The morning saw Parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor in conversation with Oxford historian Peter Frankopan discussing the accidental cultural exchange during the British rule.
On a breezy Thursday morning, art and literature enthusiasts in the city queued up outside Tata Theatre at NCPA to kickstart the Tata Lit Live! festival this year.
The fest is an annual Mumbai event that every bibliophile in the city looks forward to. With stimulating panel discussions, debates, performances and workshops, it offers experts from every possible field a platform to share ideas and generate a dialogue. The eighth edition of the festival will play host to eminent personalities like Devdutt Patnaik, Kiran Nagarkar, Shiv Visvanathan, Jerry Pinto, Catherine McKinnon, and Shobhaa De among many others.
The excitement at the venue on day one was palpable, as many enthusiasts hoped to catch the dynamic Shashi Tharoor, live in conversation with Oxford historian Peter Frankopan.
The first session titled You Gave Us Cricket, We Gave You Curry saw the Parliamentarian and litfest regular Shashi and Peter indulge in tongue-in-cheek jabs at each other.
It doesn’t take much to deduce that Shashi is not quite “a fan of the British empire.” Having authored several books like An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India (2016) and Inglorious Empire: What The British Did to India (2017) in the recent past, the author and politician has been pretty vocal about his ideologies regarding English colonialism.
The British hold their chicken tikka masala very dear. While their entire country takes pride in the several curry houses serving authentic Indian food lined throughout their markets, Shashi debunks the idea that the dish is even Indian in the very first place! As he begins, “Did you know that the chicken tikka masala isn’t even an Indian dish?” he leaves the audience at the edge of their seats wanting to know more about the story behind this. “After a rather tiring sport game, the team visits a quaint Indian eatery and asks for chicken tikka masala. When the waiter brings the dish, a large fellow asks him where the gravy is. To avoid any trouble with the Raj, the waiter goes back inside, puts on some tomato sauce in a pan, adds some spices, pours it over the meat and offers it again — and that is how the dish was born.”
While Shashi admits to be a consumer of British products that they apparently brought to the country, he says that the invaders didn’t get them for the benefit of Indians. “I have eagerly watched cricket all my life, I read literature by English authors, I am an ardent tea drinker. I don’t deny the British Emprie left behind many things that are a part of our daily lives here in India. But I have to say that none of these were brought to India for the good of Indians,” he asserts.
With the entire discussion being a healthy, exchange of ideas, they opened to questions from the audiences. Questions ranged from one spectrum to the other — why weren’t Indians given enough credit for their work in both the World Wars, is our obsession with fairness a product of the British Raj, and do to students learning in Britain ever learn about the atrocities they committed in the countries they invaded.
It is hard to say who won the debate. In classic Shashi style, the Parliamentarian didn’t leave much scope for arguments from Peter. And so, it’s quite hard to say who got the better deal.