Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Moonshine

A newspaper column is, as demonstrated by its best practitioners, a minor but nevertheless demanding art form, the essence of which is to give memorable expression to the topical by linking it to deeper realities. Those who carry it off most successfully on the Indian scene - Ramachandra Guha, Vir Sanghvi, Girish Shahane, Santosh Desai, Mukul Kesavan, Swaminathan S. Aiyar - delight and provoke us not only with their command over their subject but also their flair for shrewd generalisation and the economy and lucidity of their expression.
Sadly none of these qualities are visible in Shashi Tharoor's The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone, a ragbag of columns and op-eds in which ancient platitudes, second-hand insights, and tacky witticisms are foisted upon the reader with a quite breathtaking conviction. Tharoor has never been a very good columnist anyway, so his unwise (but in some ways perfectly characteristic) decision to gather up his jottings only serves to expose more clearly his considerable shortcomings in the realm of both thought and expression...
India, pronounces Tharoor, is an ancient civilization of great diversity and richness, "a conglomeration of languages, cultures, ethnicities", "a land of contrasts"...Tharoor's interpretation of particulars is as dismaying as his stultifying generalities. Nowhere is he more wearisome than when composing elaborations on his favourite theme: the Nehruvian idea of India's unity in diversity...
Not all of Tharoor's book is so tedious. In one chapter he argues persuasively that Hindutva, an ideology without any base in Hinduism even if it shares the same root word, is in effect a separatist movement, one that appeals to a majority rather than a minority. Another section offers some useful profiles of little-known or neglected figures. But most of Tharoor's writing is just noise. Although we know from Tharoor that "anything you can say about India, the opposite is also true", there is little chance about the same diversity of opinion about a work so banally, so fatally, in love with India as The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone.

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