The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cell Phone:
Reflections on India: the Emerging 21st Century Power
Shashi Tharoor

Hardcover/512 pages
ISBN: 1-55970-861-1
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"India is a country that is defined by its diversity."

The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cell Phone is a bit like watching a Thai slapstick comedy without the subtitles: you are often entertained, and you get the gist of what is going on, but at the end you still are not quite sure what the point was. It reads more like a series of essays than a cohesive book and, indeed, the author states in the introduction that each chapter can be read on its own. Of course this means that, like arriving in Chennai without having booked a hotel room, you are thrust into the midst of India and spend as much time trying to figure out where you are going as you do enjoying the scenery.


While there is no doubt as to the author’s credentials (Mr. Tharoor was the UN’s youngest ever Undersecretary General) and his ability to turn a clever phrase (favorite chapter titles: Democracy and Demockery; India, Jones and the Template of Dhoom), this book ultimately fails to captivate. For the world traveler experienced with the subcontinent, it provides a refresher on the superficial aspects of Indian culture without providing deeper insights to their roots. For the armchair backpacker, it gives an introduction to India without providing an overall sense of the place. Perhaps this is a book best enjoyed by Mr. Tharoor’s peers: educated Indians (or at least people of Indian descent) whose combination of sophistication and thorough grounding in the subject will make them the most receptive audience.

What does come through loud and clear is a message that has a great deal of relevance for us here in the United States: India is a country that is defined by its diversity, and its strength lies in celebrating its pluralism and accepting it as part of everyday life.

Reviewer: Logan Hess