The new Indian Consul-General of Johannesburg answers questions about his life, his family and his job.
Childhood and family, work and inspiration:
Life has always been on the move for me: we never really lived in one place forever, as so many others have. My father was in the Air Force and we moved almost like clockwork every few years. My mother was (and still is) involved in the teaching profession, which is really now a vocation for her. Continuity and stability in educational terms came from my years in residential school—the Rishi Valley School, run by the Krishnamurthi Foundation of India where I spent six years– where I finished my middle and senior schooling. From there onwards, it seemed only logical that life should remain in a similar, peripatetic vein. I finished my college education at St Stephen’s College in Delhi University, scraping a first division in my Bachelors’ and Masters’ degree courses. I’m fairly sure there are a couple of faculty members who still wonder at that!
Did you always want to work in the Indian Foreign Service?
Joining the Foreign Service was always my first ambition, pretty much ever since I was 12 years old. I loved the idea of being able to represent my country, to be able to speak up for it, and to be able to learn and understand other cultures and people. As a child and as a teenager, I always enjoyed reading about the world—and growing up in university in New Delhi in the 1980s made young Indians aware of the great causes of the day. No cause was more emergent, more taken to heart by the youth of India in those days, than that of South Africa.
The world of diplomacy struck me as being the best career for me, given my own predilections. I honestly believe that it is only through understanding our world that we can make it more inclusive, more caring and more the collective inheritance of our succeeding generations. And so when I finished college, it seemed the natural thing to try my hand at the Civil Service Exam. Obviously, the fact that it is a hugely competitive exam, with dreadful odds stacked against any candidate’s chances of success, suggests two things: firstly, that luck plays an important part as much as preparation does, and secondly, that any sensible person needs a plan ‘B’. My plan B was to work as a journalist: I was briefly a sub-editor at Business Today, a leading business magazine produced by the Living Media group in India. When I did find myself among the lucky ones to be selected for a career in the Foreign Service, I was natu rally elated. It is rare to be given a chance of living your childhood dream, and every day in this job has been just that. Inspiration, if such there is, comes from that fact. I never fail to think of how lucky I am to be doing precisely what I have always wanted. That is about the best pick-me-up you can think of when you wake up every morning.
Tell us about your career?
The last 17 years and more have been wonderful years. The most wonderful woman I could imagine anchors my life, and we have a son who shows every sign of being more of an international citizen than I have ever been. At the age of 11, he is something of an epicure, with a fondness for cold pressed olive oil, sushi and Chinese jiaozi (he was born in Beijing), but as Indian as they come: dhal with rice is his comfort food of choice. Personally, we are very content with whatever gifts fate has given us.
Do you have a favourite place that you have visited?
We have travelled as much as work and money would permit us. I really can’t pick one place as a favourite destination, but the fates have been kind. We’ve lived in India, in China, in the United States, and we are now in this spectacular country – a country that has had such an important part in my early adulthood! And to boot, South Africa will host the FIFA World Cup later this year, which is possibly the best possible thing for a football fan like me. From such a selection, it would be invidious to choose one place as a favourite space! But obviously, India is home, and it is where I am most in my skin, as they say. So if I were forced to choose, naturally it would be India.
India and the world:
India is one of the most attractive emerging economies in the world. I say this not merely because as Consul-General in the premier commercial city on the African Continent, but because its strengths are colossal. Our growing population of young people are an asset, especially as Indians are strong savers, and because of the wisdom of our founding fathers in investing in quality higher education. Other things being equal, and if we continue to invest in creating capacity and jobs, in twenty years’ time, we will have the world’s largest, skilled and effective work force, with one of the highest saving rates in the world. Imagine the impact of hundreds of millions of young Indians, well skilled, saving and investing in houses, in schooling, in consumer goods, and in creating wealth and technology! This is the key to India’s future success in addressing our other challenges, what our Prime Minister so eloquently calls the age-old scourges of malnutrition, illiteracy and chronic disease.
India and South Africa:
It is this India of the new millennium that seeks to introduce itself to the world and to make new partnerships. It is this India that wants to build on the traditionally fraternal ties with South Africa, and to raise these to new levels by expanding trade, mutual investment, cultural exchanges, and also by including new areas of cooperation including sharing experiences in development cooperation and capacity building. Our leadership believes that the bilateral relationship with South Africa is a priority partnership, and so I’m sure there is little doubt that the sky is truly the limit in what we can try to do together as friends and partners. These new areas, and the consolidation of the extensive work done by my outstanding predecessors as CG, as well as our High Commissioners, will remain the priorities for my three year tenure in South Africa. I hope you and your readers will wish us every success in achieving these goals!