I’m a fan of Shah Rukh Khan, says Australian High Commissioner to India Harinder Sidhu
Is there anything more beautifully distracting than the sight of a peacock walking past? That’s the pleasant visitor, who showed up in a tastefully done up living room at the Australian High Commissioner to India’s abode, as we sat for a quick tête-à-tête with Harinder Sidhu, the Australian High Commissioner to India.
A lady of worldly knowledge, Sidhu’s love for arts and literature is well known to people who’ve heard her speak at Jaipur and Kolkata literature festivals. She believes that cultural exchange can strengthen diplomatic ties. “Literature, arts and films play a vital role in building a relationship between two countries. These things are media that allow us to understand what matters and we learn to empathise people. I feel understanding builds texture and resilience in any relationship, and when we talk of two countries, the path to that understanding is through their culture,” says the diplomat who was born to Indian-origin parents.
Sidhu, who attended a literature fest in Jaipur, earlier this year, says: “There were many high-profile Australian authors, such as Robert Dessaix, Anna Funder, Tara June Winch, and a few Australian publishers at the fest. Now, we are in talks of making books between the two countries, which will add another layer to the cultural relationship.”
Books — a window to the world
The cultural exchange between the two countries have begun. And for the High Commissioner, charity begins at home. “I read Vikram Seth’s An Unsuitable Boy and books by Jhumpa Lahri. And I’m really excited about India’s literary scene. I’ve read Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi and Gandhi Before India. I’ve just finished reading Em and The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto. I loved reading them,” says Sidhu, whose New Year resolution is “to read Indian literature”. “I’ve been driven by an impulse to understand Indian history and its politics.... My ambition is to be able to read Punjabi or Hindi writings in its own language.To inspire myself, I’ve brought Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s Madhushala,” she says.
Bollywood’s soft power
However, Sidhu’s interest isn’t limited to Indian literature. She’s also a big fan of Bollywood films and the fashion circuit in India. The self-confessed fan of Shah Rukh Khan, who started liking the actor after watching Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001), says, “I saw Aamir Khan’s Dangal, too. I was so impressed by his movie-making craft. I’ve been watching more complex films, like Masaan, recently. Hindi films are my window to India. The films have become more sophisticated as they are experimenting and widening the subject matter. I think that this is bringing India to the forefront and equally connecting non resident Indians more closely.”
Besides films and books, Sidhu says fashion and textile heritage can also go a long way in bolstering the diplomatic ties between the two countries. Sidhu says, “Fashion diplomacy is something that we’re starting to pay more attention to. It’s often not taken seriously as an arm of cultural relations, but it’s something everyone can relate to. Indian designs, coupled with its age-old weaving traditions, attract much interest and attention of the world. The fabrics, the weaves, the shapes and colours and the dyeing techniques used aren’t found anywhere else. That’s why so many Indian designers have won the International Woolmark prize (A prestigious Australian fashion award) in recent years and I expect them to continue to be competitive.”
The Capital of different senses
The diplomat, who has been in the Capital for a couple of years now, perceives the city to be a “pleasant assault on the senses”. “I like the noise, the crowd and the food. From top-end restaurants to the hawkers in old Delhi, there are so many little stories that come along with the food, here. And more than that, there’s a lovely contrast between the bustling city that Delhi is and the quiet spaces in nook and corners of the city that houses, the Lodhi Gardens and Humayun’s tomb,” she says. However, Sidhu hopes that the “air was cleaner, which literally is like the cloud hanging over a beautiful city”.
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