|HOW INCENSE WORKS. WHEN SHASHI MET KOFI - BY SHASHI.
15 November 2005
As Shashi Tharoor ducked for cover for over a year while his mentor and benefactor Kofi Annan was being
pounded by the artillery of the press, we were urged to reproduce the article written for an internal publication by
Shashi Tharoor when he was seeking to leapfrog from his D-1 niche to Under-Secretary General and head of the Department
of Public Information. It was considered a classic example of blatant unabashed offering of verbal incense, a lethal weapon.
"It was you, I said, that made the U.N. worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize;" "The future of the U.N. never looked as
promising as it does now;" "Annan is the world's most admired statesman, more than double the popularity of his nearest
rival, British Prime Minister Tony Blair;" were just sample attestations. As they will be joined together at an
Internet related "summit" in Tunis, we were urged to push the "Refresh" button with that item.
The flattering article remained on the tables in the waiting area of the delegates' dining
room, although it was dated a year earlier. It was written by Shashi Tharoor, then interim head of
the Department of Public Information, then confirmed as Under-Secretary General. It was about "the man
who got the Nobel Prize."
In it Tharoor described how he "tossed and turned" at night anticipating the news from Nobel but that
Kofi Annan was sleeping soundly "as typically, he had no such anxieties." The prize, of course, was a
wonderful way to wake up. Responding to a comment by a senior colleague that the U.N. and Mr. Annan
could not have won this prize without one another, Shashi boldly stated he told the Secretary General
firmly and squarely to his face: "It was you," I said, "who brought the U.N. to the point where we are
worthy of the Nobel Peace prize." The man who brought the U.N. to this point we are told, ranked as the
world's most admired statesman in a Scandinavian summer poll (would a winter poll be far behind?),
"more than double the popularity of his nearest rival, British Prime Minister Tony Blair." We are
also informed that this emerging success after everyone else's failure was not due to the fact that
Mr. Annan was an insider with a remarkable range of skills. "The screaming, weeping
and cheering throng" that greeted him or "the continued exhilaration at the U.N." at his re-election,
was explained by something altogether simpler. "Kofi Annan possesses that rare quality not always found in
successful men: he is a wonderful human being." He was also a record-breaking sprinter in his youth -
"his college record in the 60-yard dash stood for decades." That may explain why Mr. Annan has "revealed
in his first term the tireless, stamina and patience of a long-distance runner" (sixty yards is
actually a short-distance run but then no one is keeping track). That is also why "the future of the
world organization had not for many years looked as promising as it does now." (!)
Diplomats and senior staff attending functions on the fourth floor regaled each other with choice
passages of that unique sample of unabashed flattery. They were not sure whether it was tongue in
cheek, an outright application for confirmation in the interim job, or merely one way of sending your
powerful boss a belated Valentine Day message. In defense, others said the hyperactive Shashi got
one point right within that wave of intensive incense burning. Kofi Annan was indeed a man of
humanity and deep personal strength. But he is also human. And as Napoleon once said, the most
blinding weapon is verbal incense. Obviously, it works.