Marcel Proust (1871-1922) is not widely known in India. A Frenchmen of Jewish origin, his fame rests on his novel Remembrance of Things Past. It is considered, after Tolstoy's War and Peace, the second greatest work of fiction in the western world. There exists a "Proust Questionnaire", which raises questions and provides answers. Why it is called what it is called, I do not know. Its existence, I appreciate. In this column, I have drawn up my own questionnaire. Natwar asks, Singh replies.
1. Your favourite non-Indian city/cities: Florence, New York
2. Favourite country (excluding India): The United Kingdom
3. Favourite authors: E M Forster, Prem Chand, R K Narayan
4. Historical personalities you admire: Emperors Ashok and Akbar, Lincoln, M K Gandhi, Nehru, De Gaulle
5. Your contemporary heroes: Nelson Mandela (92), General Vo Nguyen Giap (98) of Vietnam
6. Painters: Rembrandt, M F Husain
7. Favourite sportsmen: Don Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar, Dhyan Chand, Jessie Owens, Roger Federer
8. Film actors: Charlie Chaplin, Gregory Peck, Nargis Dutt, Ashok Kumar
9. Historical allergies: Chengiz Khan, Aurangzeb, Hitler, post-1965 Mao-Tse-Tung
10. Outstanding diplomats: Charles Maurice Talleyrand (1754-1838), Chou-En-Lai (1898-1976)
11. Which one book would you choose if abandoned on a desert island?: The Oxford Dictionary (with apologies to Indira Gandhi)
12. Motto: Conquer despair
13. Regrets: Not learning Sanskrit and chess
14. Favourite game: Tennis.
15. Favourite festival: Basant Panchmi
16. Are you superstitious?: Yes
17. Present state of mind: Composed yet confused
18. Do you believe in astrology?: Yes, partly because I see fools running great institutions, ministries and countries
19. Are you on good terms with yourself?: That's a tough one. Not always
20. Your greatest tragedy: Death of my daughter
21. What is your idea of happiness?: Peace and harmony at home, being with my grandchildren and closest friends
22. Virtues you admire: Truth, love, loyalty, courage and magnanimity
23. Vices you hate: Cruelty, cowardice and vulgarity
24. Favourite pastime: Reading, stimulating conversation followed by prolonged period of contemplative silence
25. What is your opinion of the Kamasutra?: Highly overrated. Also very funny
26. Does the end justify the means?: No
27. Is Gandhi relevant today?: Is truth relevant today?
28. Are you religious?: Not in the conventional way. I prefer ethics, morality and spirituality to religiosity.
29. Which other century would you have liked to be born in?: Same as Emperor Ashok.
30. Do you fear death?: Not as much as I once did.
Sonia Gandhi has done well to put an end to the unnecessary and unseemly controversy--the Congress party vs Amitabh Bachchan. Several over-enthusiastic spokespersons of the party have egg on their faces. Big B is not only an exceptionally gifted and immensely popular film actor, he is decent, dignified, restrained, refined and an exceptionally and immensely likable person. From the very beginning, it was clear that while Big B would emerge unscathed, the Congress party would not. He does India proud. Many years ago, I was in Dakar, Senegal, in West Africa as the Union minister for fertilisers. Senegal is a French-speaking country. I was pleasantly surprised on being informed that a Bachchan film was very popular in Dakar. How many in India have heard of Dakar and Senegal?
There is, even in the south Delhi cocktail circuit, murmurings that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is leaning too much towards the US. The US does not seem to appreciate our PM's excessive desire to please it. Even on the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, the American suppliers have made their displeasure known. They want more of the reactor component cake. The PM is trying to satisfy the opposition parties in Parliament to make some alterations in the Bill. Two issues need to be clarified. Could the opposition parties not have been taken into confidence earlier? Were the floor managers not aware of the misgivings of the Opposition? Even the BJP, generally not critical of the US has strong reservations. Next, why were loopholes left in the first place? When I worked in Mrs Indira Gandhi's Secretariat from 1966 to 1971, the entire officer component was less than ten. Today, the PMO seems to resemble a mini public meeting. When numbers increase, excellence suffers.
In 1988, I was in Islamabad for the Saarc Summit. A Pakistani journalist mildly reprimanded me: "Natwar sahib, why are you a hawk on Pakistan?" I answered that I did not understand this language of hawks and doves. "We run a foreign policy, not a bird sanctuary."