Aha! This is a little more challenging than the chicken-and-the-egg thingy. We’re now on to the world’s oldest profession. Which is it?
That was one of the first issues addressed at last evening’s debate at Kolkata’s Oxford Much-More-Than-A-Bookstore (their descriptor, not mine). Maina Bhagat, their events consultant, pinned her bet on diplomacy.
And a short while later, diplomat, author and scholar Krishnan Srinivasan aye-ayed her line. Or was that his? Must go through his books to check that one out. As of now, at least when the launch celebrates his latest and third book – Tricks of the Trade - we go with former Foreign Secretary Srinivasan’s avowal that diplomacy IS the world’s oldest profession.
Although, with a book title like that, your guess about what lies between the covers could be as good as mine till we lay our hands on the book. The Bedford School and Oxford-educated Srinivasan joined the Foreign Service and honed his writing skills drafting minutes-by-proxy and picking up pertinent observations that were to stand him in great stead when he began penning his books.
The evening was studded with lenses that gave us an insider’s view of the Civil Services. And I’m certainly curious for more that his books promise. Who wouldn’t be, when you learn truisms like, The Second Secretary writes letters he doesn’t sign. The First Secretary signs letters he doesn’t write. So, what does the Foreign Secretary do?
He doodles – and inspires an evening announcing his book to be dubbed Diplomatic Doodles – and writes novels. When you learn, in the course of the same evening, that it takes 12 years after parleys begin for an average talk to fructify, you can’t be blamed for wondering if the doodling is the cause or the result of such diplomatic procrastination.
From the reactions to the book reading, it’s apparent that my idea of humour and good writing are shared generously by most others. Besides the wit, the reading leaves you feeling a little uncomfortable with references to diplomatic dialogues. The plot is certainly worth checking out.
Following the extremely articulate Srinivasan’s first novel, The Ugly Ambassador and the next thriller, The Eccentric Effect, the first thing inevitable about his third published work is the promise of alliteration in the title. And of course it is: Tricks of the Trade. Can’t fault Oxford there for dubbing the dekko, Diplomatic Doodles. Don’t blame me for that line, either. It’s inspired.
As for the latest published, it’s a handbook for all those who need diplomacy in their dealings. Srinivasan leaves us with the feeling that most of us, never mind what our profession, career, calling or vocation be, could do with the "wealth of diplomatic experience" that comes packaged with his characteristic wry wit.
I don’t know how much of the humour was contrived and how much of it was spontaneous last evening, but the final question from the audience certainly had to be the latter: With all this alliteration happening, you couldn’t fault the bemused lady who thought Diplomatic Doodles was the name of Srinivasan’s next book. It isn’t. That, promises Srinivasan, is The Princess, The Ambassador and the Bomb.