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!”