April 11, 2007

Our man in San Francisco

Heads of Indian missions abroad are seen as remote figures, working at reports to South Block from behind closed doors in posh offices. They are usually seen showing up at public 'do's' – R Day flag-hoisting at NRI gatherings, tape-cutting to open an exhibition of works by a visiting artist – and heard holding forth at Indo-So-and-so Friendship Society meeting or a chamber-of-commerce seminar inaugural.

So, it wasn't with much expectation of a response I e-mailed our Consul General in San Francisco Mr B S Prakash on the need for an NRI/consulate initiative to donate desi books/CDs to public libraries in the US. This was a year ago. To my pleasant surprise he promptly mailed back thanking me for my interest, adding that he felt nice hearing from someone from Mysore. Mr Prakash did M A (Philosophy) from Manasa Gangotri and taught at Maharaja's College for a year before joining Indian Foreign Service. In his college days Mr Prakash was a keen debater in Kannada; recalls that among his partners in debating was Shubhachandra, now a professor in Jainology dept., Mysore University (Professor, are you reading this?)Ambassador Prakash(so ranked,in diplomatic hierarchy) admits to being nostalgic about his Mysore connection;his Gangotri days.

More recently, when I drew his attention to a particularly touching tribute to Poornachandra Tejaswi by a 16-year old Bangalore girl, Mr Prakash reminisced – "For me, in the seventies, totally caught up with the magic of navya, Tejeswi's writings were a welcome relief . . . that he was Kuvempu's son, and yet so different was another cause for marvel". I reckon we haven't heard the last word on Tejaswi from Mr Prakash, who runs a column in Rediff.com where he writes on literature, arts and lifestyle.

More articulate among those in our diplomatic corps write on lofty issues pertaining to international relations, global terrorism. Mr Prakash does it as well, for The Hindu edit page. He is equally proficient in writing about his experience in California. Mr Prakash's Rediff.Column gives one an insight into the man, his flair for writing and his mundane interests. He watches "a fair amount of TV, all kinds, movies, series, news, views, sports and scandals".

His recent piece – Get up and get rich – was triggered by a TV show featuring Donald Trump talking money. He can write knowledgeably about Barry Bonds, Bollywood stars. And about A R Rahman – didn't know that he was born in one faith, and a family crisis made him turn to another, making a Dileep kumar, an Allah Rakha Rahman.

Invited to preside over a Stanford University music festival evening when the music maestro was honoured, our envoy did his home work on Rahman. Which gave him material for a Rediff.column, with references about our reigning movie Khans and Rais and popular songs – Chaiya, Chaiya, Taal Se Taal Mila.

Mr Prakash takes in his stride someone using his web-space to take a swipe at the consulate, because no one picked up the phone when he called or many of the consulate e-mail responses are automated. My experience on this has been refreshingly different. Anyway, what has it all to do with Mr Prakash's writings?

Someone else asks, 'As CG, does Mr Prakash have nothing better to do?' He appears to have in mind a stereotype image of a diplomat. I would say the likes of Prakash have an edge over other less well endowed career diplomats. His reputation as a lifestyle writer can only help him widen contacts and give a human face to CG's office that is generally associated with issuing visa, stamping passport extension, and taking care of visiting dignitaries from India.

We have had writers, journalists and poets posted as heads of mission. Poet and essayist Octavio Paz was Maxican ambassador to India, John Freeman (ex-New Statesman) served as the UK high commissioner in New Delhi. Our journalists and columnists have represented India. I can think of three – Prem Bhatia (Kenya), Dr K S Shelvanker (Sweden), Kuldip Nayar (UK).

Cross-posted in Desicritics


Dr YNI Anand said...

Incidentally, Mr Shubhachandra was my college mate at Mandya during the mid sixties. He pursued Kannada staunchly and has reached where he is today. As far as Mr Prakash is concerned, I have no comments.

Anonymous said...

"For me, in the seventies, totally caught up with the magic of navya”

I would have thought that the magic of navya was gripping colleges in 1960s and by 1970s the magic wore off as excellent prose writing was in ascendance.

In my travels around the world, I seldom found any Indian Consul General remotely busy particularly if the consulate was well removed from the Embassy /HighCommission by a fair distance as consuls tended to let their hair down free. Then ministerial visits were rare because of exchange difficulties. Things might have changed now as I do not carry Indian Passport. But my friends who have indian Passports still say that nothing has changed much.

Anonymous said...

I am proud that my father has been recognised as a staunch kannadiga and a good debater(which he is even today).Its very nice to hear it from his old classmates and buddies