Author, peace-keeper, refugee worker, human rights activist and now political candidate for the Indian Parliament, Shashi Tharoor straddles several worlds of experience.
Chairman of Dubai-based Afras Ventures and former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dr. Shashi Tharoor was the official candidate of India for the succession to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006, and came a close second out of seven contenders in the race. His career began in 1978, when he joined the staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, and included key responsibilities in peace-keeping after the Cold War and as a senior adviser to the Secretary-General, as well as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.
Dr. Tharoor is also the award-winning author of nine books, as well as hundreds of articles, op-eds and book reviews in a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the International Herald Tribune, Time, Newsweek and The Times of India. He has served for two years as a Contributing Editor and occasional columnist for Newsweek International. Since April 2001 he has authored a fortnightly column in The Hindu and since January 2007 in The Times of India.
Born in London in 1956, Dr. Tharoor was educated in India and the United States, completing a Ph. D. in 1978 at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he received the Robert B. Stewart Prize for Best Student. At Fletcher, Shashi Tharoor helped found and was the first Editor of the Fletcher Forum of International Affairs, a journal now in its 31st year. A compelling and effective speaker, he is fluent in English and French.
In January 1998, Dr. Tharoor was named a "Global Leader of Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He is the recipient of several awards, including a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and was named to India’s highest honour for Overseas Indians, the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, in 2004. He serves on the Board of Overseers of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, the board of trustees of the Aspen Institute India, and the Advisory Boards of the World Policy Journal, the Virtue Foundation and the human rights organization Breakthrough. He is also a Fellow of the New York Institute of the Humanities.
Shashi Tharoor: I am a Hindu. I am a believing Hindu, and I . . . I have to say that that has been a fairly significant impact . . . has had a fairly significant impact in my approach to the world, because Hinduism is uniquely the only major religion in the world that doesn’t claim to be the only true religion. Hinduism says that all ways of reaching out to God are equally valid. And Hinduism and Hindus readily venerate the saints and the sacred objects of other faiths. So it’s a . . . it’s a . . . it’s an agreeable thing to belong to a faith which doesn’t say in any of its teachings that this is the only way to salvation. And it means that I can meet my fellow human beings of other faiths without being unduly burdened by the conviction that they are embarked upon a wrong path – that . . . that I’m sort of doing the right thing seeking salvation and they have missed the boat, as unfortunately true believing Christians and . . . and . . . and Muslims and others would be obliged to believe because their teachings do indeed specify that they are the . . . the right way to redemption and salvation. So that’s, to me, the right faith for an age of doubt and uncertainty. For an age of co-existence and tolerance, it’s . . . it’s great to be brought up in a faith which has no single sacred book, no single Pope, no single Sunday, no compulsory obligations, rituals, rights of worship; that leaves to the individual the possibility of finding his own truth. In that sense, Hinduism has rightly been considered a very selfish religion because it ultimately deals with the well-being and the personal quest for truth and peace of the individual worshipper. And the collectivity is much less important in Hinduism than in Islam, or even in Christianity with its Sunday church services and so on. And so I find it a . . . a religion that’s very congenial to me as somebody who doesn’t particularly enjoy going to temples; who sees through the trappings of organized religion and the privileges of the priestly class and so on. I would be very troubled to belong to a . . . an excessively well-organized religion. To belong to Hinduism is to accept the notion that there is a divinity beyond all of us as human beings, but that divinity is essentially unknowable by us as human beings. And that all spirituality and faith is about stretching out your hands to that which you cannot touch. And . . . and knowing that is humbling in many ways; but it also gives you a fairly sensible perspective when others proceed with dogmatic ________ from the verities of their faith to . . . to . . . to try and tell the rest of the world how to live. My Hinduism gives me the . . . both the strength and the skepticism to deal with those people.
Recorded on: 9/18/07