Shashi Tharoor was born in London in 1956. He studied at Campion School, Mumbai and later St. Xavier's Collegiate School, Kolkata. He obtained a degree in History from St. Stephen's College, Delhi from where he went on to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He finished his PhD at the astonishingly young age of 22. His research focussed on India's foreign policy under Indira Gandhi and was later published in book form titled 'Reasons of State.
Since 1978 he has worked for the United Nations, first for the UNHCR in Singapore and then at the UN headquarters in New York. A protege of Kofi Annan, he rose quickly through the ranks of the UN. From January 1997 to July 1998, he was executive assistant to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. In July 1998, he was appointed director of communications and special projects in the office of the Secretary-General. In January 2001, he was appointed by the Secretary-General as interim head of the Dept. of Public Information. On 1 June 2002, he was confirmed as the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information of the United Nations.
He was married to the journalist Tilotamma Tharoor from whom he is now divorced. He is the father of twin sons- Ishaan and Kanishk, who are both studying at Yale.
Despite his diplomatic accomplishments, Tharoor is equally well known for his literary exploits. His first book The Great Indian Novel was published to international acclaim. His later books include Show Business, India: From Midnight to the Millennium, Riot and more recently a biography of Nehru.
I've read a lot of Tharoor's work and even noded on one of them. His style is crisp and lucid but he occasionally descends into moralising and preaching. His book on India's 50th anniversary as a full fledged republic was a bit of a disappointment- he doesn't really say anything new. But his political values are deeply admirable- he's fervently anti-communal and he writes about India's pluralism in his columns for the Hindu, the International Herald Tribune and Newsweek.
I particularly liked his comment on December 6, 1992 and how the secularists in India ought to reach out to the masses. He makes the interesting point that it would strike a chord with the middle classes if they were told that it was 'un-Hindu' to destroy a temple and kill Muslims, rather than to preach to them about the benefits of secularism. I don't agree with his economic views, and he seems to be oblivious to the perils of globalization in India. Further, his advocacy of Rajiv Gandhi is a bit puzzling- Rajiv was a fairly hare-brained PM, whose only real contribution was to bring the information age to India. Two of the other pieces in that book worth reading are the short eulogy to Pearl Padamsee and the chapter on Non Resident Indians funding Hindu fundamentalist organizations in India.
As far as his works of fiction go, I was a trifle disappointed with his last book: Riot. He's dealing with a highly sensitive issue and he makes certain politically admirable arguments. But the narrative is not gripping enough, his dialogues sound contrived and his characters aren't as well fleshed out as they should be. Most critics have been particularly severe about his second book: Show Business which was later made into a movie titled Bollywood. I have to admit that I actually enjoyed the book. It's best not to read it too seriously, but it is a hilarious account of India's film industry and some of the narratives of Hindi films that the book contains are side-splittingly funny. Finally, his book of short stories: The Five Dollar Smile, contain a story or two that leaves an impression. But as the introduction to the book clarifies, these were stories written mostly in his youth and the gauche style gives that away. Having said that, I would definitely recommend reading The Great Indian Novel, for a funny, sarcastic and entertaining version of modern Indian history complimented by his own reading of the Indian epic- the Mahabharata.
For more information on his books and his writings please go to www.shashitharoor.com