Kunwar Natwar Singh, India's future Foreign Minister, was 25 years old when he arrived in Beijing in July 1956 to take up his post as second secretary in the Indian Embassy. As "a left-leaning diplomat," he was full of "admiration and awe of China" (as he wrote later). He stayed two years in the Chinese capital and kept a diary.
In October 1957, Mr. Singh was at hand to witness an interesting encounter between India's philosopher-statesman, Vice President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, and China's helmsman, Chairman Mao Zedong, at the latter's residence. Speaking to The Hindu in November 2006, Mr. Singh recalled, as though it were yesterday, this scene at the courtyard of Mao's residence:
"When Dr. Radhakrishnan went to call on Chairman Mao Zedong, he had his hand in a bandage because his finger had been crushed while he was getting into a car at Phnom Penh. Mao put his hand out and Radhakrishnan touched it. Then he patted Chairman Mao on the cheek. Mao was a bit taken aback and those around him were startled. Radhakrishnan produced a brilliant exit line: `Mr. Chairman, don't be alarmed. I did the same thing to Stalin and the Pope.' The tension disappeared and everybody laughed."
This rare photograph, taken in the courtyard of Mao's residence and made available half a century later to The Hindu by Mr. Singh, commemorates that meeting. Most of China's top revolutionary leaders of that generation are in the picture. The China President Hu Jintao, who arrives in Delhi on Monday, leads is vastly stronger and more prosperous than the country represented in Natwar Singh's diary of 1956-58.