For a book that began as a tweet, Shashi Tharoor’s Inglorious Empire: What the British did to India has had a remarkable journey, taking its best-selling author on a world tour, both to the centre of Empire in the United Kingdom, and its outpost in Australia. A career diplomat who retired as under-secretary general at the United Nations in 2001, Tharoor is now a member of parliament for the Lower House in Kerala and renowned both for his views, and his eloquence, on Indian history, geopolitics, economics, and international relations.
The book’s genesis has acquired mythic proportions by now and bears repetition: in 2015, Tharoor was invited by the Oxford Union to debate the proposition, ‘Britain Owes Reparations to Her Former Colonies’, and carried the day. He tweeted a link to the video of his speech, and the rest, as they say, is history. The tweet went viral, was downloaded and replicated on hundreds of sites, shared via email and Whats-App, topped three million views on a single site itself, leading to Tharoor being hailed by those who had previously ‘trolled’ him online, and to the publication of hundreds of articles arguing the pros and cons of his position and seminars that discussed the ramifications of what is now referred to as his ‘Oxford speech’. Persuaded by David Davidar, editor of one of India’s most intelligent publishers (Aleph), to write a layman’s guide to the well-worn and extensively written-about topic of British colonialism in India, Tharoor then embarked upon An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India, published as Inglorious Empire in the United Kingdom, which sold more than 50,000 copies within six months of publication.