Beyond Diplomacy

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Beyond Diplomacy India’s diplomats have thrown up from among their ranks a number of practitioners of the written word. Some of them have written their way to considerable fame and recognition. Abhay K surveys India’s ‘diplomatic literature’


hen Shashi Tharoor wrote an article in The Hindu about six years ago titled Diplomats as Littérateurs he could think of only four to five Indian diplomats who were writers. A closer look reveals that there are many more Indian writer-diplomats. The list goes up to a hundred that includes well-known names such as Vikas Swaroop and Pawan Verma and many not so well-known ones such as Ajay M. Gondane and Pratap Singh. V.S. Naipaul writes in his book A Writer’s People: “India is hard and materialist. What it knows best about Indian writers and books are their advances and their prizes. There is little discussion about the substance of a book or its literary quality or the point of view of the writer... the most important judgments of an Indian book continue to be imported.” Have Indian diplomats made substantial contributions to Indian literature or world literature, as Pablo Neruda or Octavio Paz have? Are books written by Indian diplomats known outside diplomatic circles or even within the world diplomatic community? These are some relevant questions which need to be asked before passing judgment on the quality, substance and depth of Indian writer-diplomats. India has produced some noted diplomats since the 1950s who have left behind in their books immense experience and wisdom to guide succeeding generations. The name of J. N. Dixit comes to the fore when one thinks of Indian foreign policy matters. He comes across as a giant among the past and present diplomats. Dixit wrote many books on Indian foreign affairs. His books cover a wide 92 Pravasi Bharatiya September-October 2010

Foreign Secretary of India Nirupama Rao. She is the author of Rain Rising — a poetry book and her poems have been translated into Chinese and Russian

Former President of India K. R. Narayanan. His writings made key contributions towards a better understanding of the country’s diplomatic challenges

Indian Ambassador to Israel Navtej Sarna. He is the author of acclaimed novels like We Were Not Lovers Like That and The Exile

area of Indian foreign policy, its philosophy, origin and dilemma, the Indian Foreign Service, its history and challenges. Kishan Rana’s writings have shed considerable light on the transformations in the sphere of diplomacy and his books Inside Diplomacy and 21st Century Ambassador are widely read across the world. He has been a great advocate of reform of India’s foreign policy architecture and has inspired Danial Markey’s analytical piece on ‘Indian Foreign Policy Software’. K. R. Narayanan, M. K. Rasgotra, C. S. Dasgupta, C. S. Jha, Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, G. Parthasarthy and T. P. Sreenivasan have made significant contributions to the understanding of India’s diplomatic challenges in a fast changing world through their writings.

Amarendra Khatua is a poet-diplomat and has made significant contributions to Oriya literature. He was recently awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Sadbhavna Award

There are many invisible poet-diplomats who have tried to capture their global experiences in their verses. These include our current Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, and others, such as Aftab Seth, Rikhi Jaipal, Pratap Singh, Dyaneshwar Mulay, Amarendra Khatua (who has been recently awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Sadbhavna Award for his contributions to Oriya literature), Jordana D. Pavel, Kiran Doshi and Abhay K. (with four books of poetry in English and translated in Russian). The list could also include Gauri Shankar Gupta and J. N. Dixit who are otherwise known for their serious writings on Mongolia and Indian foreign policy, respectively. Among novelist-diplomats besides Vikas Swaroop, who gained world fame

through his book Q&A, which was adapted and made into the global blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire, are Kiran Doshi (Birds of Passage), Navtej Sarna (We Were Not Lovers Like That and The Exile), T. S. Tirumurthi (Clive Avenue), A. M. Gondane (The Arrival), Rajiv Dogra (Almost an Ambassador), N. Parthasarthy (The Reluctant Assassin),

Singh, Mani Shankar Aiyyar and Romesh Bhandari are some good examples. Prem K. Budhwar (A Diplomat Reveals) and J. N. Dixit (My South Block Years) have also contributed to this popular genre of diplomatic literature. The contributions of Indian diplomatwriters to creative non-fiction have been no less important. Gaurishankar Gupta’s

Ambassador of India to Bhutan Pawan Verma. He is the author of Being Indian and has also translated former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Twenty-One Poems

Vikas Swaroop, a diplomat and the author of Q&A and Six Suspects. Q&A was adapted and made into the global blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan was the longest serving Indian Permanent Representative to the United Nations (1986 to 1992). He wrote The Horseshoe Table — An Inside View of the UN Security Council

India’s former ambassador to Austria Kiran Doshi wrote the widely acclaimed Birds of Passage

India has produced some noted diplomats since the 1950s who have left behind in their books immense experience and wisdom to guide succeeding generations...

Nina Sibal (Dogs of Justice, Yatra), and most recent among them B. S. Prakash with his book Clueless in California. Memoir writing is one of the fortes of Indian diplomats and some remarkable memoirs have been written in the past. Y. P. Gundevia’s Out of Archives, Badruddin Tayabji’s Memoirs of an Egoist, and the memoirs of K. M. Panniker and K. P. S. Menon, T. N. Kaul, K. Natwar

book on Mongolia, C. M. Bhandari and Pradeep Kapur’s book on Angor Vat and J. C. Sharma’s work on temples in Vietnam have been valuable contributions. T. S. Tirumurthy and C. M. Bhandari have written books on Kailash Mansarovar as well. P. V. Joshi and V. Ashok have written books on Hinduism and incarnations of Vishnu, while Navtej Sarna has worked on Nanak. Achal Malhotra has written

on the prehistoric, mythological and legendary links between India and Sri Lanka while Amit Dasgupta has co-authored the book The Divine Peacock on understanding contemporary India. Indian cinema, India’s most potent source of soft power, captured the attention of Surendra Kumar who has written a tome titled Legends of Indian Cinema. Unexpectedly, Indian diplomats have authored a number of scientific and technical books as well. These include Dr. Sumit Seth (Review of Forensic Medicine), Dr. Arvind Gupta (Dictionary of New Scientific and Technical Terms) and Anwar Haleem (Innovation & Technology Transfer). Books on foreign languages such as Chinese need special mention. M. Sridharan’s book Chinese Language: An Introduction is an attempt to simplify the learning of this difficult language. Our diplomats have enriched Indian English literature through quality translations as well. A. N. D. Haskar translated a whole series of works from Sanskrit to English. L. N. Rangarajan’s abridged translation of Kautilya’s Arthashastra is a definitive work used worldwide. Navdeep Suri has translated the Punjabi classic The Watchmaker into English, while Pawan Verma has translated the poems of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Among short-story writers are Subhakant Behera and Arun Kumar Sahu. The spouses of Indian diplomats have not been far behind and have authored a few tomes as well. These include Nilima Lambah, Dr. Kavita Sharma, Radha Chakravarty, Trupti Mehta Despande, Kusum Bhasin and Susheela Purushottam. Indian diplomats have left a mark both on the national as well as international literary stages. (The author is an Indian diplomat and author of six books of prose and poetry including ‘River Valley to Silicon Valley: Story of three generations of an Indian family’, ‘Enigmatic Love’ & ‘Fallen Leaves of Autumn’. His forthcoming books are 10 Qs of the Soul, ‘Candling the Light’, ‘Colours of Soul’ & ‘Light of the North’. The views expressed here are the author’s own.) September-October 2010 Pravasi Bharatiya 93