When I touched down on Delhi’s airstrip, I had shut tight my copy of Midnight’s Children because my heart was beating too hard to keep reading – it was late here, dark, sleepless from excitement since the pleasant seats in the waiting area of Gate C13 in Frankfurt. There was a swampy mass of information to wade across before I slept soundly through my own first midnight in India, beginning with a morning meeting we were granted with Madame the Foreign Secretary of India Nirupama Rao. The discussion started slowly, started hesitantly and gained momentum, snowballed a little, into an ode to literature. O literature! How smoothly you lead into such an array of professions! How elegantly you build useful skills! How relentlessly you educate us to consider multiple perspectives!
Foreign Secretary Rao once studied literature. Apparently, all those of us who once studied literature have that secret streak of romanticism preventing us from every genuinely resolving that affair – something about literature lends itself to uncompromising love, declarations from silent to shouted and from scrawled to typed & tucked into neat margins. I was impressed by Madame the Foreign Secretary even before the conversation tumbled into that lightly packed snowball – she has either avoided the commercial congratulation-business of political power or has a commendable diplomatic knack for reading her audience.
Just patting an icy pinch into a marble, I asked her to talk about the extent to which foreign diplomacy is directed by corporate and investment interests. She quoted a bit about the business of diplomacy being business, but she pointed out that business, being everywhere, is an efficient route to access communities on a grassroots level. She talked about the market being an inseparable part of the process of diplomacy, it being mutually beneficial, and she seemed apologetic for its supremacy; mutually beneficial access to resources, she said, “not in the exploitative sense”.
I’ve been in Hyderabad since Tuesday night, in India since Monday morning. I have yet to form a first impression.