Book Review: Non-fiction/ Walking with Lions: Tales from a Diplomatic Past by K Natwar Singh, Harper Collins, 211; Rs299 (Paperback)
K. Natwar Singh has been an articulate diplomat as an Indian Foreign Service official or in general. He was born royal, but grew up with a taste for democratic politics. In a memorable career, spanning over six decades, he has been indeed “walking with lions.” This book, which is a compilation of his 48 essays written for an Indian newspaper, forwards the chances of overture with few secret and mostly impressive known facts about him.
In the author’s unwavering belief in constructing high sense through small sentences, this book opens many sensational episodes from the non-Congress ruling years. On Congress and its leaders (especially with Nehru-Gandhis), his take is more neutral and appears to follow an invisible, but esteemed protocol. A protocol chosen, rather than forced from somewhere. On Morarji Desai’s regime, one can be enlightened by reading this book, which does not overlook follies or hyped wisdom.
Indian diplomacy in post-independence days could not delink from the shadows of its immediate colonial past. Even today, we see our diplomats behaving in an alien way, either at home or in the territory of their assigned mission. But India sailed on those, who exceptionally cued from such ideological draining.
Natwar Singh was among the ablest of them; he served in the mission of Western Europe and Zambia with equal vigor. That was and is a rare scene. He is of those few who have seen the trend of Indian politics since the days of Nehru.
Instead, he had to leave the Ministry of External Affairs much earlier and only to foolishly satisfy a lobby, active to tamper with India’s trade and policies at large. He was an obstacle before those interest groups, so sidelining him came as the easiest option. His successors have proved their disastrous capacity of non-interference, so things are walking a calm path - unfortunately, no distraction is foreseeable.
For long, I have been following Natwar Singh’s writing and his public life and also have the privilege to edit an upcoming anthology, for which he has contributed a very remarkable essay on India’s Foreign Policy (more as an independent writer, than a Congress member). I know him in many ways, though mostly for his scholarism that is above suspicion in all the cases. He has a fondness for letters and he justifies it, when he turns orator or writer.
The essays of this book, have been written on a weekly basis and they seem trying to reach a consensus of memory. This is by a person who has lived many roles in his life and career, and who also epitomizes the beauty of intellect in distinguished public life. His grip over the diverse domains of knowledge spellbind, but it adds on the wider spectrum of knowledge, so nothing gets complicated.
This book is a good read, and offers the reader to come across the hidden or stated events from the past. A diplomat/senior politician’s diary of this standard and in such frankness is an uncommon phenomenon in India, and still I doubt I’ll see a similar stock of opinion coming frequently from the veteran’s league.
They are or would be kept writing for the Gymkhana Club or other ghost club’s members, who unfortunately are the tribes of the past, still destined for a “colonial-hangover” rather than the “much changed destiny.” With this book, see the world (even though momentously) through Natwar Singh’s eyes - you will never feel lost.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in India America Today on March30,2013)