Diplomatic Mission
By Kamal Sunavala

On a rainy Friday afternoon I met with Irena Krasnicka in a beautiful café near Hradčanská. Irena is the Consul General of the Czech Republic in Bombay, India and was on a break in her native Prague. The first thing that had me amused and surprised was her Indian accented English. And with her quick sense of humour she noted that I had a British accent.

We talked of many things including our mutual fascination for each other's countries and most importantly we agreed on the fact that diplomacy was a tough art that required more understanding and acceptance than just lying out of politeness. Irena has a tough job. In a city like Bombay where most people learn the art of multi-tasking at the age of nine months, things move at the rapidity of a bullet train. With that speed is the disconcerting feeling for any foreigner, that all at once people are speaking at least three different languages whilst demanding six different things in four different accents. And yet I saw Irena accept this as par for the course in her three years in India. She was quick to recognise that India is found inside Bombay but most of it can really be found outside Bombay. She was quick to understand that if you looked hard enough, Czechs and Indians were not so unlike each other as most people first think or last think as they do their tourist thing in each other's countries.

Truth be told, although she is a diplomat, she fits the image of a favourite professor much better. Her expressiveness in tone and gesture made it hard for me to believe that she wasn't Indian. Her love for Indian people was evident when she regaled me with stories about her interactions with several classes of people in India and her discomfort with some of the less noble practices in India was conveyed without malice or disgust. So much so that it made me feel ashamed of the way I have sometimes disparaged some things in her country. I claim journalistic licence. She claimed understanding.

One of the most amazing and I am certain, pioneering achievements that she has is her translation of a famous Indian book called Ravan and Eddie by Kiran Nagarkar into Czech. Not only did she get the Indian humour of it but she was absolutely right in pointing out to me that the modern Indian has problems that are so unique to him that they cannot be discussed or analysed in a ninety minute programme on CNN.

We touched upon the subject of grandchildren and grandparents and she told me that it was so easy for her to understand the attachment that Indian children had to their grandparents. Then she explained to me how Czech people feel about raising their children in the close company or at least proximity of their grandparents and lamented the fact that it wasn't always possible but most of them tried anyway.

After a couple of hours, we realised that while we could go on for hours about each other's experiences with Indian and Czech people, the time had come to part company. She would go back to my country and I would stay on in hers. On the metro from Hradčanská to Náměstí Míru I thought about everything she had said. Was it a diplomatic mission? Was she trained to convey this impression to people? Was I smart enough to see through impassioned speeches like that? Was she only doing her job?

Then it struck me. All politically correct, bureaucracy bound people will tell a writer one thing - and each time it's the same thing. The Taj Mahal is the most beautiful thing India has. Irena said, I think it's ok. What tickled her fancy were the Ajanta and Ellora caves. For those who don't know, these caves are filled with sculptures and painting of Buddhist and Hindu origin, depicting mythological scenes as well as court scenes. Irena noted that these were really more Indian in nature than the Taj Mahal, which is a legacy of the conquering Mughal empire. A fact most politically correct people gloss over because no one wants to think of the majority Hindus being subjugated by Muslims for years. No one wants to say out loud that Mughal art was a foreign import and not originally Indian.

Bottom line, one of the Seven Wonders of the World wasn't the most wonderful thing about India, to Irena. My doubts about Irena were cleared. Now what diplomat would have cheerfully admitted to that?