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A Model Indian

February 2004
A Model Indian

Rarely do we publish cover features on personalities. Usually, that space is reserved for compelling and relevant themes that directly affect a community of immigrants such as us. As a breather we also do leisurely travelogues about India's grandiose beauty and put its picturesque images on the cover. We have featured personalities. Like governor Sonny Perdue. But that too was more about our relationship with him as a community rather than a profile on him.

Therefore, in that context, Shashi Tharoor on the cover is a novelty. One reason for that is Tharoor's latest book Nehru: The Invention of India. We agree with Tharoor's own assessment, "Jawaharlal Nehru's impact on India is too great not to be reexamined periodically."

Like him or not; agree with him or not, Nehru's impact on the then brand new nation of India is hardly arguable. Even the young second generation Indian Americans who may be only vaguely familiar with Nehru and his role in Independent India, may not realize that their success in assimilating in the American melting pot may have a lot to do with Nehruvian philosophies of inclusiveness and secularism. Many of these young Indian Americans rightly feel that the community as a whole is quite cliquish. Can they imagine how much more cliquish Indians would have been, if not for the secularism carved into our national psyche by a cosmopolitan Nehru?

It's not any book on Nehru that would merit such attention. The reason Tharoor's book becomes a 'must read', is not just because it's about an individual who is central to Indian history, but because it is critically acclaimed for its balanced portrayal of Nehru, a man who has managed to elicit strong opinions for and against him. According to the Kirkus Review, the book is "a thoughtful account, likening Nehru to Thomas Jefferson in ways both positive and negative."

Our feature is not just about Tharoor's book on Nehru, but also about Tharoor himself. Here's a shinning example of a global Indian citizen. Don't let his refined British accent and his near Anglo Saxon looks fool you. He is an Indian to the core and a refreshingly unapologetic one. At a time when Indian Americans seem bent on melting themselves into the American pot, Tharoor's native pride is exemplary.

More importantly, he reminds us that being globally suave is not at odds with being desi. Unlike a V.S. Naipaul who seems perennially at odds with his roots, Tharoor demonstrates through his books as well as his public persona that he is at once incurably Indo-centric and remarkably international.

The parallels between Tharoor and Nehru are also noteworthy. Nehru was Western-educated, cosmopolitan, well read, as well as a good writer. So is Tharoor. Nehru was also an idealist - only in the sense that he was driven to doing good beyond his immediacy. That same impetus is what Tharoor refers to when he talks about his UN work - the ability to impact mankind for the better.

A "model Indian" is therefore a label both can carry well.

-Parthiv N. Parekh

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