Extended & Enlarged Interview of Kamal Nayan Bakshi

Extended & Enlarged Version of Mr. Kamal Nayan Bakshi's Interview

Educational Background: BA (Hons.) and MA, and cleared his UPSC examinations in the first attempt, and was selected for both the IAS and the IFS.

Professional Background: He taught (Pol. Sc.) at the Punjab University, and later joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1961.

His last posting (before retirement) as Indian Ambassador to Rome (Italy) was from 1995 to 1996.

Q1. In your view, what is most important in life? Accordingly, name three aspects, important in life.
A. Most important is a balance between the body, mind and spirit; or between the material, intellectual and spiritual.

Q2. If you were not doing what you are doing now, what would you be doing?
A. Waiting for Yama! And being occupied in chasing MAYA, as I have done most of my life!

Q3. What motivates you to achieve your goal?
A. That it is my KARMA to do what I am doing; I try not to be focused on the fruits of my KARMA, though I do not succeed much of the time.

Q4. How do you handle stress and pressure?
A. By reminding myself that all this is MAYA or a Divine Play in which I have a role given by the Divine Director and that I must play it to the best of my ability, irrespective of roles played by others around me or audience appreciation or the lack of it. Sometimes I succeed.

Q5. Which of your qualities would you want to pass down to your child/children?
A. Burning desire to know God, which I myself do not have in any sizable measure.

Q6. Who is your favourite author? Which book of your favourite author have you enjoyed the best?
A. My Gurudeva, Paramahansa Yogananda and his "Autobiography of a Yogi".

Q7. What are you pursuing currently, by the way of a light hobby, or by the way of a serious goal?
A. Both combine into a search for MYSELF.

Q8. In the last 1 year, is your particular goal advancing? Which is that goal/dream?
A. Advancing, yes, but far too slowly! To realize MYSELF before my soul leaves this body.

Recap of the conversation with Mr. Kamal Nayan Bakshi.
Educational Background: BA (Hons.) and MA, and cleared his UPSC examinations in the first attempt, and was selected for both the IAS and the IFS.

Professional Background: He taught (Pol. Sc.) at the Punjab University, and later joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1961.

His last posting (before retirement) as Indian Ambassador to Rome (Italy) was from 1995 to 1996.

On a Sunday morning, the exclusive Trident Club Lounge of Trident Hotel, Mumbai – India, usually gives us even more attention because the place is relatively inactive. Two guests are sitting in solitude of their own, as I greet Kamal Nayan Bakshi. I have invited him this morning for an interesting session to narrate his life's journey – to be shared with my readers. The idea had occurred to me a while back, more accurately, more than three years ago. I guess, there is a precise time that travels when things will happen!

I also believe, there is a definite path of positive karma – good actions from the past that have offered me such a wonderful connection with Kamal Bakshi and his wife, Urmila ji. Indeed I must explain about the connection – before I proceed further. Their son, Vishal is married to my older daughter, Vibha.

We settled ourselves at the table – overlooking the splendid ocean. There's nothing that can beat the view. On a whim, I order a carrot juice for myself – while Kamal Bakshi as a practitioner of self-discipline declines my offer to have anything for the present. With avid enthusiasm, I begin to write, what he expresses.

'If I were to live my life all over again, I would still choose the Indian Foreign Service as a career. Whatever my modest contribution to my country's diplomacy and foreign relations, I believe that the service has given me much more, and enriched me in countless ways. It has made me a true Indian, proud of my country, its heritage and its past and potential contribution to the community of nations,' Kamal Bakshi states with a quiet fervor during our dialogue, and that's what he wrote to me afterwards.

Kamal Bakshi's first posting as an Ambassador was in Stockholm (Sweden) from 1981 to 1984, after which he served for a short while at Oslo (Norway). He served as an Ambassador to Iraq and was posted in Baghdad from 1985 to 1991 – witnessing both the Iraq-Iran conflict and the Gulf war of 1991, where his work included the repatriation of over 1,50,000 Indian nationals – back to India, who were stranded in Iraq and Kuwait.

He was Ambassador to Austria and remained in Vienna from 1991 to 1994, where he was also appointed as India's permanent representative to the United Nation's office in Vienna. His last posting (before retirement) as Ambassador to Rome was from 1995 to 1996.

While we talked together, we spoke of December 1997 – the year of our children – when they tied the knot and Shri I. K. Gujral – Prime Minister attended their marriage. How time flies! Now, we are proud grandparents with school going grandchildren – Varun and Vir.

Kamal Bakshi was born and brought up in the northern part of India – Jalandar, Punjab – where he studied for his schooling and did his BA (Hons.) and MA. Later, he taught Political Science at the Punjab University. An above-average student in school, Kamal Bakshi did increasingly better in college, standing second in the university in MA. He remembers his Professor, Shri J.C. Anand of Political Science in Doaba College, Jalandar. 'Professor Anand was totally selfless, he treated me as his own child,' Kamal Bakshi expresses.

