Shashi Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor

A weeklong electronic journal.
Aug. 10 1998 3:30 AM

Shashi Tharoor

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       This is going to be the "Diary" of an untypical week. Not that I have such things as typical weeks: Mine are usually characterized by what cricket writers love to call the "glorious uncertainties of the game." Last week I was helping U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan cope with the latest Iraq crisis; the week before I was in New Delhi in my other guise, doing readings to mark the launch of the paperback edition of my most recent book, India: From Midnight to the Millennium. This week I'm at the Aspen Institute in Aspen, Colo., attending its flagship executive seminar. Unless, of course, a new crisis supervenes and I'm summoned back to U.N. HQ. It's been known to happen.
       Aspen is, of course, the very expensive, very tony resort in the Colorado mountains where all visitors are rich or famous (or think they are). Not the most likely spot for impecunious writers or international civil servants (and I'm both). But the institute's campus at the pleasantly laid-out Aspen Meadows is a place where beautiful ideas take precedence over beautiful people. Last December, in England, I co-moderated, with David Gergen (who is always, of course, a moderating influence) an Aspen Institute seminar on "Persistent Poverty in Developing Countries." It went well enough that I was asked whether I'd be willing to moderate an executive seminar. I said I'd need to attend one first as a student. So they invited me.
       I don't normally lead the kind of life that allows me to spend a week in sylvan surroundings musing on the Great Ideas of human civilization, which is what executive seminarians do. But it's precisely the frenetic pace of my daily existence--governed by the interminable tyranny of meetings and deadlines, the insistent clamor of the telephone, incessant streams of visitors and inescapable social obligations--that prompted me to accept the invitation. It's been 20 years since graduate school, and that portion of my mind that hasn't been totally numbed by reality could use some intellectual stimulation. It helps, of course, that this particular session is taking place this week. The hope that mid-August, with the secretary-general away, might be a relatively safe time to make my escape from U.N. chores had crossed my mind. But I'm hardly invulnerable. August has been a busy month for international crises: World War I began in August 1914, Pakistan went to war with India in August 1965, Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. Perish the thought.
       My fellow participants are an interesting group, overwhelmingly from the private sector--senior executives of Toyota and American Airlines among them--and even a woman from the CIA. (There are also, amazingly enough in a group of 19, two other Indians--the CEO in India of the British multinational ICI, and an academic based in Thailand. And we're the only non-North Americans.) They're all here because their corporations believe a renewed grounding in the major ideas of political economy and moral philosophy will help equip senior managers to make better decisions. I don't know to what extent that's true, but it seems to work, because the executive seminars have gone on for decades and executives keep paying to come to them.
       Time to drag my unwilling carcass over to the health club before the first session. Most of the time, my only form of exercise is jumping to conclusions.

Shashi Tharoor is a prize-winning Indian writer of both fiction (The Great Indian Novel, Show Business) and nonfiction (most recently, India: From Midnight to the Millennium). He is also director of communications and special projects in the office of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.