The Lively Adventures Of An Indian Diplomat

Book: ‘Words, Words, Words – Adventures in Diplomacy’

Author: T.P. Sreenivasan
Publisher: Pearson Longman
Price: Rs.600.

These days, when the Indian government is in the midst of exacting negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to draft a new safeguards agreement with the country, it is worthwhile to recall that an eminent Indian played a major role in shaping the nuclear watchdog at the time of its establishment.

Homi Bhabha, who laid the foundations of India’s nuclear journey, was closely involved with the IAEA at the time of its inception and a bust of Bhabha adorns the entrance to the IAEA boardroom. Bhabha was also instrumental in having the IAEA situated in Vienna.

New York and Vienna were the leading candidates for locating the atomic energy agency, but Bhabha’s love for Western music clinched the case for Austria, according to the book by T.P. Sreenivasan, a former diplomat who was India’s governor on the board of the IAEA at the turn of the century.

The IAEA was founded in 1956 to ‘accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world’. India became a permanent member of the IAEA board as one of the 10 ‘most advanced in the technology of atomic energy, including the production of source materials’.

India continues to play a useful role at the IAEA whose boardroom has two wooden panels depicting scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. This is one of the nuggets of information embedded in Sreenivasan’s memoirs titled ‘Words, Words, Words – Adventures in Diplomacy’.

Sreenivasan had a varied career with postings in Washington, Kenya, Austria and Fiji – a country he left just a day before the host government could expel him. In an immensely readable account, he writes about the difficult days in Washington after the nuclear tests in 1998, trying to thaw the frozen India-US ties. One of the reasons for the change in the US position on the Kargil intrusion, he writes, was a revealing tape record of a conversation between then chief of staff Gen. Pervez Musharraf and his deputy Lt Gen Mohammad Aziz that was made available to Americans by the Indian side. The conversation between Musharraf in Beijing and Aziz in Pakistan, intercepted by the Indian intelligence agencies, was a masterstroke because it showed that the army had masterminded the whole operation involving Pakistani soldiers.

President Bill Clinton had wanted then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to attend the Blair House meeting with Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif on July 4, 1999, which was arranged at Pakistan’s initiative. But India was not in favour of Tashkent being re-enacted on the Potomac, the author writes, recalling the meeting between the Indian and Pakistani leaders at Tashkent after the 1965 war. President Clinton, however, called up Vajpayee twice to apprise him of the developments. According to the author, Vajpayee either said nothing or asked president Clinton in his characteristic style, ‘What do you want me to say?’

In another instance, Sreenivasan relates how while serving in Fiji, he learnt one fine morning that his golf partner Lt Col Sitiveni Rabuka had walked into the Fiji Parliament and staged an armed coup. India took a tough stance as Fiji citizens of Indian descent were targeted and victimised after the coup. Some months later on the golf course on a Sunday morning Sreenivasan heard the rumour that the Fiji government had decided expel him for a speech that he had made at a gurdwara some days ago. As the next day was a government holiday, it allowed the Indian government to take pre-emptive action and announce his appointment to a post in New Delhi. Angry about the leak, Rabuka insisted that the Indian envoy leave the country within 72 hours. Peppered with such anecdotes, ‘Words, Words, Words’ is a book written in a lively style about an adventurous diplomatic life.

Love And Longing In Sri Lanka

Book: Serpent in Paradise
Author: Julian West
Publishers: Atlantic Books, London
Price: 7.99 pounds

This is a gripping story of love and murder, raw passion and brutal violence, an extraordinary portrayal of what has gone wrong with Sri Lanka, otherwise an island nation of picture postcard beauty. Using as the backdrop a second blood-soaked insurrection that the Sinhalese Marxist group JVP launched and the state’s brutal response in 1989-90, a period when Indian troops took on the Tamil Tigers elsewhere in Sri Lanka, veteran war reporter Julian West unveils a captivating and racy saga in her first work of fiction.

The story revolves around Eva, a photojournalist who returns to Sri Lanka, the country of her birth, against the wishes of her mother who clearly has secrets to hide. Eva sees the decaying house where she grew up, and soon falls in love with a young Sinhalese man, Navahiru.

‘She thought of him as a dark-skinned angel; as comforting as opium, offering forgetfulness in place of turmoil. He was like the island. The one she loved.’ They make plenty of love. ‘That night, they f—-d in the shower, their bodies rippling together like seals, and then again in bed.’

The times are bad though. The JVP, whose earlier insurrection in 1971 failed with the loss of thousands of young lives, is again on the offensive, targeting and killing members of the security forces and others it sees as class enemies. The government is singularly merciless, and the bodies of young radicals show up everywhere. Innocents too get killed aplenty. For Eva, there is plenty to shoot. But she is appalled. Eva blames the savagery of the rebels, the police and the soldiers on ‘the erosion of older, gentler village values’.

And then comes Carl, an American journalist based in Colombo who falls for Eva head over heels. He strikes a friendship with her but finds Navahiru a stumbling block. Casually, he shares his predicament with Captain, a young Sinhalese officer of the Special Forces – ‘a good source of girls…stories and information’. Even as Eva reciprocates Carl’s feelings, armed gunmen seize Navahiru who gets mixed up with JVP radicals – and Eva is shattered.

Terror then takes over. Carl feels guilty. Like thousands in Sri Lanka driven to despair, Eva frantically hunts for Navahiru, using all her contacts, going to the extent of faking an interview to ask the powerful interior minister (‘Close up, he had the pasty skin and open pores of a sensualist and a drinker’), the man who presides over the government death squads. Finally, Navahiru’s fate is what many suffered at that time.

Eva is shattered, but by then her affair with Carl is intense – although questions do crop up in her mind about the American’s military friends. Carl takes a relief ship to the Tamil north, ignoring Eva’s requests to take her along, and almost gets killed in a killer cyclone. By and by Eva also realises why her mother, Vivien, did not want her to fly to Sri Lanka: she discovers her real father.

‘Serpent in Paradise’ does not touch upon the LTTE war except in passing: ‘The north was only 250 miles away, but it could have been another country, another century…Now it was in the hands of the rebels, with their Disneyland iconography and pastry-cutter ideology. They were childish, but like any child with power (and many were children), they were deadly.’

But Sri Lanka comes alive in the book. The portrayal of Colombo, of the towns, of the streets, of the rural landscape, of the military press officer (‘a rat-faced colonel with red eyes, who offered tea and lies’), of the terror, everything is as real as it can get. Is this work of fiction based on a real life story?


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