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The great juggler

Award winning writer, former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations Dr Shashi Tharoor speaks to Parul Abrol.

books Updated: Aug 19, 2008 14:55 IST
Parul Abrol

Award winning writer, former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, and now, Chairman of Dubai-based Afras Ventures, Dr Shashi Tharoor is a man of many talents.

All of those were put to use when Tharoor judged and attended the Guruvar Awards in Delhi. The Awards are an initiative of the Varkey GEMS Foundation, and are the biggest awards in the country for Teacher’s Achievement Awards.

But how does one judge teachers? Tharoor explains, "Though I’m on the advisory board, the judgment has been left open to all kinds of criteria. What kind of impact teachers had on students, how it helped change students’ lives, how an individual’s efforts helped change society."

Education means...

Doesn’t this method alienate traditional systems of passing on family knowl edge? Tharoor differs. “We need to clearly distinguish between education and spe cialisation. Education is what remains when you have forgotten the details of what you have learned. Education gives you a well-formed mind; it teaches you to think.

Specialisation develops deep levels of knowledge on a specific subject.” What’s in a name? Tharoor is known to have a word for everything. The range of topics he’s chosen for his books proves that. Not surprisingly, he has written a book on Bollywood that talks about the cinema between 1960s and 1980s.

Yet, some of the Indian film industry’s biggest stars from those decades — like Amitabh Bachchan — are vociferous in their objection to the usage of the term Bollywood. “The word [when I used it] was essentially used as shorthand for a particular kind of movies, the typical formula masala movies, which was their strength and appeal. However, you could not use the term for parallel cinema or Shyam Benegal films,” Tharoor explains.

"But yes, I think that the term denies the industry its authenticity, because it is ‘de rived from’ somewhere else. Especially when you know that Indians made our first movies before Hollywood even existed," he adds.

It’s not common knowledge, but Shashi Tharoor can also lay claim to being a theatre actor. He shared the stage with Mira Nair during a Miranda House-St Stephen’s production in his college days.

Straight talk Bollywood’s not the only firang legacy Tharoor has strong opinions about. He’s also got a few things to say about Article 377 and homosexuality.

"I think it (Article 377) should be abolished. It’s interesting, though, that even though the law existed; it was never implemented in India. In the 50s and 60s, I know of Englishmen who fled the UK, where it was still prosecuted, and came to India where they felt safer to be gay.

"Scrapping the law won’t change much in practice, but the activity needs to be decriminalised and a process should be created where gay people can get into legal civil partnerships."