The story goes, apocryphal perhaps, that one day the Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, told his foreign minister that the country’s name must be changed to Idi, and he should inform the UN and all other international bodies. A week passed. President Amin then summoned the minister and asked, ‘Did you carry out my orders?’ The shivering Minister replied there was a problem. ‘What problem?’ the president inquired. ‘Your Excellency, there is a country called Cyprus. The people are called Cypriots. If Uganda were to be called Idi, we would be called Idiots’.
There are few leaders that K. Natwar Singh, in a diplomatic career spanning more than three decades, has not known-and fewer still about whom he has no story to tell. In Walking With Lions: Tales from a Diplomatic Past, Singh puts together fifty episodes that entertain, inform and illuminate.
Featured here is Indira Gandhi as a statesman and mentor, alongside other renowned figures such as Fidel Castro, Haile Selassie and Zia-ul-Haq. The author analyses some personalities with disarming candour, among them Moraji Desai and Lord Mountbatten; at other times, his admiration for leaders like C. Rajagopalalchari and Nelson Mandela shines through. In these pages you will also find a rare, fascinating glimpse of godman Chandraswami and his interaction with a surprisingly submissive Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher. Besides there are short tributes to artists, writers, cricketers and film stars, like M.F. Hussain, Nadine Gordimer, Don Bradman and Dev Anand.
Recounted with empathy and humour, this collection of encounters is a warm, unaffected and reassuring reminder that the great too can be as fallible as the rest of us.
K. Natwar Singhis a well-known author, diplomat and politician. He has been ambassador to Pakistan, and was attached to the office of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from 1966 to 1971. He was secretary general of the NAM summit held in Delhi in March 1983. He has been a member of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, and served as Minister of State and Minister for External Affairs.
He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1984. Since 2005 he has been Honorary Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. His books include E.M. Forster: A Tribute, Profiles and Letters, Heart to Heart, My China Diary and The Magnificent Maharaja. He lives in New Delhi.
During my long life I have met and got to know a large number of people of character, caliber, courage, sensitivity, vision and unquestionable distinction. This has been a blessing. The carnival of personalities includes politicians, authors, artists, painters, bureaucrats and sportsmen from many parts of the globe. Inevitably, they have enriched my life, broadened my vision and refined my sensibilities. Several inspired me in no small measure. I learnt to face adversity with confidence and detachment, if not serenity. Wisdom may have eluded me, but not the joy of living and giving.
These fifty articles appeared in Mail Today in 2011-12. I enjoyed writing them and was pleased by the interest they aroused. No –ism infects them. No preaching disfigures them.
This volume is the brainchild of Aroon Purie, editor-in-chief of the India Today Group. I thank him in all sincerity. To Krishan Chopra, Publisher and Chief Editor, HarperCollins Publishers India, I express my gratitude. For the title I suggested ‘The Pleasures and Perils of Diplomacy’-he avoided commenting on my inanity and came up with a gem. Also thanks to Debasri Rakshit for being a tolerant editor.
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