Bookless in Baghdad: Reflections on Writing and Writers

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Shashi Tharoor is a member of the Indian Parliament from the Thiruvananthapuram constituency in Kerala He previously served as the United Nations Under Secretary General for Communications and Public Information and as the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs.He is also a prolific author, columnist, journalist and a human rights advocate.He has served on the Board of Overseers of the Fle

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  • Hardcover
  • 277 pages
  • Bookless in Baghdad: Reflections on Writing and Writers
  • Shashi Tharoor
  • English
  • 13 March 2019
  • 9781559707572

10 thoughts on “Bookless in Baghdad: Reflections on Writing and Writers

  1. says:

    To Dr Shashi Tharoor, 97 Lodhi Estate, New Delhi 03 Tel 24644035 Fax 24654158 Subject A letter asking for apologyRespected Sir,Like a scale firmly settled on a pipe, refusing to budge, the image that I have conjured up of your alleged persona from the various newspaper co eds and news channels, preceded your merit To tell you the truth, regardless of your impressive stint at the U.N., I had had never held you in a high opinion The controversy surrounding I.P.L one mustn t bring out the skeleton from the closet, but alas. was, unfortunately the only thing that I could relate to you It of course was my own failing, not being able to hear the other side of the story, but then you weren t as vociferous in your arguments as your critics were Politicians have time and again taken a dig at you, and have attempted to tar your image with snide remarks And I have been gullible That s why I ask for your apology I have for long fancied myself as an independent spirit, to me, my opinions seemed impregnable from the seepage of all possible color, but I discovered yet again that there exist a possibility of correction I recently, on impulse picked up a copy of Bookless in Baghdad from the library Just a single little statement was the clincher One year I kept a list of the volumes I d finished comics didn t count , hoping to reach 365 before the calendar did I made it before Christmas To tell you the truth, I haven t imagined you to be much of a writer What I actually believed was that you might have written some longish, scholarly prose on GDP or quality of life as you were from U.N and that s why following Vismay s rule of thumb, boring a book is, rave reviews it receives But I was delighted to discover that I wasn t entirely true in my judgement This present book, was indeed an eclectic collection or what I would call a quanta of creatively and cogently argued confabulations with a mute reader Though, I do not agree with your opinion on R.K Narayan, I have indeed received the same joy, as you most certainly have, on reading P.G Wodehouse Your spirited defense of Salman Rushdie, your description of the various literary fests which I have vicariously visited through this book and all the other motley bunch of writers mentioned here I indeed have had a good time along with your book And why shouldn t I have fun After all, it concerned all things literary.So as a parting note I would like to tell you, sir, that though I wouldn t most certainly drool over your every adjective, but if I do catch phrases like, That consensus is around the simple principle that in a democracy you don t really need to agree except on the ground rules of how will you disagree , if America is a melting pot, then to me India is a thali or and imagined them hallowed by repetition rather than hollowed by regurgitation , you would be able to read my admiration in the smile that I would give I once again apologize.Yours Sincerely,Vismay Harani

  2. says:

    A four point guide to enjoying Bookless in Baghdad 1 Skip the essays In Defence of the Bollywood Novel, A Novel of Collisions and Art for Heart s Sake These are essentially endorsements for his own books Worse, they are pompous, self indulgent, and annoyingly serious in tone Tharoor s trademark wit dries up when he starts talking himself and his books up.Exhibit A I have always believed that, as the very word novel suggests, there must be something new or innovative about every novel one sets out to write otherwise what would be the point This from a self professed devotee of Wodehouse, that delightful writer who published roughly the same novel every year Exhibit B As a writer, I had always believed that the way I tell a story is as important to me as the story itself The manner in which the narrative unfolds is as OH GOD PLEASE STOP, SHASHI FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LET S MOVE ON 2 Any paragraph in which one comes upon the name of any of his books The Great Indian Novel, Riot, Show Business, India From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond should be immediately skipped for the next It is likely to contain self indulgent tripe 3 Tharoor s reflections on other writers are a delight His ode to Wodehouse is replete with many of the Master s celebrated turns of phrase She had curves than a scenic railway her face was shining like the seat of a bus driver s trousers I turned him down like a bedspread and the much quoted if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled , but it also contains the slightly self conscious grief of the adolescent worshipper his death still came as a shock Three decades earlier, Wodehouse had reacted to the passing of his stepdaughter, Leonora, with the numbed words I thought she was immortal I had thought Wodehouse was immortal too, and I felt the bereavement keenly.He offers a measured, if trenchant, critique of R K Narayan Like Austen, his fiction was restricted to the concerns of a small society portrayed with precision and empathy unlike Austen, his prose could not elevate those concerns beyond the ordinariness of its subjects At its worst, Narayan s prose was like the bullock cart a vehicle that can move only in one gear, is unable to turn, accelerate or reverse, and remains yoked to traditional creatures who have long since been overtaken but know no better Other writers featured include Pushkin, Neruda, Naipaul, Le Carr , Churchill, and Rushdie, among others This section of the book, titled Reconsiderations, makes the book.4 The rest of the book blows hot and cold Tharoor tackles the Islamophobic, right wing faction among Rushdie s supporters in the wake of the fatwa, pays a fitting homage to Orwell by visiting a Spanish Civil War outpost for a cup of coffee, and wonders whether Westerners sometimes willingly indulge in the pornography of povery His felicity of language ensures that even the unremarkable among his essays make for breezy reading I realize now that my review has unintentionally transformed halfway from a guide to a commentary For some reason, it makes me sympathetic towards Tharoor He s a good un As Wodehouse immortally remarked in the introduction to Summer Lightning A certain critic for such men, I regret to say, do exist made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained all the old Wodehouse characters under different names He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning With my superior intelligence, I have out generalled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.

