BENGALURU: He was articulate, he was witty, he was clearly the crowd favourite and he pulled no punches. The fifth edition of Bangalore Literature Fest kicked off here on Saturday. The event saw hundreds of visitors early in the day itself owing largely to the impressive line-up of the first two panels.
The first panel had economist-writer Sanjeev Sanyal quizzing Shashi Tharoor on the reality of the British Raj — also the subject of Tharoor’s latest book — ‘An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India’. Tharoor was his usual eloquent self as he laced his talk with witty quips and had a plethora of historical facts and figures from myriad sources at his fingertips.
Tharoor provided several examples throughout the session which bust the myth of the British being kind imperialists who did a lot of good for the country. He said, “We all know about divide and rule, but what I was not prepared for was that the extent to which the caste system as we know it today was essentially a legacy of the British raj.”
Tharoor, referring to Winston Churchill as ‘a thoroughly unpleasant scoundrel,’ brought up another damning narrative which showed the British’s indifference to Indian lives. He pointed out how, during the Bengal famine, grains and food supplies were shipped out of the country even as people were dying on the streets. Tharoor and Sanyal also addressed the issue of this aspect of history being missing from Indian textbooks.
The Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram revealed how, in spite of being offered British citizenship several times, he had declined it stating, “When I look at the mirror, I see an Indian” — a line that sent the crowd into raptures.
While the ladies have always loved him, this time, even a man from the audience seemed much enamoured by Tharoor as he told the MP how “smart and beautiful” he was looking, to which Tharoor duly quipped, “If only a lady had said that.”