Kamal Bakshi cleared his UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) examinations in no time and was selected for both Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Foreign Service. He states, 'In view of my interest in international law and world affairs, I joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1961. After completing my training at the National Academy of Administration and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), I was sent to Germany, where I learnt German at an advanced level, after which I was posted as a Third Secretary in the Embassy of India, in Vienna, from 1963 to 1964.'

We paused to order my cup of coffee and some dry fruits for us. Where we sat, the large bay-windows offer the best possible scene of Mumbai. Understandably, from the 28th floor of a location in Nariman Point on a clear day, we can see the skyscrapers on the opposite shore looking like a piece of painted canvas coming out alive. The monsoons were still trailing on, or so it seemed. The skies were speckled with patches of grey clouds; the ocean somehow retained its turquoise gleam. The swell was mild and two boats appeared like they were regal monuments showing off their supremacy to the world.

I heard myself say aloud, 'Look! at the marvels of the Supreme! What a vision sketched by Him to delight upon! How does God arrange these sights?' I enjoyed my exclamation – which seemed to be spontaneously instinctive.

After the theatrical-mystical question, I returned to my guest, and went back to our dialogue of the interview.

I asked Kamal Bakshi, 'Please tell my readers: when did you get into the importance of spirituality?' He replied, 'The circumstances which brought me towards spirituality and my guru, convinced me that the guru had chosen me, and he brought me to the path when I was ready enough… prepared enough to follow his teachings.' Kamal Bakshi continued, 'It was my heart attack in 1981 that forced me to examine my life, anew… to ask questions of why and how we are born and live on. That, now I believe – was a karmic evolution. Then, one thing led to another.'

It's true that nearly every trackable conversation between the two of us, brings us to the topic of spirituality, quite frequently! You see, we share the teachings of our common guru – Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda (The author of Autobiography of a Yogi). I can say, while Kamal Bakshi is steadily scaling the mountain, I have just about arrived at the foot of the mountain… by that I mean, the mountain of: Self-Realization.

We, in our family are able to observe that there are so many relevant things Kamal Bakshi is doing to show the rest of us – the true purpose of life. I don't think that he ever advices anyone strongly to follow his lead. He will tell us gently the importance of meditation, discipline, social work; moreover, in discussions, he suggests the need to dig for answers from within ourselves. He does that by his own example, and some of us are making efforts to follow, at least, a few of those applications.

On the other hand, the topic of Self-Realization, itself, is larger than life! And I would be inadequate to refer to its expansion… I lack the wisdom. However, I can say, I have personally benefitted through Kamal Bakshi's association. Life's drama of duality … how can that stop? We have to work around it; each one of us has a free will to make use of it, or, misuse it. This is the core message of our common guru, Sri Sri Parmahansa Yogananda –– which I am trying to grasp through my connectivity with Kamal Bakshi.

Coming back to the interview: so, at the end of 1996, when Kamal Bakshi returned to India, he took a conscious decision to spend most of his time on his spiritual advancement. He found the opening… he started to devote a lot of energy towards the cause of the Yogoda Satsanga Society of India. An ashram was to be built in Noida, near New Delhi, and he became a very active member to participate in the project. Today, the ashram is thriving with many purposeful social activities – including health and education attention for the less privileged.

Since 1980, Kamal Bakshi has also been associated with ADAPT (former Spastics Society of India), Mumbai – dedicated to the welfare of persons with disability – of which Dr. Mithu Alur is the Founder Chairperson.

Going back to the initial years when he joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1961, Kamal Bakshi said, 'After completing my training at the National Academy of Administration and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), I was sent to Germany and learnt German at an advanced level, after which I was in Vienna (1963-64) as a Third Secretary. Thereafter, I served as a Second Secretary in the High Commission in Colombo (1964-67), and as First Secretary in the Embassy in Stockholm in (1967-70), before being appointed as Head of Post (Assistant High Commissioner) at Karachi from (1970-71).

In fact, Kamal Bakshi witnessed the 1971 conflict and the birth of Bangladesh from inside Pakistan. He stated that it was a difficult period which included being isolated, without any communication and put under house arrest till repatriation to India…

Back in the MEA, Kamal Bakshi took over as Deputy Head of the Pakistan Division, and was put on the official team which negotiated and concluded the historic Simla Agreement on 2nd July 1972; he was also involved in its implementation, including – India's unconditional withdrawal from over 6,000 sq. km. of territory captured from Pakistan, and repatriation of 93,000 Pakistani Prisoners of War.

After having served India's Deputy High Commission (DHC) in Canada between 1974-77, he also served as DHC in Dhaka from 1977-79.

