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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

‘My mother has been with me… I have missed time with grandson’

While the lockdowns have tied him down, Shashi Tharoor has been busy, making news with the House panel that he heads, which just questioned a Facebook official, helping out those hit by Covid, and as per his admission, on social media.

Written by Liz Mathew | Updated: September 6, 2020 9:42:10 am
shashi tharoor, shashi tharoor interview, shashi tharoor covid 19, parliament monsoon session, coronavirus india newsCongress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, Shashi Tharoor

With the Monsoon Session of Parliament likely to begin from Sept 14, Shashi Tharoor, 64, will line up to get a Covid-19 test for the first time, complying with the Speaker’s request to MPs for the same before the session begins. While the lockdowns have tied him down, Tharoor has been busy, making news with the House panel that he heads, which just questioned a Facebook official, helping out those hit by Covid, and as per his admission, on social media. He has also wrapped up two books.

What precautions are you taking to stay Covid-free?

Home isolation, principally – minimal personal or social contact, especially in the first few months, and the usual masks and sanitisers when contact is unavoidable.

Have you got yourself tested for Covid-19?

Not yet. I felt it would be wrong to add to the burdens on the health services by seeking a test for myself unless symptoms warranted it. Mercifully, they have not so far, though before the Parliament session starts all MPs are expected to get themselves tested, and I will line up for that three days ahead of the session.

What has your routine been in self-isolation?

Lockdown has meant a life without any of the three main things that usually kept me busy — meetings, events and travel. But for once I have been able to develop a routine that includes daily exercise and maintaining regular hours, a luxury I have never had! Not that the work itself is predictable: the onrush of daily events created their own pressures. Keralites stranded abroad and wanting to come home reached out to me in large numbers, from 27 countries — ranging from students in places as far apart as Ukraine and the Philippines, to fishermen stranded in Iran, to businessmen unable to return home from what was intended to be a short business trip to a foreign country. Responding to their requests and bringing them to the attention of the authorities dealing with such problems took time. Politics has made its own demands, and there has been a profusion of webinars, virtual meetings and interviews. I am working 16-17-hour days, of which 8-10 go into Covid-related, political and constituency-connected work (including social media posts!), 3-4 hours on video conferences/webinars and Zoom meetings, 1.5 on exercise, two-three on family and meals, and the remainder, whenever possible, on writing.

What kind of gloves, mask do you use?

Early on, one of my intrepid staff members picked up a couple of N95 masks (the plain ones, not the ones with the air filters), and they have been my mainstay. I also got a donation of ‘Eliferous’ designer masks for my constituency, which came with a bonus pair for my mother and me. And when we ordered an Onam sadya from the Kerala restaurant Mahabelly, they sent along masks with Kathakali faces on them. So we are not running out of supplies! I haven’t worn gloves so far — have preferred to trust soap and water, and sanitiser.

While interacting with people at work, what precautions do you take?

Social distancing as far as possible, masks when not. We have had a couple of parliamentary panel meetings, which were opportunities to test the efficacy of these methods, and so far they have worked.

How long have you gone without seeing your family?

My family is widely scattered: sons, daughters-in-law and grandson in the US, a sister each in California and London, my mother in Kerala, nieces and nephews widely dispersed. Fortunately, my mother and London sister were with me when the lockdowns started, and though my sister eventually returned to her own family in the UK, my mother has been with me throughout. That has been a relief as well as a consolation — a relief that one is not alone, and a consolation that I don’t have to worry about my mother coping with the pandemic alone and far away.

Do you take any specific precautions while you travel?

I haven’t been travelling a lot. I’ve been able to do a lot for my constituents by phone and email… I haven’t boarded a flight since late March, which is a lifetime record for me!

How much time do you spend in front of a screen?

Between my desktop and my mobile phone screens, easily more than a dozen hours a day.

How do you keep your mind off the pandemic?

The daily flow of constituency issues and political and parliamentary work are usually enough to keep the mind and soul occupied, but I also managed to complete two books. Tharoorosaurus (Penguin), a book on words, is just out and The Battle of Belonging, my magnum opus on nationalism, both global and Indian, will emerge from Aleph on November 1.

What is the first thing you want to do when the pandemic is past?

To see my grandson! Last I saw of him (other than on a phone screen) was over the New Year’s holiday. He has turned two in the meantime, started speaking so much and developing quite a personality. The pandemic has made me completely miss out on quality time with him.

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