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A Life in Diplomacy

K.P. Fabian

By T.P. Sreenivasan
Dorling Kindersley, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 253, Rs. 600.00

By T.P. Sreenivasan
Rhythm House Publishing, Malaysia, 2007, pp. 149, price not stated.


Readers above fifty might recall the mantra popular decades ago: Publish or perish. In contrast, we now live in a world where it is possible to publish and perish. We witness an exponential growth in the number of books that get launched with much fanfare and choreography, soon to be forgotten. Fortunately, Sreenivasan’s two books are an exception: they will be read by the general public ,and, even by the ‘insiders’, for years to come.   The author in his inimitable style tells us of the origin of the title of the first book by quoting Shakespeare ,Hamlet, Act II,Scene ii:   Polonius: What do you read, my lord?   Hamlet: Words, words, words.   However, there is nothing Hamletian about Sreenivasan who has given us an abridged autobiography and much else in his book. The 78-page long first chapter, My Story, begins with the paddy fields “stretched in front of my ancestral home at Kayamkulam in Kerala.” The author muses that he could have well ended up in “those very fields as a sun-drenched and rain-soaked farmer” instead of joining the Indian Foreign Service that “gave me the wings to go beyond the village, the state, and the country. I traveled the globe, flew the national tricolour on Mercedes cars; dined with the high and mighty….”. The family background is narrated with much sensitivity and humor. Among the Kerala Nairs the man looked after his sister’s children while his own children were looked after by his wife’s brother. Sreenivasan’s father, Parameswaran Pillai, revolted against the custom by moving to his wife’s home to look after his own children though he did take good care of his nephews and nieces too.   The next chapter is “Magic of Multilateralism.” Among India’s diplomats, there are two schools of thought. One school believes that diplomacy is essentially bilateral and that what appears as multilateral is only a projection of the bilateral game on a multilateral setting. Sreenivasan seems to belong to the second school that believes that there is a virtually autonomous realm of multilateral diplomacy, not necessarily dependent on bilateralism. The first multilateral conference that the author attended was the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) in Lusaka in 1979. India had put up Foreign Secretary Jagat Mehta’s candidature for the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth and failed to withdraw it in good time though it was ...

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