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Updated: March 31, 2012 18:47 IST

The Proust Questionnaire — ‘Never let yourself down’: Shashi Tharoor

NIta Sathyendran
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The Hindu

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?

M.F. Husain.

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”.

He can work exceptionally well in the area of international Diplomatic matters. But I am sure that he cant work among common people.

from:  faisal
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 14:50 IST

Shashi Tharoor has been one person whom I admire a lot - when he was a diplomat and now as a politician. It is unfortunate that he had to lose is External Affairs ministry position due to silly IPL team episode. Now that the Kochi Tuskers has already withdrawn from IPL, hope the PM would bring back Shashi Tharoor soon to some ministry.

from:  RK Raman
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 14:19 IST

Does Sycophancy and integrity go hand in hand?
To be a national leader does one need Nationalism?.

from:  MS
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 13:32 IST

I agree fully with the comments of jayarajan & Sabeerali. I wish there are mor young people like Shashi Tharoor in our politics,

from:  Nataraj
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 12:54 IST

What I admire in Shashi Tharoor is the way he communicates in English.
He is an asset to Indian politics. His international connections and expertise must have been utilised for enriching India's bilateral relationship with other countries in the world. But,he has to learn some practical politics.

from:  Sabeerali
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 11:50 IST

Shashi Tharoor's personality of impressing others and to be impressed by
the others are exelent especially the explanation about the favourite
journey and occasion of lying. May god bless him.

from:  P Jayarajan
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 06:45 IST

The Proust confession has made Tharoor reveal that he is a man on the
planet with the virtue/vice of a human being and not that of the masked
man called the Indian politician.

from:  Jayanta kumar Bora
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 06:19 IST

Great man and great thoughts... inspiring.

from:  dr.janetius
Posted on: Mar 30, 2012 at 19:18 IST

A great message, "Never try to achieve others standard, if that's going to let you down". Be the Best you can be! A very humanitarian advice. Thanks Shashi!

from:  Sridhar Vasudevan
Posted on: Mar 30, 2012 at 19:15 IST

I heard Congress workers were going to print WANTED posters in T'Puram.
Thank you, The Hindu! You have proved Sasi Tharoor is alive!

from:  R. Menon
Posted on: Mar 30, 2012 at 18:30 IST

The title aptly applies to Mr. Shashi Tharoor. He has let us (electorate) down by
his huge disappointment. For a change an educated person with highly established
relevant credentials was welcomed with a red carpet cutting across party lines but
alas he is more interested in being a celebrity than actually standing up as a man
to fight injustice.. Tweets and blogs don't make you great but your deeds only! He
got embroiled in scandals and came across as an educated sophisticated slieght of
hand with elements of support to systemic corruption and ill of the political class.
Never heard from him on the real issues like corruption within and outside his
party and atleast he should use his skills to do good locally in his state. Its time to
stand up and work on real issues and stop acting like a celebrity.. Sadly both
educated (MMS, Chidambaram, Shashi Tharoor) have let us down to the same level
as the criminal, corrupt and less educated politicians..

from:  SM
Posted on: Mar 30, 2012 at 18:28 IST

Very interesting personality. I was hoping he would be reinstated as a
Minister again. He didn't say how he was inspired by Pandit Nehru
whereas he mentioned about Akbar. Hope he gets his due and recognition
in politics. By the way, Indian politics is a mystery. The seemingly
unqualified people are ruling the wave and the qualified people find
it very tough. Perhaps the highly qualified people are not able to
understand the fragmented vote banks and are unable combine them as
per the requirement to effect a winning formula. Scholars rarely
become a successful King, that too a democratic King.

from:  mvrangaraajan
Posted on: Mar 30, 2012 at 18:10 IST
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