Shashi Tharoor’s Fascination

When Shashi Tharoor runs out of ideas, he gets down to writer bashing. I don’t read his column regularly, but on two occasions, I have seen him get rather critical of a couple of the finest writers the world has known.

Yesterday’s (April 13) Hindu Sunday Magazine carried a column by Tharoor, in which he has denounced the importance given to Rudyard Kipling. He describes how his teenage fascination for the much-celebrated poem If wore off as he came to realise the true story behind it. Kipling, in short, was allegedly racist. Which is why, Tharoor says, we should ‘relegate Kipling to the darkest recesses of our history’, and get rid of the poem If from school curriculums. In the past, Tharoor has also criticised RK Narayan, and though I don’t remember the exact language that was used, I believe it was something to the effect of Narayan not being skilled enough. Narayan, a people’s writer who contributed much to the growth of Indian literature in English and gave us what we could understand and relate to.

This yardstick should then be applied to every author or poet whose morals and values go against what is part of our society and culture, and who are not talented enough to match up to the exacting standards of self-appointed critics. We should stop reading Frances Hodgson Burnett because of her denigrating depiction of the ‘lascars’. Enid Blyton was often denounced because the children in her books represented the white, well-to-do families; critics also said she had a limited vocabulary. So maybe we should clear our bookshelves of all those adventures that we read with much enthusiasm while at school. George Eliot lived with a man she was not married to, because she didn’t believe in the sanctity of a relationship that could be easily dissolved. Isn’t that opposed to what the traditions of our country say? Off goes Eliot. And so do all the other writers of the British era in India, who were guilty of racist mindsets. Continue with the list, and it is doubtful we will be left with anybody at all who has managed to please absolutely every section of society without drawing a single word of criticism.

Racism is unforgiveable. But a person’s beliefs and ideals should not be used to judge his/her literary skill. A piece of work should first be admired for its literary merit. The questions will automatically follow. If might have been racially motivated, and such ideas definitely need to be denounced, but that cannot be done by ignoring its writer altogether. I don’t know much of Kipling; I have read only two of his books- Puck of Pook’s Hill, a fantastic tale of adventure and war, and Stalky & Co., a delightful schoolboy story. But the insular idea of ostracising a writer for the beliefs he holds would not exactly help the cause of literature. Why, then, the hue and cry over Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen? They could simply be asked not to write, and that would solve all problems without violence and unrest. After all, in today’s volatile world, it doesn’t take much to create controversy, even though the implied crimes may in no way be as heinous as racism. Mein Kampf will continue to be read, and if I read it, I don’t become a dictator or a Nazi. I read because I like to, and because I want to learn. If I don’t agree with a particular blasphemous idea, I ignore it.

Teach people the history behind If by all means, but don’t ask them not to read Kipling, or any other writer, for that matter.

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11 thoughts on “Shashi Tharoor’s Fascination

  1. >I didn’t actually read the article in question. But if that’s what he said, then it’s quite ludicrous. You’re absolutely right… A writer is often elevated onto a pedestal of moral, social and political conscience often in our need to idolize.. They become our heroes.. So we forget that they can be eminently flawed – even overridingly so.. The point is, that a writer is so many things – an observer, a dreamer… that all we can really judge is the content of his words.. and if they appeal to you and seem to hold merit, that’s all that should really matter..

  2. >Very relevant post. I have enjoyed tharoor’s writings in the past but that article and your post have given me some food for thought. Like u say a writers beliefs or his personal life oughtn’t be used to judge the way he/she writes. Lately there has been huge hue and cry about the way sir vidia Naipaul was immature, selfish and self-pitying and how he ill treated his wife. Has Tharoor bashed him up yet? I wouldn’t be surprised if he does. And I think Tharoor should do a little introspection and find out if he is perfect or not before bashing up well known and much loved writers like Kipling (for heavens sake he gave us jungle book and treasure island, two books without which my childhood would have been incomplete). If we were to judge a writers literary skill using their personal life as a yardstick only the likes of mother teresa and baba amte would ever become writers and win the nobel or booker I guess!! 😐

  3. >Thanks for your post on my blog :)Yeah readers these days are far and few between, but in a B-school almost everyone’s there by dint of being somewhat well-read. So one gets to observe a bit. And yep, insanely possessive about my books – I got into snap judgement mode if somebody asks to borrow any unit of my treasured possessions :)And btw, this is very very VERY scary. I was planning to blog about the EXACT SAME THING! I read the Sunday Magazine, and instantly recalled his general dissing of RK Narayan also! And yep, my reaction was along the same lines.This kind of thinking is also what is driving general smear campaigns against our National Anthem, for it being allegedly written to welcome King George..

  4. >Revathi: I can imagine, we’d have only saints writing, and it would be like reading ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ over and over again. Awful! By the way, TI was by Stevenson, wasn’t it?Shrik: Thanks…it is eerie that we had similar ideas at the same time, but it is also perhaps an indicator of how Tharoor’s ideas have not gone down well with the readers, and make us want to rebel, in general.How many books have you lent and lost ;)?

  5. >hey excellent post ! I oughta show this to my friend who goes ga-ga over tharoor… and I totally agree with what you say…but lets say the person in question is a sportsman…how would you look at that? was watching this debate on TV last week about the torch-aparhetid-etc etc issues…and it just came to mind when I read this post…

  6. >Thanks, Arun…I believe absolutely nobody deserves to be ostracised, and it’s not fair to make a person’s personal beliefs grounds for treating him/her as an outcast. Tell me more about the debate, I didn’t watch it, and I’ll tell you what I think.

  7. >well , as this post talks about lookin at a writers skills rather than his personal views…ok lets take a sportsman…if he is racist then we never say look at his talent…so where or why do we draw a line when it comes to art and sport? …thing is we folks at home were talking about the unfortunate apartheid ban of SA and how a lotta greats had to miss out(especially the lot that derailed the aussies)…now I am not taking sides here but am just curious to know your take on that 🙂

  8. >You make me think…I guess it would have been okay to let them play, but only as long as they didn’t use their fame to promote the ideas they believed in.

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