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Thursday, April 15, 2021

The World Citizen as boy next door: In Palakkad, Tharoor and Tharoorisms

Ever since he joined politics back in 2009 as a Lok Sabha candidate for Thiruvananthapuram, Shashi has spoken to his home state in the language he is least fluent in, his mother tongue Malayalam.

Written by E P Unny | Palakkad |
Updated: April 2, 2021 12:19:24 pm
Shashi Tharoor in Ottappalam with Congress candidate Dr Sarin. (Illustration by E P Unny)

“Great to be in Nemmara”, begins Shashi Tharoor, “ just a couple of kilometres from home”. Which of the homes is not clear; both his parents have ancestral houses hereabouts. The globetrotting son has stayed in touch with both.

Longtime Congress ally CMP (Communist Marxist Party) is hosting him here, and its general secretary C P John has been gallantly chatting up the audience at the open air town square into the late evening. The restless have been intermittently assured that it is well worth the wait for the World Citizen. On a whirlwind tour to campaign for half-a-dozen candidates through snaky Malabar roads far from world class, when the World Citizen finally arrives, he disarms as the boy next door.

Much cheer greets the distance busting remark. In fact, if the day’s campaign is any indication, Kerala could be developing a taste for what can only be summed up by a potential Tharoorism, ‘hyper-glocal’. The new Malayali seems keen to stay thoroughly rooted and widely connected.

Shashi Tharoor campaigning in Nemmara. (Illustration by E P Unny)

Earlier in the day, the glocal was written all over the campaign at Ottappalam. This small town in Palakkad district has surplus legacy of local greats with global reach. From V P Menon who helped Sardar Patel integrate the nation to ace diplomats who shaped the country’s foreign policy — K P S Menon , K P S Menon (Jr) and Shivshankar Menon, three foreign secretaries from a single family. If this is too much authority for you, the place threw up one who critiqued power through a 70-year career — the legendary cartoonist Kutty.

In line with such per capita eminence, the Congress has fielded 37-year-old Dr Sarin, a quizzer, motivational speaker, medical doctor and civil servant who quit the service to contest. After brief introductory remarks, the candidate rushes off for a parallel poll meeting elsewhere handing the campaign “over to Dr Tharoor”.

Ever since he joined politics back in 2009 as a Lok Sabha candidate for Thiruvananthapuram, Shashi has spoken to his home state in the language he is least fluent in, his mother tongue Malayalam. This London-born former diplomat who grew up outside Kerala is an accomplished speaker in almost all other languages he knows — English, French, Bengali and Hindi. He still gropes for words in Malayalam, and it helps.

Through 13 years of public life, his Malayalam flows more swiftly, but it retains the flavour of the parental sublanguage. This lightens the campaign, which this time needs to be doubly lightened. The major plank is the alliance manifesto. Who in his senses would sit through the sweat and toil of a punishing session on poll promises?

But through the day, from indoor gatherings to wayside stops, Shashi speaks only about the manifesto and he does it at some length, “I and my team stepped out to sample beach side vendors and visitors on public expectations.” The M-word till lately was a sure damper. Voters held aloft copies of this distributed document as sunshields at summer elections. It is back in vogue, resurrected in spoken tongue. Themes come alive in imperfect informal interactive prose. “Allowance for housewives; tablet and data pack for students; investor protection act; hartal ban; single-door clearance instead of the single window you reach after knocking on several doors; the Congress as 21st Century alternative to 19th Century Left and 10th Century Right….”

Minutes to go for the mandatory closing, the campaign gets suddenly drowned out by the NDA’s passing road show blaring seismic disco music. Conversation is back in Kerala but it has to still compete with noise.

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