'His assignment as the Ambassador to the UAE was particularly appreciated by the Emiratis and Indians alike. He retires in a trail of glory,' says Ambassador T P Sreenivasan.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
Ambassador T P Seetharam and I are not the only pair of brothers who served in the Foreign Service, but we are unique that he is more than 12 years younger to me and he is retiring exactly 12 years after I left the service.
I recall with pride the day he was born and today I witness his return to the pavilion after a glorious innings spread over several countries. His assignment as the Ambassador to the UAE was particularly appreciated by the Emiratis and Indians alike. He retires in a trail of glory.
All of us had expected and hoped that the fourth child of my parents, after three male children, would be a girl. For my parents, the whole logic of having a fourth child was gender balance in the family. According to tradition, it was the girl in the family, who was destined to carry the name of the family to the next generation.
The Travancore royal family had to resort to adoption of girl children to continue the dynastic line. So there was a sense of gloom, not normally associated with the birth of a boy. But all of us were pleased when he grew up as a bright young man and joined the Foreign Service in 1980.
Seetharam was fortunate to have three elder brothers earning, when he was in college. Consequently, he had a fairly affluent status, compared to us, who had to depend on the meagre allowances from our parents. We heard that he was entertaining his friends in luxury hotels! He even acted in a movie at that time.
Our names confused everyone particularly within the service. "Is he your real brother?" colleagues and friends would ask. "Yes. Same father, same mother," we would say. We would also explain that our names are the first names and the initials, 'T P' stand for our father's name.
The name Seetharam was given to him because a boy of that name was my father's most brilliant student of that generation. The other Seetharam did not do too well in her studies later and that was a disappointment for my father.
I am today an evangelist for the Foreign Service and motivate youngsters to choose the IFS as a career. But the first person I truly inspired to join the Foreign Service was Seetharam, who was dazzled by my career in early years. He often says that the picture postcards I sent him from Japan made an impact on him and he wanted to join the IFS to be able to send such cards from exotic places.
When he was preparing for the competitive examination, I was working as the Special Assistant to the Foreign Secretary and he was impressed by the nature of my work and the access I had to the highest levels in the government. He was sure that the IFS was his desired destiny.
To the question why both of us chose the IFS, we say, "Other families are brighter, they don't make the same mistake twice!" But we had wanted the next generation to choose the IFS also, though none of our children did.
I remember advising Seetharam to opt for Chinese as his language, because I could see that China would be the most important challenge of Indian diplomacy.
It was also because I felt that the Chinese language experts in the service were the rising stars. He learnt Chinese in Hong Kong and did a stint in Beijing, but got posted to different places for different reasons.
For instance, on account of the good work he had done in Cambodia, he was sent back to Phnom Penh to be part of the team of the monitoring of the UN supervised elections. He also went to Zambia, Namibia and South Africa. In Delhi, he worked with Ambassador N Krishnan, when he was the prime minister's special envoy for Africa.
From what I heard from Ambassador Krishnan, I felt that he liked him as much as he liked me, if not more. Another of his bosses, Gopal Gandhi, who was the high commissioner in South Africa, was instrumental in taking him to Rashtrapati Bhavan to work as the press secretary to President K R Narayanan.
He later had important posts like Geneva, Thailand, Taiwan, Mauritius and finally the United Arab Emirates. He was also in Delhi as joint secretary and additional secretary, dealing with Western Europe.
Seetharam's career took diverse turns, leading to a variety of jobs, primarily because he was chosen each time for a job for special reasons. His acceptability to senior people in the government and his own willingness to accept assignments without question were responsible for the variety of jobs he did.
But he made a name wherever he went and won approbation from everyone. I heard nothing but the best from my colleagues who met him or worked with him. But he did not use any of his assignments to secure benefits for himself. Career planning on the part of IFS officers often involves seeking favours to get to the right places. But Seetharam is made of sterner stuff.
The posting to the UAE was the icing on the cake for Seetharam's career. As only the second Malayalee Ambassador to the UAE, much was expected of him by the large Malayalee population there. India-UAE relations were also at a critical juncture.
The planning, the management and the follow up of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's historic visit to the UAE were impeccable because of his contacts in the host government and the Indian community.
He earned a great reputation for being sensitive to the needs of the community and for being helpful to everyone, high or low. I felt proud every time I went to the UAE to hear that he was one of the best Indian Ambassadors the UAE had seen. His vast circle of friends is testimony to his success.
Deepa Seetharam has been a great asset to my brother in his official life, apart from being a wonderful wife and a great mother to their children. Their son Navneeth and daughter Devi found their partners, while they were in the UAE. Devi is already a highly recognised painter and artist.
Seetharam expressed his sense of satisfaction on the successful completion of his IFS career in the many interviews he gave to the media on the eve of his departure.
Ambassador T P Sreenivasan, (IFS 1967)is a former Ambassador of India and Governor for India of the IAEA. He is currently Director, NSS Academy of Civil Services and Director General, Kerala International Centre.