Riot by Shashi Tharoor: A review

Twenty-seventh book reviewed as part of the 130 Challenge.

A one line review for this book would be – He could have done so much better!

The cover of the version I read (shadow effect by yours truly).

The cover of the version I read.

Shashi Tharoor is a seasoned diplomat and is very well-known for his astute observations about India. Especially his for his deep insight into the politics of religion in India and the complex web of cultures, mythology and traditions that make India. So, it is natural to assume that when someone like him, who doesn’t hold back while talking about something, picks up his pen to write about something so sensitive and elusive as the nature of a riot, you expect more than the usual.

Yet, that is exactly where Tharoor fails to deliver. He paints the same picture that has been painted over the years about the Hindu zealots who demolished the Babri Masjid in an attempt to assert themselves as the superior cult. It was the same loopholes in their theory of the birthplace of Ram, pointed out by many political observers, that Tharoor uses in his book to establish who the bad guys are.

But most importantly, despite being named ‘Riot’, the story has very little to tell you about it. It is not about a people who have suffered, or are still suffering from the effects of one. Not does it tell you why and how exactly, the evil in human beings manifests itself in such a horrific manner. If you will look at the cover of the version that I read, you’ll see that the title says “Riot: A Novel”. In some places it has been marketed as “Riot: A love story”. I think that is more appropriate and less misleading.

This is a story that is partly about a sappy love story of an otherwise intelligent IAS officer, who makes some really pathetic mistakes and a foreigner (American) woman, who is wise beyond her years, but still can’t understand why an extra-marital affair should have to end badly in India of all places. And partly, it is the usual humdrum story of the way things are in India and the pathetic web of bureaucratic and political decadence that plagues the nation.

The back stories are all too familiar – smart young man, becomes IAS officer against his wishes, marries out of compulsion, hates his relatively influential and comfortable position – kind foreigner lady who comes to India to do some good, has a troubled past, has history with India, learns nothing from that history, suffers consequences. The plot is far too predictable and the characters are really flat. Nothing really, that impressed me about this book.

In fact, this book is so much pulp fiction that I struggled to find one good original quote from it to put on my blog. This is it –

There is not a thing as the wrong place, or the wrong time. We are where we are at the only time we have. Perhaps it's where we're meant to be.

There is not a thing as the wrong place, or the wrong time. We are where we are at the only time we have. Perhaps it’s where we’re meant to be.

And even though I will put this up as my Facebook cover, I don’t really agree with the quote. I expected better, Mr Tharoor. I didn’t think that you were like the diplomat version of Chetan Bhagat.

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One comment

  1. Bravo! Bravo!

    Liked by 1 person

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