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Reporter’s diary

SNM Abdi remembers his benefactor and the former Foreign Minister of Bhutan, Lyonpo Dawa Tshering, who was who passed away recently.

india Updated: Jun 11, 2007 00:34 IST
Off track | SNM Abdi

A gem of a man who helped me bag one of the biggest ‘exclusives’ of my career has passed away. Lyonpo Dawa Tshering was Bhutan’s Foreign Minister when we met in 1985. Twenty-two years ago, I was a reporter of the Illustrated Weekly of India stationed in Calcutta. Rajiv Gandhi was our Prime Minister and his obsession with Sri Lanka was hardly a secret. He wanted representatives of the Lankan government, LTTE and TULF to sit across the table. Thanks to his efforts, round one of the unprecedented India-brokered talks was scheduled from July 8-13, 1985.

But unfortunately for journalists, New Delhi clamped a news blackout. It decided to hold the talks in Thimpu, which had no newspapers or journalists in those days; there wasn’t even a token Indian or Western agency reporter posted there. To test the waters, I rang up South Block, only to be told that journalists were banned from covering the talks. “You will be deported if you venture there,” the spokesman warned. Luckily, the editor approved of my plans to sneak in. I bought a ticket for Paro, Bhutan’s international airport 60 km from Thimpu, but changed my plans after three journalists were stopped at Paro and flown back. I flew to Bagdogra instead and entered Bhutan’s Phuntsholing where I lied to wrangle a permit for Thimpu. I went to the Indian embassy but nobody would see me. As a last resort, I rushed to the foreign ministry and handed my visiting card to Tshering’s secretary.

Ten minutes later I was sitting in his chamber. It was July 11. To my amazement, Tshering said: “I have enjoyed reading the Illustrated Weekly for 20 years. Yes, we have banned the press. But there are exceptions to every rule. Welcome to Bhutan, young man.” He briefed me about the talks. I suspect he told me everything he knew, even revealing that the talks were deadlocked and foreign secretary Romesh Bhandari was flying in to break the stalemate. He parted with the list of participants and said that security-cleared chefs were serving idlis and dosas to delegates glued to telephone hotlines to Colombo and New Delhi.

I requested him for photographs of the talks and he obliged. Tshering and I met several times since then. He introduced me to the who’s who of Bhutan, including the royal family. But today it makes me sad to think that my benefactor is no more.