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