The secret to Shashi Tharoor’s vocabulary

His love for the English language began with the big little magazine, the Reader’s Digest.

 |  3-minute read |   17-03-2018
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Ever wondered where the icon of impeccable English, master of complex wordplay, with his consummate flair, verve, and felicity in the Queen’s language, that has won him adulation across media and social media and triggered memes and jokes and think pieces, got his rich vocabulary from?

Shashi Tharoor, writer and member of Parliament and the man of many "difficult" words (that he’s bringing back into popular usage) shared his well-kept secret, of a childhood spent poring over Reader’s Digest magazine, with us at the unveiling of the March issue, a collection of the most celebrated stories from the magazine’s archives, dating back to almost a 100 years.

“It’s a rather intimate connection,” Tharoor said when asked of his long association with the magazine. The Indian edition of Reader’s Digest was established by his uncle Tharoor Parameswar in the mid-1950s. “My father’s eldest brother, who hadn’t, unlike his brothers, reversed his name. So he used Tharoor as his first name and not as his surname,” he laughed. That is probably why no one connected the dots before. Tharoor Parameswar was the founder, managing director, publisher and first editor of the Indian Reader’s Digest.

There were no special privileges for the first family of the legacy magazine, though. “Not because of that did we grow up with the copies of the magazine. My father and his brother were very ethical. We didn’t get any free subscription. My dad was a subscriber!”

Growing up in the 1960s with a houseful of Reader’s Digest copies, new issues arriving every month, the young Tharoor, already a voracious reader, would exhaust his book collection and start reading the back issues of the Digest, going all the way to the 1950s. As an asthmatic child, reading was his only respite from boredom and long hours spent indoors.

“Given that there was no TV, no computer, no Nintendo, no smartphones, all I had were books, and I ran out of them quickly,” he reminisced. The magazines became his source of education, instruction, diversion and entertainment.


The timeless humour that is singularly Reader’s Digest is still with Tharoor 50 years on. “What do I remember? In particular, the little anecdotes and jokes – Laughter, the Best Medicine and Humour in Uniform. I have to confess, some of those jokes still remain in my head.” He became quite the popular kid in school thanks to the jokes from the Digest.

The condensed books were a close second: “Though I did read widely and indiscriminately, it struck me that if I could read a book in half the time, because it was half the length, I might get more books read!” This, as we know, changed over time as he realized he wanted to “digest the whole thing, especially a book that I enjoyed”.

Years later, after his uncle had retired from his position at the magazine, his father Chandran Tharoor worked for the Digest as the advertisement director for five years, from 1980–85. “So, I have a real family connection!” he chuckled.

“The whole purpose of reading is to educate yourself, directly or indirectly, just by coming across these words. The Digest has stayed with me... and it’s great to see the material you’re resurrecting here,” he said while unveiling the March 2018, a special collector’s edition, of the magazine.

Well, there you have it – straight from the man himself! Check out the video below for more detailed anecdotes.

Also read: Have questions over Rafale deal made Nirmala Sitharaman lose her sheen?


Suchismita Ukil Suchismita Ukil

Suchismita is a selfish writer, but a better editor. She works as features editor with Reader's Digest during the day. She rules the queendom she calls Home with her trusted friend Inspector Bhelchu, who's terribly good at scaring off potential miscreants (read everyone).

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