India's diplomats belt out books

India’s diplomats are adding to the reputation for culture earned by their poet-prime minister by churning out a succession of novels.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna will release his second novel next week and is planning a third by October.

Sarna’s We Weren’t Lovers Like That follows blockbuster success in the mid-1990s by India’s current ambassador to Cyprus and published Hindi poetry written by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, one-time foreign minister.

Sarna’s latest novel, set for launch on June 30, revolves around a middle-aged executive whose wife leaves with their only child.

It is a story of the “intricate, unpredictable nature of human relations, choices we make, regrets we have, how we deal with possible mistakes”, Sarna says.

The diplomat wrote the paperback while working in the Indian embassy in Washington and since taking up his current, high-pressure post as foreign ministry spokesperson.

“A lot of people who enter the profession are fond of writing, philosophy, painting and singing,” Sarna said in an interview published here.

“And, the foreign service offers that kind of an exposure ‒- a kaleidoscope of experiences which can jog creativity,” said Sarna, currently accompanying Vajpayee on his landmark trip to China.

Sarna is hoping for literary success, but his predecessor has already received ovations for her artistic outlet—singing.

“Music just comes naturally to me and I find time away from work to take lessons in opera and now I am learning Western music… I have been singing all my life and of late I am upgrading the skills,” said Nirupama Rao, who was spokesperson when India and Pakistan veered close to war last year.

“You learn things about your voice that one does not as foreign ministry spokesperson,” said Rao. “It is a wonderful stressbuster.”

India’s ambassador to Cyprus, Pavan Varma, another former spokesperson, found huge success in the mid-1990s with his The Great Indian Middle Class.

He has also received qualified praise from leading Indian journalist Khushwant Singh for his translations of Vajpayee’s poems.

“I was somewhat alarmed to hear that Pavan Varma translated a selection of Vajpayee’s poems ...
He wisely chose to exclude Vajpayee’s politically-motivated compositions meant to be chanted loudly at mass meetings,” Singh said in published comments.

Former foreign secretary SK Singh came to the defence of the part-time authors.

“This kind of thing applies to most foreign services,” the former chief diplomat said.

“The point is that these people have a very broad interest and great ability to look at things outside their area of expertise.

“It is a very good way of diverting the mind and as Indian ambassador to Afghanistan I used to roam the bazaars of Kabul. Today I have a priceless library about rugs because you cannot go around collecting things in ignorance.”

However, political analyst Anand Ojha said the diplomats should find more work to do.

“There are two categories in the Indian civil service. One is just bored with toasting glasses and the other is bored out of their minds and hence such calls of poesy,” said the Delhi University academic. - Sapa-AFP

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