The Tales Behind The Words: In Conversation with Shashi Tharoor


Language; more than a tool of communication, it is more than a medium. Language is an art, and Shashi Tharoor; writer, Member of Parliament and former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations understands this better than most, and members of the SIU family, students and alumni alike had the privilege of being addressed by him during the inaugural keynote address of Symbiosis Lit Fest.

Upon having launched his newest book, ‘Tharoorosaurus’, a play on the words tyrannosaurus rex, thesaurus and Tharoor, he went on to provide some insight on what to expect in his latest release. From childhood anecdotes to political commentaries, he spins a tapestry of tales behind the words that received attention from all over the world, a word for every letter from the alphabet and then some. In conversation with Dr. Aarti Wani of Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce, Mr. Tharoor shared the influence his father had in cultivating an interest in the English language in him, recounting tales of playing word games his father invented on long drives. The book with its quaint cover design and quirky title is bound to pique the imagination of people of all ages, as it explores the intense relationship Mr. Tharoor has with language and the genesis of his reputation as a linguaphile.

Later, in what can only be called a candid conversation with Mr. Tharoor, he talked about liberalism and its essentiality in modern Indian education, discussing in detail the implications of having a system centred around the Sciences, and the detriments of the empirical world view that the lack of education in the Humanities engenders. Science, with its positivist approach to discourse, looks for conformity, leading to intolerance, which is essentially the antithesis of the liberal mindset. A practitioner of the liberal sensibility, Shashi Tharoor spoke of how he sees the world as it is and accepts people as they are, only seeking to change that which causes harm, in sharp contrast to the radical ideologies prevalent in our nation today that is intolerant of everyone who doesn’t subscribe to their worldview.

Upon being asked regarding his thoughts on the age-old metonymic adage, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” and its relevance in modern society, Tharoor opined grimly that it is no longer the case, especially in the context of modern India’s reality. He cited evidence of instances where words and ideas were brutishly crushed by power and authority; the pen slew by the might of the sword. He advised the students to read widely and extensively and to make room for literature and history as the only way to combat bigotry is through gaining perspective.

Mr. Tharoor offered the students several other pearls of wisdom, as humorous stories and as advice that arise from experience alone, and as a concluding note, asked students to pursue what their hearts desire to and to pursue one thing, rather than dabbling in a jumble of trades. Doing two might often be at the expense of both, therefore Mr. Tharoor believes identifying what you are best at is key to being successful and content with oneself. Dr. Rajani Gupte, the vice-chancellor of SIU offered the vote of thanks on behalf of the university and all of the attendees, an apt ending to a truly enriching experience, that left us all with food for thought.


Sangamithra M
(Batch 2023)

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