The Riot Choice - Delhi Times (17 August 2001)

The man who has carved a niche for himself in the international literary scene, and is an acclaimed son of one of India's most literate states, says, "I am Kerala's last illiterate". Winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Shashi Tharoor, who was in the Capital for launching his novel `Riot', said one of his greatest regrets was not knowing Malayalam - a language in which he would have loved to write.

Introducing the work, Tharoor said the story took off from two unrelated incidents in the eighties - the death of an American female volunteer during a communal riot in Uttar Pradesh and the killing of a white woman health worker by a group of black young men during the days of apartheid in South Africa.

"I have attempted to visualise the 1989 UP riots through a collage of individual voices collected from newspaper reports, diary entries and conversations," he said.

Dismissing the charge that Indian writing in English had an eye on the western world, Tharoor contended that English was no longer a foreign language for India. "In fact, `The Discovery of India' was penned by Panditji (Jawaharlal Nehru) in English".

"I write because India matters to me," he said and added that English just happened to be the medium which in no way detracted from "our Indianness," thus buttressing the view that Lord Macaulay's dream of anglicising India mentally and intellectually, remained unfulfilled.

Talking about his job as special assistant to United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, Tharoor said it was more than a profession... it was a cause. However, the moment he felt that his being in India would be of any help to the nation, he would readily return. The author believes history to be a'sacred kind of writing' because truth is essential to it. Therefore, he has accorded importance to the `form' and let the `content' be primarily dictated by eye-witness accounts.

Showing how impossible it was to get to the truth, Tharoor in his reading of the novel, included a fable in which a knight goes out in quest for truth. After a lot of wandering, the warrior finds it -a very old woman with all the deformities - but before departing when he asks her how he should describe her to the king and commonfolk in his kingdom, she says, "Tell them I am beautiful".

The novel explores the possibility of finding the truth about communal riots but no Lakshman, Gurinder Singh or Ram Charan Gupta - characters in the novel - could alone provide that. At the end of the day, it is left to the readers to judge.