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Interpreter of maladies

india Updated: Sep 13, 2007 23:22 IST
Kumkum Chadha
Kumkum Chadha
Hindustan Times
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When Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Yuxi worked as an interpreter to Yao Guang, then head of his country’s embassy in France, in 1979, he vowed to himself, “I will one day be where he is. I will also be better than him.” Twenty years later, Sun was sent as his country’s ambassador to Afghanistan. He claims he “bettered” his mentor since he did not use interpreters. “I knew English. I did not need help to read newspapers or watch TV. When in Paris, I could shop for fish on my own.”



As Yao’s interpreter, Sun had a tough regimen. Since Yao usually summoned him along with his bed tea for a summary of the top stories in the English media, he could not afford to wait for newspapers to be delivered at his doorstep. Instead, at the crack of dawn, he went out to buy them. The “worst”, he recalls, was the

International Herald Tribune

, which used “tough English”. In the evening, Sun interpreted French soap operas. Here, Sun’s storytelling skills came handy. But what Sun could not match was Yao’s skills in calligraphy and his political worldview.



After studying English at Beijing Foreign Studies University, Sun did a stint at the London School of Economics. There he worked at the tennis courts, picking up balls to earn “extra pocket money”. When he started playing himself, his love for the game drove him to convert a basketball field into a tennis court. “This was at the Chinese embassy in Pakistan.”



It was at the LSE that he developed an interesting theory about the world’s power structure — artistes will ultimately rule this world. His logic: monarchs replaced tribal leaders. Then came the politicians, who are being elbowed out by economists. Sun’s list of influential politicians includes Winston Churchill, Stalin, Nehru and Gandhi. As for economists, Manmohan Singh, he says, heads the list. “Next will be the artistes. Once poverty is eradicated, happiness and creativity will boom,” he declares.



Sun began his diplomatic career in France where, apart from translating soap operas and edits for Yao, he worked as a political officer in the embassy. Having served in Pakistan, Afghanistan and now India, Sun has an interesting interpretation of inter-country relationships, particularly India’s with Pakistan and China. “India and Pakistan are brothers of a common family. They now have set-ups of their own. During the division of family property, they had differences, over which they are still quarrelling. India and China, though, have a bond of commonality. Both have ancient civilisations, both are in Asia, with a billion-plus population and both are developing fast like Asian brothers.”



Having worked in a canteen, Sun was one of 20 cooks rolling steam bread for 1,000 people each morning. His “efficiency” led to a promotion and he was sent to train at a restaurant. It’s not without reason that Sun thinks nothing of his wife’s cooking, boasting of his skills during festivals. But when it comes to playing bridge, she beats him hollow. Both, though, are national-level players.