Thursday, March 20, 2014

My experience of being Dr. Shashi Tharoor's Legislative Assistant

I worked with Dr. Shashi Tharoor as his Legislative Assistant in the year 2012-2013. A Legislative Assistant to a Member of Parliament (a more commonly used acronym would be LAMP) is typically a young Indian with a keen interest in Public Policy and Government Legislation. An initiative of PRS Legislative Research, the LAMP Fellowship places fellows with Members of Parliament across different parties. A fellow’s individual political ideology or preference is not taken into account when they are placed with Members of Parliament.

I first met Dr. Tharoor at his office in Lodhi Estate. Priya Thachadi Soman, who was Manager of the LAMP fellows last year, accompanied me there. I remember Dr. Tharoor looking at my CV and saying, “My dear, you have excellent credentials. Keep it up.” I was extremely nervous when I had walked into the office with Priya, and his assuring words assuaged my fears.

In my own mind, I knew I would enjoy working with Dr. Tharoor. I had a keen interest in writing, and he was a celebrated writer. I was interested in Refugee issues, and he had acquired a wealth of knowledge during his time at the UNHCR. There was also a synergy in terms of our beliefs- we both believe that the way forward for India is if its people are secular and liberal. Impinging on other people’s social freedoms is something that he thinks is absolutely unacceptable, as do I.

But most importantly, I remember walking into his office several times during lunch break to answer a question only to find him asking me, “ Did you see that brilliant six? Absolutely Spectacular!” Anyone who knows me can vouch for the fact that I have probably not missed watching a cricket match since age nine. I discovered to my delight that my first ever Boss also shared the same love for the game.

What I liked most about Dr. Tharoor was that he seemed to have time for everyone, even school students who landed up at his doorstep without prior notice and asked him for an hour of his time to interview him for a school project. 

I remember someone reaching out to him on Twitter, telling him about a new social business that he had started. After a couple of twitter exchanges, the young man asked Dr. Tharoor if he was willing to meet.Despite his incredibly busy schedule, Dr. Tharoor took out time for the young man, listened to him patiently and gave him valuable advice for his time. 

 Dr. Tharoor is truly someone who cares about people- “What are people’s motivations? Why do people think the way they do? What drives them?” Perhaps it is this side to him that makes him a writer. He is a good listener, and unlike many people in power who cut off their juniors’ sentences even before they can complete it, Dr. Tharoor listens patiently. He is also extremely forthcoming in his views, even though he is very nice about it.

On my first ever assignment, I made a very major mistake. The mistake I had made was due to a lack of understanding of how the Parliamentary System works, in practice. Dr. Tharoor came back from Parliament, sat down with me and explained where exactly I had gone wrong. He was firm with me, but extremely polite. That was true of my entire year of working with him. When I went wrong, he told me where exactly I went wrong, and when I did well, he encouraged me and pushed me to do even better.

Over the course of the year, I helped Dr. Tharoor with many assignments including one where I helped him draft a response to someone who wrote to him saying, “ Feminists will ruin the country!” I distinctly remember the response : “The only thing Feminists are attempting to do is to bring about equality in this country.” It was heartening to see a male politician, not taking potshots at a woman for a change.

I learnt many things from Dr. Tharoor during my year as his assistant- how any research conducted must be thorough and how sources must be double-checked; How everything one writes must be backed up by solid research and how to remain cheerful and smiling even after a very tiring day.

When I graduated from the Fellowship, Dr. Tharoor was present to give me my award . The next day, I opened my twitter account to see that Dr. Tharoor, with his characteristic wit, had put up a picture of me with him saying, “Thanks Reeti, for all your help to enlighten me as my LAMP!”


                                            Dr. Tharoor and I, during my year as a LAMP


Anonymous said...

Very well written..Indeed Dr.Tharoor is a great human being. It is due to people like him that common man has not lost faith in politics of this country.
Congratulations Reeti for successfully completing LAMP fellowship. Also if possible please write about your journey & experiences @ Lamp fellowship.
Wish you all the best for your future endeavours.

AVANNI said...

Best wishes in future endeavours.

sherene said...

Sounds like a fantastic experience! :)

Jose Pinto Stephen said...

Very good writing Miss Reeti. I am sure you gained a tremendous experience as working as a Lamp in Dr. Shashi Tharoor's team. Please keep on doing great things like this. You should continue to write and send it to the publications. Here in USA I am serving as a freelance journalist and I do write mainly for Indian medias here. If you send me your write ups I can forward it to our medias here.

Jose Pinto Stephen

Ram Mohan said...

Hi Reeti
Dr. Tharoor was in a way my idol too. My father, presented me his " The Great Indian Novel" years ago which remained both Dads and my favourite book. I had the chance to meet and host him many years later when he came to The Gambia as Indias candidate for the UN. Three exciting hectic days, and similarly, while we had a cocktail at a popular Indian Restaurant, there was a cricket match on, and his prime interest was in taking a few breaks and moving the conversation to the television conrner. His love for cricket, made me understand the entire Kerala IPL team saga. Here was someone who despite coming from a top knotch job from the UN, could have easily landed equally prestigious jobs while he continued writing, chose to be himself, and rather than call it entering politics. His knowledge on India despite having lived away is immense and evident from his books. A lot of his critics think of him as a difficult hotshot, pampered nouveau riche Congress man, but he is there because he wants to do something to improve India. Id say he brought some common sense to the scene. A lot of hard work. I met him once again in New Delhi at a meeting he arranged for us Honorary Consuls to meet, as our Foreign Minister for State. In his very short tenure, cut abrubtly by a gross ignorance of the English language, by circles that politically matter due to his frank and transparent nature, his immediate goal was to reach out to Africa where he had independent charge. Africa benefitted. Later, as an MP from Kerala, he has striven to improve Thiruvanadapuram, and has been extremely transparent while doing so tirelessly. In a strange way, I see him as a representative of the Aam Aadmi and wonder why we have such a polarised divide.
As an Indian citizen, I want a nation that we can be proud of. Of leaders and people who look down on corruption. Shashi Tharoor is one such person and am sure he will succeed in his endeavours.
I can say that you too have been lucky to have had a mentor like him.
Ram Mohan

Robbie said...

Wonderful post!
I completely agree with your description on the personality of Dr. Shashi Tharoor. We are lucky to have people like him.

Harish Nair said...

Reeti, Tharoor is an idol for millions of intelligent minds all throughout the world. A chance to interact with that great man for even a few minutes is itself a fortunate one. Congratulations!!