Writing blogs can be dangerous. Prima facie, there is a lot of latitude for flights of fancy and the informality borne out of not being held to account is ecstatic, which a structured opinion-piece doesn’t permit. But then, the temptation to write a racy piece also holds the danger that one can overstep and trespass into indiscretion.
Painfully, regretfully, this seems to have happened when I wrote a blog recently, titled Cry, my beloved Chumbi Valley. It was a rarest of rare pieces that I wrote because it was about bureaucrats and their shenanigans — a topic that I disdainfully give a wide berth in the normal course after walking out of the foreign service in sheer disgust at the age of fifty.
But the point is, my blog hurt the sentiments and the self-respect of an old dear friend who mistook it as a personal attack on his integrity.
Hardeep Puri and I go back a long way to the times when we both joined the Foreign Service in the early seventies. He was much more than a colleague or a friend, as I was also the recipient of much affection from his deceased parents. And friendships mature fully only when they are associated with painful moments in life. Hardeep was an utterly reliable safe haven for me always while I incessantly struggled with the choppy waters in the bureaucracy where I remained a misfit all through.
In the blog, I summoned impulsively from the attic of my mind a particular expression, hoping to create a word play. But it backfired and got misconstrued as a personal attack on Hardeep’s integrity. Which of course it wasn’t.
A close look at the blog will testify that it could have done without that intended pun, because its theme was crystal clear — the continuing malady of the use of media leaks as weapons by Foreign Service officers in their internecine wars, and the sheer absurdity of it all.
I felt indignant about the matter only because I too have been the victim of such guerilla war. The bane of the Indian Foreign Service has always been that there is no real camaraderie among colleagues. My bitter experience has been that it’s a dog-eating-dog culture that prevails in South Block as everyone is for himself, and wouldn’t bat an eyelid to knife someone in the back to get past him to a European or North American station at some point or the other.
I can say this with total honesty because most of my postings abroad as a diplomat were to C or C* stations (USSR, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, et al) and I must be the only foreign service officer who never once visited the United States, leave alone served in an A*station ever, in an entire career spanning three decades in the Indian diplomatic service.
To cut a long story short, my blog was written with a sense of profound indignation over the recent spate of media leaks involving Foreign Service officers.
Most certainly, by no stretch of imagination, I had Hardeep in mind when I wrote that blog. I feel distressed that I created a misperception unwittingly. My sincere apologies to Hardeep for having hurt his sentiments, and in return may I seek to reclaim our four-decades old friendship?
How wretched do I feel? Well, it’s even more difficult to translate feelings than books. I can only quote a famous passage from one of my favourite essays titled The Russian Point of View from the classic collection The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf where she compares translations to train accidents:
“What we are saying amounts to this, then, that we have judged a whole literature stripped of its style. When you have changed every word in a sentence from Russian into English, have thereby altered the sense a little, the sound, weight, and accent of the words in relation to each other completely, nothing remains except a crude and coarsened version of the sense. Thus treated, the great Russian writers are like men deprived by an earthquake or a railway accident not only of all their clothes, but also of something subtler and more important — their manners, the idiosyncrasies of their characters.”
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– September 24, 2013