Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A quintessential “outsider”

Mehta had a complex story to tell as his career as a diplomat spanned tumultuous times

The Trust Betrayed - Reflections on Diplomacy and Development
Jagat S. Mehta
Penguin Books

Imagine you are sitting down at 7 p.m. for what promises to be a memorable dinner. What do you have for starter? Smoked trout fillet with celeriac remoulade and chive dressing. Then you're startled to find that poached fillet of brill with white wine sauce follows, and thereafter ballantine of salmon with warm ratatouille dressing. Of course, scintillating conversation ensues all through, over the dry white bordeaux, and soon it is 9.30 p.m. Just as you eagerly await the main course listed in the menu — braised lamb shank with root vegetables, wild mushrooms, and risotto — the dessert is served.

Former foreign secretary Jagat Mehta's memoirs offers a feast of terrific starters but somehow it fails to lead to the main course. Once again it brings to one's mind that India is starved of top-notch political biographies by its gifted diplomats. Somehow the culture never quite developed. Their memoirs tend to be chatty and anecdotal, whereas they ought to have fascinating tales to tell about politics and diplomacy and can offer priceless windows to the cloistered avenues of statecraft that lie perennially closed to public viewing in our country.

K.P.S. Menon, T.N. Kaul or P.N. Haksar could have told tales of enduring value that were no less mesmerising and intellectually stimulating than Anatoly Dobrynin's or Henry Kissinger's. They strode corridors of time when a great country with an ancient past was rediscovering its baby steps on the world stage. Mehta, too, had a complex story to tell as his career as a diplomat spanned tumultuous times when India was aspiring to trot. What made him, for instance, such a quintessential “outsider”? This might sound a bit odd as he had a stellar career in the Foreign Service, held interesting assignments and ultimately rose to the top of the heap in the Indian foreign policy establishment to the absolute envy of many in his peer group.

Full review here Hindu

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