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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The (lost?) glory of diplomatic visits

Back in Singapore and the only way to keep oneself updated about what’s happening in India seems to be the online news from All India Radio (AIR). Online newspapers and Zee News (only Indian news show available on TV in Singapore) are too focused with cricket and film stars. And today’s news bulletin of AIR mentioned the recently completed diplomatic visit by India’s Vice President to Turkmenistan.

These diplomatic visits, I heard about them so often during my childhood days. But those were the days when Indian media, more patriotic than a flagpole, had no other glorious stories about India to fill its pages. As such, moments when the President of Burkina Faso would walk on red carpets in India would be great news. In diplomatic jargon, copied verbatim by the media, these visits would always be touted as “extremely successful” resulting in a “step change” in the friendship of the two nations. The diplomats of the two nations would have celebrated the “glorious histories” of each other and the “strong linkages” between the two since days of dinosaurs. Several “strategic” business deals would have been signed and demands for a new "multi-polar world" would be raised if Americans were not around. The other country would be claimed to have given “unambiguous support” for India’s claim to a permanent seat at the Security Council. And no matter which country was involved, documents would be signed to lay down a gas pipeline from Iran to India via that country. Both countries would also “sincerely condemn” terrorist activities in their respective territories. Pictures of treaties being signed in big fat registers would flood the media, the translators and the lesser bureaucrats showing all their teeth.

All these changed in the 90s when more trigger-happy things started happening in India and media had more titillating stories to boost patriotism. Thereafter, these diplomatic visits were relegated to a small column in the middle pages of newspapers which were never read by most people anyway. However, diplomatic visits got some prominence when morphed images of Bill Clinton wearing kurta pajama were published during his visit to India as US President and during rumors of Sarkozy’s visit to India with Carla Bruni while they were still not married yet (Oh no, what culture westerners have!!!)

All the same, the news item about Turkmenistan reminded me of the passage from Ryszard Kapuscinski’s classic “The Emperor” where he comments on why Haile Selassie liked international trips so much:

How wonderful international life is…airports, greetings, cascade of flowers, embraces, orchestras, every moment polished by protocol, …limousines, parties, toasts written out and translated, galas and brilliance, praise, confidential conversations, global themes, etiquette, splendour, presents, suites,…sightseeing, stroking children..how magnificent and relaxing, how refined and honored, how dignified and proper, how – exactly – international!

1 comment:

ankur said...

Nice post