  3. says:

    I was moved to the edge of kicking myself for not reading it before Though only a collection of essays on reading and writing, this book is such an eye opener Let me go to the background of how I picked up this book I was with my mother for this huge prize selection trip for her college students which required us to stay in a bookshop all day long To pass my time, I picked up random books from various sheves without really noticing what titles I picked Well, was I glad I picked this up I was sure Tharoor was a great writer but had absolutely no idea that he was an Indian s retort to British hot shots like Dickens, Austen and for that matter, even Rowling If you call Rowling hypnotic, this man is Buddha himself considering Buddha was a master of hypnosis He kept me engrossed for hours together and by the end of the day, I was craddling it in my arms as I slept.Honestly, I hadn t been a reader before I read this This book is not just another I love literature because I m a writer sort of book it s than that It is something which everyone who reads and has a wee bit of talent to write would cherish Tharoor s tongue in cheek humour, rich expression and extensive knowledge about the authors he has read, of places he has been to and the experiences he has had while romancing with his partly political, partly literary career clearly make him the best author to be born on the Indian soil and make us Indians proud to be living under the same skies as him

  4. says:

    This book is a selection of the newspaper columns Shashi Tharoor has written over the years Mr Tharoor is a very well read man and at times one wonders if the point of this book is just to ensure that everyone is very well aware of that fact He shares with us his eclectic taste in literature his love for Wodehouse, why he thinks Rushdie is a hero, his sympathy towards Pushkin for his few Indian readers, why he finds R K Narayan s English bland, how he identifies with Neruda as a writer involved in politics, and so on Some of all this is enjoyable but quite a lot is a tad boring, especially when he starts sprinkling anecdotes from his St Stephen schooling and UN duty.Overall, the book left me, in the authors words, both amused and bemused For colonialism gave us a literature that did not spring from our own environment, and whose characters, concerns, and situations bore no relation to our own lives This didn t bother us in the slightest A Bombay child read Blyton the same way a Calcutta kindergartner sang Jingle Bells without having seen snow or sleigh If the stories were alien, we weren t alienated they were to be read and enjoyed, not mined for relevance.

  5. says:

    The title of the book could make one assume that the book is about Shashi Tharoor s time in Iraq, possibly as the Minister of State for External Affairs in India after 2009 But I am almost certain that he never visited Iraq in that capacity I just bought the book simply because it is a Shashi Tharoor book and so it has got to be good, witty and insightful I wasn t disappointed The subtitle Other Writings about Reading gives away as to what the book is all about It is a delightful collection of essays on subjects ranging from literature, criticism, writers, socio political commentary, his own books and much else As I expected, they are analytical, at times provocative, at times deeply personal and certainly with a liberal sprinkling of humour and sarcasm It is an enjoyable read for the prose as well as the content.The book is organized in five sections Even though all the sections contain interesting pieces, I loved the section Reconsiderations for his views on other writers, Literary Life for his views on criticism and social commentary on illiteracy in the US and finally the section Appropriations for the delightful piece on how his book Show Business got mangled into a movie and his tribute to George Orwell by making the effort to have a cup of coffee in Huesca Spain The section Reconsiderations pays tribute to a number of writers and also has a go at some others like Winston Churchill and Nirad C Choudhuri In his piece Right ho sahib , he speculates adoringly on why Wodehouse is so popular in India long after the English speaking world forgot him He suggests that perhaps it is due to the setting of an idyllic and charming world that we all want but doesn t really exist in reality I found in him a kindred soul here as it brought me happy memories of my high school days when I and my friends used to feverishly devour PGW books one after another.The essays on Pushkin and Pablo Neruda are touching and heartfelt He remarks ruefully that India has translations of Goethe, Garcia Marquez and Kundera but no publisher has bothered to bring Pushkin to us in English or another Indian language On Neruda, Tharoor quotes a few lines from his poem To My Party as an example where Neruda soars in his vision high above the jargon laden propaganda of the Communist Party You have given me brotherhood towards the man I do not know,You have given me added strength of all those who I do not know ,You showed me how one person s pain could die in the victory of all,You have made me indestructible, for I no longer end in myself Tharoor is quite underwhelmed by R.K.Narayan s work, which he says points to the banality of his concerns, narrowness of vision, predictability of prose and shallowness of the pool of experience and vocabulary from which he drew That is not all He says further that Narayan used words as if unconscious of their nuances every other sentence included a word inappropriately or wrongly used The highest praise the author reserves is for Salman Rushdie, whom he honors with the accolade the head of my profession In the essay The Ground beneath his feet , he says that Rushdie is the most gifted re inventor of Indianness since Nehru He quotes Rushdie himself as to why it is so the only people who see the whole picture are the ones who step out of the frame Ever since V.S.Naipaul s contention that Indians lack historical consciousness, I had often wondered why it is so The essay Bharatiya Sanskriti in the Big Apple has a thought provoking and striking counterpoint from the Kannada language writer, Kambar, on this subject Kambar postulates that the Indian cultural sensibility is marked by its non linear notion of time Time is not a controlled sequence of events in our minds, but an amalgamations of all events, past to present Against the Western notion of history , Kambar posits a view of many ages and many worlds , including the mythic, constituting the Indian sense of present reality Krishna s lesson to Arjuna on the battlefield is not remote for us That is why the frenzied mob in Ayodhya cannot be persuaded by people like him Kambar to leave the past alone because the past is here As a writer, Kambar says that instead of swallowing the Western notion of the integrity of a text and its sole author, we ought to celebrate the way in which Indians continually told and retold the Mahabharata It is a matter of pride, says Kambar, that an entire country has collectively created an epic over a period of thousands of years I found this a new and revolutionary perspective to ponder about.The title piece Bookless in Baghdad is poignant as it shows the post sanctions Iraq in 1998 where people sell their precious book collections for cents in order to get by The tribute to Orwell is deeply touching as Tharoor and his wife search out a coffee shop in the town of Huesca in Spain to pay their homage to Catalonia, about which George Orwell wrote Tomorrow , we will have coffee in Huesca It reminded me of my own effort to find the village of Huettenberg in Austria, just so that I can see where Heinrich Harrer was from as a result of reading Seven Years in Tibet It is one of Shashi Tharoor s best books.

