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Shashi Tharoor – author, Indian politician, and former international civil servant – who is also well known for his formidable vocabulary and penchant for unusual words, told an international virtual audience at the 39th Sharjah International Book Fair that his favourite word in his rich lexicon is: ‘Read’.

“I love the word ‘read’ because it is only by reading that you acquire all the other words,” said the eminent thinker and writer yesterday on the ‘Sharjah Reads’ global platform, urging the audience to have an active engagement with the written word. “It is important to read every single day, especially books, as it makes you appreciate the world and broaden your horizons.”

Commenting on his latest literary offering, The Battle of Belonging – published less than a fortnight ago on October 31, and explores concepts of nationalism, patriotism and citizenship – he said: “The book is a product of the many years reflection, but its fruition became possible only because of the concentrated time available during the recent lockdown to devote to both research and writing.”

Calling it his “magnum opus on the theory, evolution and practice of nationalism across the globe and especially in India”, he hoped its contents and the ideas represented in it will lead to intellectually stimulating and constructive discussions.

“I don’t believe in writing provocatively; I think one needs to write to stimulate thought, and stimulate argument and reflection, and that is what I hope this book will do,” he said.

To a question on the title of the book, Shashi Tharoor responded: “There is a battle to define what Indianness is all about or what it means to be an Indian.”

He added: “My idea of India is an idea that is anchored in our Constitution; and the nationalism implicit in the Constitution is what I call civic nationalism which is not derived from markers of identity like religion, caste, creed or language. It is something which anybody can subscribe to and participate in.”

Admitting that his work-related demands as a politician has prevented him from tackling “the mountainous pile of books that I intended to read during the lockdown,” Tharoor also rued the fact that his reading has declined from his youth when he was a much more voracious reader.

“I once read 365 books in a particular year – I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone as you should read for pleasure, not to achieve a target,” said the prolific writer and author of more than 15 non-fiction titles.

The ‘wizard of words’ concluded his session offering two interesting words for the SIBF audience: ‘defenestrate’, which he describes as “a lovely little word for jettisoning or rejecting an idea”; and ‘Panglossian’ which he added “is an apt word for these dark, coronavirus times and which means being excessively optimistic”.