Moscow & Malawi

His Soviet experience was the main reason for his being posted again to Moscow in 1971, which stood the country in good stead during the Bangladesh crisis. He led the secret discussions between the Soviet and Indian sides under Shri D.P. Dhar, who trusted him completely. These were sometimes held in his Kutuzovsky Apartment and I recall Shri D.P. Dhar’s visit to our flat for discussions. As a 14 year old, I played “official hostess” because for some reason Mom wasn’t there on that occasion. He also established contact with the soon to be Bangladeshi Ambassador to the USSR, and his daughter Tikkli and I became friends. The nail-biting Bangladesh Liberation War undertaken in December 1971 was possible because of the USSR’s help in staving off numerous vetoes brought by the Western powers to halt operations. My Father had a key role to play in the effort to ensure the USSR’s diplomatic support, although I do recall Soviets were getting increasingly nervous as the war went on and was piling pressure for us to conclude it swiftly. From Moscow, we followed the horrifying tragedy unfolding in Bangladesh and the enormous pressure imposed on a then economically frail India by the massive influx of 10 million refugees. We read Anthony Lewis (International Herald Tribune) and Peter Hazelhurst (The Times)’s impassioned dispatches on the unfolding genocide, pleading in vain with the West to recognize the calamity. The world was truly divided along ideological lines then, and innocent lives paid for it.

I found later that Peter Hazelhurst, whose transparent humanism had shaken consciences around the world and mobilized opinion in favour of India’s efforts to resolve the humanitarian calamity, was expelled from India in the wake of the Emergency in 1975. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

Despite his stellar work, complaints to the higher ups by Shelvankar, Ambassador D.P. Dhar’s diminutive successor (and his openly anti-Soviet British wife), who felt further diminished by my father’s charm and success, and most importantly his expertise and contacts with the Soviet establishment, led to his abrupt transfer to Malawi as India’s High Commissioner. This seriously disrupted me in my final school year, as I had managed to partially follow my studies in Russian after a massive effort. After my Dad’s passing, I found a file in which he had serially pleaded with the Ministry not to disrupt my final year, to no avail. Clearly the orders had come from the top. Papa took it in his stride but I never forgot.

Unfortunately I have very few photos of this period.

Malawi was beautiful and his contribution in the field of education and bilateral relations was highly appreciated. Mom taught at local schools and was recognized as the first Asian woman to volunteer in local schools. We enjoyed our holidays there and our Parents regaled us with good food, great dinner parties, visits to Blantyre and game-parks in Kenya and fantastic anecdotes.