  6. says:

    There are books, and books about books Bookless in Baghdad is a collection of Tharoor s previously published articles about his own books and the books that made him What Bookless in Baghdad does beyond being a collection of articles is, it provides a better view of Tharoor s literary canvas In a few articles in Part one and Part three Tharoor reviews the reviews about his books I can imagine Tharoor knocking the pinhead reviewer in exasperation and clarifying Mahabharata s Its relevance to today s India is the relevance that today s Indians want to see in it After all, the epic has, throughout the ages, been the object of adaptation, interpolation, reinterpretation and expurgation by a number of retellers, each seeking to reflect what he saw as relevant to his time P.22 It is not hard to miss the seeds for his latest book An Era of Darkness in his various articles, where he makes a case against colonialism for appropriating the cultural definition of its subject peoples P.25 There is a thin line between being self adulatory and clarifying one s work for the audience and Tharoor succeeds in pitching his books to the readers Tharoor s personal favourites Wodehouse and Rushdie receive a graceful tribute in the pages I feel both authors have influenced Tharoor s work Tharoor is a past master of the Wodehousian wit His book The great Indian novel is reminiscent of Rushdie s Satanic Verses for using tropes about religion mythology as a literary device Tharoor affirms that one can be patriotic and secular at the same time In these times when patriotism is equated with jingoistic nationalism and majoritarian politics, Tharoor s book is an antidote for these tendencies and should be prescribed as a compulsory read in schools and colleges.In his words India has survived the Aryans, the Mughals, the British it has taken from each language, art, food, learning and grown with all of them To be an Indian is to be part of an elusive dream all Indians share, a dream that fills our minds with sounds, words and flavours from many sources that we cannot easily identify P.106 And again The suggestion that only a Hindu, and only a certain kind of Hindu, can be an authentic Indian, is an affront to the very premise of Indian nationalismThe only possible idea of India is that of a nation greater than the sum of its parts P.106 The cynic in me feels this book is like a requiem to the literary genius sacrificed at the altar of sycophantic politics of the Congress party Why ever would such a well read, sane person want to tread the murky water of politics Well, for that Tharoor has to definitely write another book, and I certainly look forward to reading it.

  7. says:

    I loved this book In fact I love books on books The last one I read was the one by orhan pamuk The English in this book is top notch Also it s very inspiring to read that shashi tharoor has read so many books and so 365 books in one year I have read only his novel riot apat from this book But I m a big fan of the guy and may end up reading of his books This is a good book to get some inspiration to read even books The only downside the title is totally misleading It gives an impression of being a book on the middle east

  8. says:

    This was the first time I read any of Shashi Tharoor s work Something about his writing was intriguing I loved his knowledge about various books and poems His words on various poets and their works just proved how inspiring their words were Such a fun read Perfect for a travel time Highly recommend it.

  9. says:

    Writing, Reading, criticism, book reviews, musings this book is a joyride if u like Tharoor s elegance, wit and irreverence The essays on his college St Stephen and the last essay were boring but enjoyed almost all of the rest.

  10. says:

    Each article was not just to read, but to reflect upon and google on the facts that I was not aware of.Thanks for the fab language used by Mr Tharoor.

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