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Summoning Memories


Kiran Doshi


By P.J. Rao
East West Books, Chennai, 2008, pp. 240, Rs. 250.00

A TWISTED CUE
By Rohit Handa
Ravi Dayal, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 434, Rs. 450.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 5 May 2008

Anecdotes from a Diplomat’s Life offers more than what its title promises, for in essence it is a rags to riches story, told by a man who, armed with little more than luck, pluck, and an intuitive understanding of how India works, joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1951 (after useful stints with The Statesman in Calcutta and the All India Radio in Delhi) went up the often slippery ladder of the IFS, and left it in 1979, prematurely and dexterously, to join the UNESCO. The book is also easy on the eye, for it is written in simple English, ever the forte of a good journalist, and is well-edited.   But it should have been written in 1979, or soon thereafter. For one, most of the people with whom the author had his interesting and sometimes hilarious skirmishes in Delhi and elsewhere are now no more. In 1979 they would have been around, and exercised a right of reply, and that would have been high entertainment for the readers (as well as the publishers of the book!) There might even have been fireworks in the Parliament, for the book claims, among other things, that Smt. Indira Gandhi (then Minister for Information and broadcasting) took money for making a speech in Canada, although Indian rules then prohibited ministers from accepting money for making speeches. Also, many of the dramatis personae in the anecdotes, and in some cases even the backgrounds of the anecdotes, are likely to seem strange to the bulk of the readers of today, who, to give but one example, would find it hard to believe, accustomed as they are to reading about Indian millionaires buying up hotels all over the world—and then serving vegetarian food in them—that an Indian diplomat would not be served in a hotel because of the colour of his skin, as happened to the author in Rhodesia. (Incidentally, the author, and not the hotel, came out winner in the end.) Sadly, the book also comes after the death of the author’s wife, whom the author appears to have loved dearly—she had to elope from her home to marry him—and who seems to have been a perfect Foreign Service wife, packing and unpacking household goods and personal effects time and again, making a home of whichever house he rented, and, above all, cooking up delicious vegetarian meals at short notice for starving visitors ...


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