‘A Ringside Seat to History’ review: Mission of a career diplomat

Pascal Alan Nazareth’s autobiography, A Ringside Seat to History, bears testimony to his qualities of head and heart which have enabled him to navigate life’s journey with equanimity, humanism and deep faith. Simply but with charm and wit he relates his personal and professional story beginning with his youth in Karnataka and college in Chennai, to his years in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and thereafter in spreading the message of Mahatma Gandhi. Above all what comes through is his firm commitment to the nation and its traditional culture of inclusivity.

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Spreading the word

A major part of Nazareth’s autobiography is not surprisingly devoted to his diplomatic career. It began in 1959 when he joined the IFS as a probationer and concluded three and a half decades later as India’s ambassador to Mexico. These decades saw him serve in important Indian diplomatic missions and posts in Asia, Africa, North and South America as well as Britain. At the Ministry of External Affairs, he handled work relating to showcasing Indian culture abroad and promoting India’s economic and commercial interests.

Nazareth devotes a chapter to each of his assignments. He focuses on his involvement in interesting events and meetings with fascinating people during each of them. Some of these happenings and encounters will remain in a reader’s memory for a long time. These would include his remarkable account in successfully tracking down the notorious Dharam Teja who was perhaps the first mega scamster to flee abroad. They would also include his account of the Jerry Rawlings coups in Ghana and the havoc they wreaked.

In 1976, Nazareth was sent to clean up the set-up responsible for procurements of essential defence supplies in the Indian High Commission in London. The manner in which he accomplished that provides a lesson for civil servants and managers to handle such tasks. There are other aspects of his London stay which shed significant light of how that once critical Mission handled the period of the Emergency. Nazareth’s account of the invigoration of India’s cultural diplomacy merits attention. India’s economic diplomacy was in its infancy when Nazareth got involved in its pursuit at a middle-level. Much has changed since but not the difference an active officer can make.

Competitive field

Above all Nazareth captures the atmosphere of a diplomat’s life in different assignments in different corners of the world and how opportunities can be positively utilised in the highly competitive field of inter-state relations. This involves imagination and initiative and grinding work, not champagne and caviar as Nazareth shows.

After retirement Nazareth has devoted himself to spreading Gandhiji’s message of peace and goodwill through the publication of works on his leadership. His books have been translated into numerous languages. These are notable contributions. And they have come in the midst of a great personal loss of a much-loved young daughter and while in service the trauma of a life-threatening illness of his son. His awakened spirituality, nourished through a few contacts with Mother Teresa, enabled him to navigate successfully and constructively through periods of trial and grief.

A Ringside Seat to History is a moving tale leavened with wit of a life fully lived. It provides insights into aspects of diplomatic history even as it often brings smiles and a chuckle, never more than in the exchange of letters between High Commissioner B.K. Nehru and Prime Minister Morarji Desai.

A Ringside Seat to History; Pascal Alan Nazareth, Konark Publishers, ₹625.

The reviewer is a former diplomat.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 5:56:26 PM |

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