It’s a well-known quip that an
ambassador is sent abroad "to lie for his country".
This, of course, is only a part of the truth for certain
individuals holding that high charge can still retain the
integrity of their vision and values. They can, even under
pressure from home demonstrate their authenticity. As Lionel
Trilling’s critic, Irving Howe maintains apropos of Sincerity
and Authenticity (Harvard, 1970). "It takes two to be
sincere; one to be authentic. Having known Gujral so closely, I
could safely vouch for his unimpeachable authenticity.
Now, while an
embassy happens to be as large and important as the one in
Moscow, the ambassador’s routine meetings, greetings,
receptions etc. keep him too occupied to notice the smaller
things around. And there his spouse, if she’s as educated, as
well-read and as sensitive to the cross-currents of history as
Sheila is, the Embassy’s over-all duties become that much
onsier. And then Sheila Gujral happens to be a substantive poet
(I have a couple of her signed volumes in English — a present
from her during my visit with my wife to 7 Race Course in 1997,
when Gujral had the honour of being India’s Prime Minister).
No wonder, her feminine intuitions and her poetic sensibility
lend the memoirs an air of elegance.
volume under review is based on her daily diary, all manner of
details — her duties as housewife, as a fond mother of two
grown-up sons, as a loving daughter-in-law, as an office-holder
of many a social organisation, as a hostess with Indian
guest-friends in squads — get told, often in lucid, flexible,
expressive prose. She notices everything around during her
travels to the far-flung republics of the Soviet Union, with a
keen observer eye. It’s a pity, though she stops short of
making large formulations. For the USSR of the post-Stalinist
era was still obsessed with "the cold war" dialectics.
No comment is made on the Russian dissidents exiled to Siberia,
no comment on the moral, inner erosion of the Marxist Empire. I
spoke earlier of Sheila Gujral’s poetic past. Even in this
volume, she cannot resist the temptation of breaking into
lyrical songs when the moment warrants it. For instance, staying
as a state guest at Yalta for treatment and rest, she notices
one day a strange stir in her spirit and a familiar buzz in her
ears. And she sums up that epiphanic experience thus:
Sea seemed to have seeped into me.
of Om encircled me."
I wish the editors had added an
index to facilitate the reader. Also, I wish the editorial eye
had been a little more meticulous where the niceties and nuances
of the English language are concerned.