway, although it forms a tiny part of the narrative. Tharoor should really not talk about caste. He sounds elitist, even though I can understand exactly where he is coming from. For any upper caste person to speak about the trials of casteism is a tricky situation. And even his smooth eloquence cannot overcome this hurdle. Read this rebuttal to an earlier article he wrote about caste.
[PS: This last bit about caste gave me a lot of food of thought, which I might turn into a post some other time. All these years, I assumed that I was raised to be casteless because of upper caste privilege. Turns out, my mother is from a famously egalitarian movement (Lingayat) and my father didn’t know his caste at all.]