Bookless in Baghdad by Shashi Tharoor
This book is a very personal account of author’s relationship with world of books, both that he has read and those he has written. Books is a collection of 40 essays that he has written in various places about literature, books, book reviewers, critics, literary festivals and the role of literature in shaping up the society in general. He begins my talking about his childhood and his affair with books since then. How he used to read a book a day and how he moved reading from one genre to another. It is interesting to read about someone who has literally spent his life amongst books and who still remembers most details about his books.
One thing that Shashi loves to write about is diversity and multitudes inIndiaand Indians. His famous lines forIndiaare ‘It is not an underdeveloped country but a over developed country in the advanced state of decay’. He almost goes on rampage to answer people who tend to have a narrow view or their world view ofIndia, and who from their point of views decide, what is Indian and who is Indian. He having spent his life in big cities in India and then a lot of it outsideIndia, and having written about Indiain all his writing, tries to defend that he is as much an Indian as the farmer living in rural India, though they may have entirely different worlds. This point has been repeated so many times across articles that you almost know it by heart by the end of the book. He talks nostalgically about his St Stephen’s days and then goes on defend the contribution of Stephenians in Indian literature. In his witty style he says that he never took any course in writing or studied literature formally, as that would be like learning about girls in a medical school. But Mr Tharoor, having read so much of literature is no less than formal study of literature.
He talks fondly about his favorite authors, most of the pieces have been written at the anniversaries or centenaries of the authors. He also writes about some popular authors whom he did not find as great and I am sure pieces would have generated controversy as and when they were written.There are a lot pieces that he has written about Salman Rushdie and author’s admiration for him oozes out of each piece. There are few pieces where he has got back to his critics and book reviewers who have not been kind to him. In one piece, he has got back to a lady who has written about his Mallu attire in almost gory way, and you smell vengeance in that whole piece. He talks about various literary events and what goes on there. I particularly liked the piece onBaghdadwhere people have to sell books to survive.
Interestingly, he has been trying to help some publishers who have tried to keep literary traditions high inIndia. He specifically mentions Indian Review of Books founded by Chennai based publishing house East-West books, Yeti Publications from Kerala and Oxford University Press’s national integration series. He is sincerely hoping that IRB would be revived by someone and I hope I would able to do that sometime, help initiatives like IRB come alive again.