India, 1st Decade of 21st Century, Tharoor


… Became aware of Shashi Tharoor last week when I read his well-written article in The Guardian, a perspective piece refuting the arguments of those “apologists for British colonial rule in India” who have said that the British deserve credit for bringing “democracy, the rule of law, and railways” to India.

Tharoor’s counter-argument (supported by facts) is that these advances were accidental “by-products” of the colonial period, introduced by the British for their own purposeful agenda, not as facilitative mechanisms intended to benefit the Indian population. The motivation for building the railways in India was for transporting resources, not people.

… Decided to search my regional library’s catalog for this writer: a couple of novels, lots of non-fiction concerning India. Tharoor is a Keralan, born in London, who became a politician/writer/historian. Friday, I borrowed a collection of his essays, The Elephant, the Tiger, and the Cell Phone (2007), from a small-town library, enroute to a cabin in the Cascade Mountains to see how much winter snowmelt has occurred.


The preface, as well as an introductory story called “The Elephant Who Became a Tiger,” were intriguing. After four or five chapters of Part One, in which he repeated several of his points almost verbatim, I began to realize that he hadn’t written a new text, for instance like Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory, and then offered chapters to various journals. Rather these were some pieces he had published as journalism and collected subsequently to offer commercially for re-publication as a book – which unfortunately comes off as the hodge-podge compilation it is.

I moved on through a pair of chapters which obviously were originally newspaper articles about Bollywood actors who vaulted themselves on name recognition into election to the Indian Parliament, and I thought, I may as well return this book to the library!

Then I reached a chapter titled “Democracy and Demockery,” and this has the dynamically crafted prose I crave. Tharoor’s primary observation in this article is that “increasingly” Indian politicians have “the qualities required to acquire power rather than the skills to wield it for the common good.” The result, in his opinion, is that politics in state assemblies and the national Parliament have “become dominated by the unprincipled, the inept, the corrupt, the criminal, and the undisciplined.” Relevant to current U.S. circumstances, as well.


In The Elephant … Tharoor provides an informative analysis of India today, the strengths of its secularly pluralistic social composition, and the difficulties which impede its progress. His comments are humorous in places and often give valuable insights into this large and complex Asian nation. Some exposure to his work could be worthwhile.


  • Schama, Simon. (1996). Landscape and Memory. New York: Knopf.
  • Tharoor, Shashi. (2007). The Elephant, the Tiger, and the Cell Phone. New York: Arcade.