Frontlist | The atmosphere at Sharjah book fair is fabulous: Shashi Tharoor

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Shashi Tharoor — author, Indian politician, and former international civil servant — who is also well known for his formidable vocabulary and penchant for unusual words, told an international virtual audience at the 39th Sharjah International Book Fair that his favourite word in his rich lexicon is: ‘Read’.

“I love the word ‘read’ because it is only by reading that you acquire all the other words,” said the eminent thinker and writer yesterday on the ‘Sharjah Reads’ global platform, urging the audience to have an active engagement with the written word. “It is important to read every single day, especially books, as it makes you appreciate the world and broaden your horizons.”

In a conversation with a local journalist, Dr. Tharoor expressed his regret at not being able to attend SIBF this year, adding: “I love the crowds at Sharjah. There is always a tremendous turnout of large numbers of enthusiastic readers and the atmosphere at the book fair is fabulous.”

Commenting on his latest literary offering, The Battle of Belonging – published less than a fortnight ago on October 31, which explores concepts of nationalism, patriotism and citizenship – he said: “The book is a product of the many years of reflection, but its fruition became possible only because of the concentrated time available during the recent lockdown to devote to both research and writing.”

I love the crowds at Sharjah, says Shashi Tharoor.

Calling it his “magnum opus on the theory, evolution and practice of nationalism across the globe and especially in India,” he hoped its contents and the ideas represented in it will lead to intellectually stimulating and constructive discussions.

“I don’t believe in writing provocatively; I think one needs to write to stimulate thought, and stimulate argument and reflection, and that is what I hope this book will do,” he said.

To a question on the title of the book, Shashi Tharoor responded: “There is a battle to define what Indianness is all about or what it means to be an Indian.”

He added: “My idea of India is an idea that is anchored in our Constitution; and the nationalism implicit in the Constitution is what I call civic nationalism which is not derived from markers of identity like religion, caste, creed or language. It is something which anybody can subscribe to and participate in.”

Admitting that his work-related demands as a politician prevented him from tackling “the mountainous pile of books that I intended to read during the lockdown,” Tharoor also rued the fact that his reading declined from his youth when he was a much more voracious reader.

“I once read 365 books in a particular year – I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone as you should read for pleasure, not to achieve a target,” said the prolific writer and author of more than 15 non-fiction titles.

The ‘wizard of words’ concluded his session offering two interesting words for the SIBF audience: ‘defenestrate’, which he describes as “a lovely little word for jettisoning or rejecting an idea”; and ‘Panglossian’ which he added “is an apt word for these dark, coronavirus times and which means being excessively optimistic.”

Organised by Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), SIBF 2020 concludes on Nov.14. Being held under the theme, ‘The World Reads from Sharjah’, the 39th edition has adopted a fully digital format to host its cultural programme of 64 unique events, which are being streamed on SBA’s virtual platform over the 11 days of the fair. Register for upcoming discussions at sharjahreads.com.

Among the international luminaries who participated in the 11-day annual literary and cultural extravaganza at SIBF 2020 were Richard Williams, an American spoken word artist, poet, and filmmaker better known by his stage name Prince Ea whose creative, inspirational and thought-provoking content accumulated over 1 billion views on social media platforms; Robert Kiyosaki, the US author of ”Rich Dad Poor Dad” who has challenged and changed the way tens of millions of people around the world think about money with the #1 personal finance book of all time; and 2002 Man Booker Prize winner (Life of Pi) and Canadian author Yann Martel, whose ”The High Mountains of Portugal” offers a haunting exploration of great love and great loss.

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