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Made in Chandigarh: Stay strong, stay focused, says High commissioner of India to New Zealand Sanjiv Kohli

THE INSIDER: The present High Commissioner of India to New Zealand, Sanjiv Kohli, who inspired a character in the Bollywood film ‘Airlift’, shares the real story behind the evacuation in Kuwait and why Chandigarh is an ideal training ground for aspiring civil servants

punjab Updated: Jun 16, 2018 12:26 IST
Hindustan times, Chandigarh
Made in Chandigarh,High commissioner of India,Airlift
Sanjiv Kohli is a PEC graduate(HT photo)

Name: Sanjiv Kohli

Age: 55

Designation: I am presently the High Commissioner of India to New Zealand. After brief stints with a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) in Mohali and the Indian Railways, I joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1988. Since then, I have served in Indian Missions in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Russia and Qatar. I have also worked in the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi in various positions. Before coming to Wellington, I was heading the West Africa Division in the Ministry. I joined my current assignment as High Commissioner of India to New Zealand in February 2016.

Hometown

I was born in Gurdaspur. My late father was a PCS officer. So my schooling was at different places as he moved every three years. My parents settled in Chandigarh after my father’s last stint in the city before his retirement.

Education

I topped my pre-engineering (Class 12) exams. Since I scored well, Punjab Engineering College (PEC) was the obvious choice. I pursued an engineering degree and enrolled for the Electronics and Communications course. I studied at PEC from 1979 to 1983.

My Chandigarh connect

I have always felt that Chandigarh is a great place to live in. Apart from the grace and comfort of this beautiful city, I have very fond memories of my days in PEC. Once you are part of the Indian Foreign Service, Delhi becomes your home in India. But I have still not decided where to settle after retirement. I still have a huge emotional attachment with Chandigarh, so that option is always on the table.

What I owe to Chandigarh

I owe my education to the city. It is here that I prepared for the civil services examination and cracked it. A person is always shaped by his environment. Living in Chandigarh was a blessing in terms of the facilities available, the easy pace of life, its culture and discipline. Besides it was inspiring to be surrounded by a large number of government officials.

The turning point

There was no turning point as such. I always wanted to join the civil services, perhaps inspired and motivated by my father’s career. I grew up in a family of civil servants. My mother was teaching in a government college in Chandigarh. Many close relatives also worked for the government. I was always fascinated by the wide range of opportunities and responsibilities that the civil services offered.

IN REAL AND REEL LIFE: Career diplomat Sanjiv Kohli poses with posters of the movie ‘Airlift’ where his role was essayed by Kumud Mishra. (File Photo)

With reference to the Indians stranded in Kuwait as shown in the Bollywood movie ‘Airlift’ and the portrayal of your character, what do you recall about the incident?

I had just finished my training in Delhi and was sent to Kuwait to learn Arabic language. I had lived in Kuwait for barely five months when the Iraqi invasion took place. There was absolute chaos with no connection to the outside world. After a few days, I was asked by our government to move to Jordan to help in the evacuation of over 170,000 Indians living in Kuwait at that time. Moving to Jordan from Kuwait was itself a challenge because of lack of security and reliable transportation. I spent over two months at the Iraq-Jordan border to assist Indians coming from Kuwait. Providing services in a warzone was a huge challenge and there were no facilities at the border.

My day would start very early and continue till late in the night. The instructions were very clear that we should conclude our mission only after all the Indians had been safely evacuated. The circumstances were very trying, but it was very satisfying to be part of what is still considered the largest evacuation ever from a warzone.

Indian diaspora in New Zealand

The Indian diaspora in New Zealand is about 200,000 strong. We have tried very hard to extend our outreach.

How has the city changed?

It has become more thickly populated. The roads are also getting very busy. It used to be a very quiet city with roomy roads when I was studying at PEC.

Change I want to see in Chandigarh

It should strive to retain its spirit. It’s a beautiful, green city which should work towards becoming an educational hub of the nation.

The secret sauce

My parents were very simple, hardworking and god-fearing people. From them I learnt the virtues of honesty, dedication and hard work. There is no substitute for hard work. Working for the civil services is truly a blessing as it provides you an opportunity to be of service to others.

My advice to civil services aspirants

It is very important to work hard and be persistent. Never give up until you achieve success. It is also important to have clarity of thought and focus. You should try talking to those who have cleared the exam in the recent past so that you can select the right kind of reading material.

First Published: Jun 15, 2018 11:39 IST