Clothes make a difference.
In the immaculate, three-piece suits that he was usually seen in during his two decade career at the United Nations, Shashi Tharoor was the quintessential westernised Indian whose regional origins were impossible to gauge. But with the three-metre khadi mundu (the traditional wraparound South Indian dhoti) he has switched to ever since he joined politics, all confusion is dispelled - he looks every inch a Malayali.
The makeover is complete with the car he uses — an Ambassador.
But some habits die hard, punctuality being one of them. He reaches the Congress office in Thiruvananthapuram for a meeting half-an-hour before the appointed time of 10 am. He is surpised at the enthusiasm his presence generates. There are deafening slogans hailing him as leader. Every local worker wants to shake his hand.
“Our leaders always reach late. Tharoor seems different. Perhaps it is the discipline he imbibed abroad,” says a Youth Congress worker.
Not since former defence minister V.K. Krishna Menon contested this seat nearly 50 years ago has Thiruvananthapuram fielded such a high-profile candidate. Local netas give him a host of tips on how to go about campaigning. Tharoor listens to each one, and keeps nodding incessantly.
Among them is V.S. Shivakumar, former MP who too had been lobbying for the Congress ticket for this seat. His supporters had burnt an effigy of Tharoor’s when the latter's name was first announced. But Shivakumar tries hard to be a sport, joining in the general bonhomie.
The meeting over, workers want to rush Tharoor to a small rally they have organised. “Wait, give him some breathing time,” says a senior leader. Tender coconuts are passed around. Tharoor sips delicately through a straw.
A group of girls from a local women’s college accost him. “He looks so handsome,” whispers Sheeba, a second-year student. But some others are not as awed. “What will your portfolio be if you win?” one cheekily asks. “External affairs or finance?”
“Sorry, no vacancy anywhere,” Tharoor retorts.