Between 1980-81, Kamal Bakshi served as Joint Secretary in the Prime Minister's office of Shrimati Indira Gandhi, advising and assisting her in the field of Foreign Affairs. He tells me that in those days, there were only 6 people in the Prime Minister's office. When I asked him about Indira Gandhi, he remarked, 'Indira Gandhi had a vision of India – having grown under the guidance of giants like Jawaharlal Nehru, and also having lived in the shadow of Mahatma Gandhi, Sarojni Naidu, Rajgopalchari, Mulana Azad.'

Then, in February of 1981, Kamal Bakshi suffered a serious heart attack. After, recovering from the attack, though it was tempting to stay back in the Prime Minister's office, he took the option of going as Ambassador to Sweden – Stockholm.

I reckon, moving away from the Prime Minister's office – this decision must have been painful, but it was also right because it decisively affected the future of not only Kamal Bakshi but his entire family. His wife was very young and his two boys were very small. Kamal Bakshi could see how some factors would operate for the precarious balance, as he very well remembered that doctors could have done little or nothing to prevent further consequences. Kamal Bakshi was awakened to the danger and knew he must protect his wife and two small boys. He was awakened to the fact of losing his health if he did not draw his line. He needed to slow down his work routine, and the pace in the Prime Minister's office – though rewarding was too hectic. He did work for a few months as a Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, before he opted to proceed to Sweden.

We talked at length about his memories of places where he was posted. His narration carried the testimony of varied impressions. He said, 'For example, in Iraq, I was exposed to the Arabic world and the ancient Babylonian civilization. I also visited Iraq's spiritual abodes – the tomb of Hazarat Ali and Imam Hussein'. While transferred from Venice to Colombo, he tells me about his travels to Lebanon… back in the 1961…it was a thriving, peaceful place – like the Switzerland of the Middle East.

Kamal Bakshi provides a character reference of his mentors most fondly. He repeats, 'Prof. J.C. Anand was my professor of Political Science in Doaba College, Jalandhar. People looked up to him. He guided me through my Masters in Political Science and treated me as his own child. He was totally selfless!'. He continues, 'Later, P.N. Haskar – Secretary to Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, was a person I admired. He was a highly learned man, a scholar, steeped in the knowledge and history of Indian tradition. Actually, he was a 'Renaissance' man – he knew the west as much as he knew the east. I attended his birth anniversary in September 2013 in Delhi – Mr. Haskar's daughters celebrated his 100th birth anniversary'.

I asked Kamal Bakshi, 'What views do you have on India's growth, globally?' He replied, 'We have done well, but we could have done better. For example, if we had kept up our growth rates – which were in our hands to a great extent.' Kamal Bakshi's words at the close of our session were simply philosophical in essence. 'We are adrift with the long-range-view about ourselves. What race are we competing in? In both truth and pleasure – what are we looking for? Peace of mind is indivisible, and as long as we are entrapped by earthly desires, we will remain in dangers of being enslaved by our unending wants. The line must be drawn to stop the wave of onslaught'.

Kamal Bakshi's faith in God has matured with sober satisfaction.

He turned down any position, or, post he was offered after retiring. It was his wish and purpose that he would engage in something different…his motives and methods began giving time to serve righteous causes… and he is doing exactly that.

Many days later, as I was reading Khalil Gibran, I took out the bard's verse to connect with the conversation I had with Kamal Bakshi:

And he (a hermit) answered, saying:
Pleasure is a freedom-song,
But it is not freedom,
It is the blossoming of your desires,
But it is not their fruit.

It is a depth calling unto a height,
But it is not the deep nor the high,
It is the caged taking wing,
But it is not space encompassed….

I know, unlike most of us, Kamal Bakshi drew the line… for the sake of his freedom…for the sake of his progress.

Q 1. What has been the turning point of your life?
A. The major turning point was a serious illness in my early forties. It made me ask some basic questions about life: Who am I? Where have I come from? Why am I here? Where do I go from here? Trying to find the answers lead me to my Gurudeva, Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the spiritual classic "Autobiography of a Yogi". My efforts to follow his teachings over the last 25 years have actually changed the course of my life.

Q 2. If you could go back in time, what would you want to do?
A. From the little I have learnt from my efforts at 'sadhana', I would not be able to change anything, even, if I were to go back in time. The past was the result of my own 'karma' in the previous lives, as also in the present life. I can wish that my journey to self-realization would have started much earlier; but I know that my own 'karma' brought me to that precise point at that precise time where I got an opportunity to change the course of my life. And I did.

Q 3. What are your future dreams?
A. I hope and pray for God's grace to bless my humble efforts at self-realization with success, during this very life.

Geeta Chhabra

Geeta Chhabra Comment Form
Form a link. Comment inside the box below. Your views will be published in a coming edition.