The Proust Questionnaire is a fortnightly feature which derives its name from the French writer Marcel Proust, whose personality-revealing responses to these questions went on to popularise this form of celebrity confession. This questionnaire was administered by NIta Sathyendran
What is your idea of happiness?
Happiness is a state of well-being that allows you to feel that your presence on this planet is worthwhile; that you're happy to be alive, and that you're looking forward to the next moment.
What is your greatest fear?
Losing a loved one.
Which historical figure do you identify the most with?
I don't know if I can identify myself with any one figure. Rather, I'm inspired by someone such as Jawaharlal Nehru — he's probably the person I would single out. I've been impressed and inspired by different figures of history such as Akbar, whom I admire for his syncretism and his remarkable ability to wield together such a large and far-flung empire in an era before easy communication.
Which living person do you most admire?
Kofi Annan. He's someone who has worked his way up in a difficult and complicated international environment to become the first black Secretary General of the United Nations. He has extraordinary personal strength. I sometimes compare him to an Indian yogi because of his ability to be so deeply anchored that he does not allow himself to be swayed by either pressure or pleasure. One tends to admire people who are different from oneself.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
An anxiety to please. I'm sometimes far too inclined to give into demands upon me, whether it is my time, positions I need to take, attention to certain issues...
What is the trait you deplore in others?
Dishonesty. And not just financial dishonesty, but moral and intellectual dishonesty too.
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your favourite journey?
To my ancestral home, a more than 200-year-old house nestled in the foothills of the Western Ghats in Palakkad district. It's where my grandmother lives. It's an idyllic place surrounded by paddy fields, with coconut tress swaying in the breeze, extraordinarily pure air, and something much more intangible to do with the feeling of being at home.
Who is your favourite painter?
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Modesty. Too often the modesty professed by some tends to be immodesty disguised in a cloak of insincerity.
On what occasion do you lie?
Only to avoid hurting others. I've never lied in my life, and particularly not to people who matter to me, even when the truth may be unpalatable. But there are occasions when you feel that no useful purpose can be served by telling somebody exactly what you feel or exactly what others have said about them. And you tend to coat the truth in what was once called a white lie.
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
My increasingly undisciplined hair and my perpetually losing battle of the bulge.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
In English, I tend to be fairly even-handed in my choice of words. In Malayalam, though, I find myself using a number of phrases such as ‘ente manasil' (in my mind), which is essentially kind of a filler for when you're trying to figure out what to say.
What is your greatest regret?
The loss of my father. It was almost 18-and-a-half years ago but I still haven't gotten over it. Probably, at some level I never will.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My wife Sunanda, who in so many ways has transformed my life, even though we met so much later than the stars intended us to.
When and where were you happiest?
The single moment was probably the birth of my twin sons Ishaan and Kanishk. But even that was such a lesson in life because it was tinged with fear as they were born eight weeks premature. Just seeing them for the first time, I don't think I've ever experienced an emotion like that. I was happy but not exhilarated because there was that underlying fear.
What is your present state of mind?
Stressed. That seem to be a congenital condition these days.
How would you like to die?
Ideally at peace after having lived a full life, and with the sense that there is nothing more I particularly wish to accomplish on the planet.
What is your favourite motto?
Never let yourself down. I've often felt that instead of people trying to achieve other people's standards, the biggest and most valuable thing is to be the best that you can be.
Shashi Tharoor is a politician and a Member of Parliament from Thiruvanantha-puram. Before returning to his native Kerala, he was a career diplomat with the United Nations, where he rose to the level of Under Secretary General for Communications and Public Information. Tharoor is also a prolific author and columnist, having written bestsellers such as “The Great Indian Novel”, “The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cell Phone: Reflections on India in the 21st Century”, and “Bookless in Baghdad”.