Different Dialogues : H.E. Navdeep Singh Suri – Ambassador of India to the UAE.

In conversation with Mr. Navdeep Singh Suri – Ambassador of India to the UAE.


Professional Background: Navdeep Singh Suri has served in various Diplomatic Missions – e.g. Cairo, Damascus, Washington DC, Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg, Australia & currently serving in UAE.  His diplomatic assignments are tagged to numerous responsibilities: in Washington DC (1993), he worked as the Political Counselor responsible for liaising with the US Congress.  In London (2000) he worked as the Spokesperson & Head of the Press & Information Department.  Credit goes to him for his effort to create MEA’s improved interaction with citizens through use of Social Media Platforms and Internet.  During his tenure, as Indian Ambassador to Egypt, in the year 2013, Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi visited India, leading a high level delegation of Egyptian Ministers & Business Leaders.  The tour was a success - when trade between the two countries showed record 30% jump in trade. 

The April morning offered clear blue skies.  The sun-kissed bougainvillea flowers showed off their sparkling presence as I covered the smooth Dubai-Abu Dhabi road distance of 128 kilometers to meet H.E. Navdeep Singh Suri, India’s Ambassador to the UAE at his office in Abu Dhabi.  The seasoned highway has put to an end the era of laborious times when people used camels as means to transport them between the two cities.  Road construction solved the problem with construction completed in 1973.  Now we ride in the comfort of our air-conditioned vehicles, marveling at the moving landscape, and realizing how much has been accomplished by the visionary leaders of UAE.  The desert’s tracks have been converted into a paradise!  There could not be a better mix of people residing in this region – over 200 nationalities live here in harmony… not a small feat to achieve in our today’s world suffering from conflicts of many sorts. 


When we met, I opened my dialogue with Navdeep Singh Suri on his missions abroad, and how his daily responsibilities balance to match up with the hours available to him.   There is no denying of the fact that his designated position is a wide confluence of engagements, and those engagements can be challenging tasks to tackle.  Navdeep Singh Suri represents India’s interests abroad.  He has to observe world developments and maintain international relations with different nations.  He is expected to be well-versed on current issues of peace and wars, treaties, commerce, culture, trade and economics.  He has to keep abreast with the views of his own government’s policies.  He has to be quick-footed, resilient, sharp in negotiating on behalf of his government. 


I ask him: ‘How do you balance all of this on a day-to-day basis?’
He replies with a smile and says, 'I have got accustomed to this way of life. I believe it is a state of mind, and finding time, or, feeling ‘settled’ or ‘unsettled’ is all about mind-set. Even my family is attuned to this. We arrive with the mindset of settling down very quickly.  Within two weeks of our arrival in any place, we are completely settled.’ 


He pauses to give an example.
‘In Australia, our baggage had not arrived but we hosted a delegation on the fourth day of our arrival – we had an event at home.  Of course, we had the infrastructure and support, but as I said, we are preprogrammed to this way of life and routine.’ 


In the usual course of things, I already knew that Navdeep Singh Suri was born in Northern India, in the holy city of Amritsar. He did his schooling and college in the city of his birth and it was here that he met his spouse, Maninder, while he got his Masters Degree in Economics from Guru Nanak University.  Maninder is an accomplished graphic designer, potter, and also has a degree in Economics.


He tells me, ‘At the time of my college, my family was going through financial difficulties, therefore, for me to pursue the academic was not looking possible. I joined the public sector company SAIL in Vishakapatnam.’ 


It is here that destiny was to play a crucial role in making the young Navdeep be what he is today.  In the same company, he found a mentor (who was also his boss in the HR Department), egging him on to realize his real potential.  Navdeep Singh Suri tells me, ‘There was him and me with a gap of 30 years between us.  He was a Tamilian Brahmin and I was a Sikh.  He pushed me, pestered me for my own betterment.’


Expressing in a tone of gratitude, Navdeep Singh reveals, ‘What followed was, I sat for all the Indian Civil Service examination in 1982 and came out in flying colours.  I was 17th in the rank, and gladly opted for the Indian Foreign Service.’


So, here was a man who had tough financial constraints, but by the dint of his ability, and of course, through the grace of Almighty a path of light was shown to him by a stranger coming from a totally different background.


An inspiring example of success for me and my readers. 


‘How do you look at the world situation of today?  Is it not getting murkier with larger conflicts, unrest and warfare?’ I expand on the interview.   


Navdeep Singh Suri responds, ‘There’s always been war, there’s always been conflict.  If you look at the 20th century and see the toll of the First World War, Second World War, Hiroshima Bombings, Horrors of Uganda, Genocide of Jews, Partition of India – they are all huge.  Today, we feel ‘more’ because we are so much and so easily connected with the world due to Social Media and TV.  It all adds up to magnify. The last big war was 70 years back.  We can either go by emotions or by reasons.  We can go by feelings or by numbers. Horrors of Uganda and the World Wars took time to be shown.  Therefore, the impact was not so much.’


As I listened to these words, the dream-picture which my heart holds and eternally prays for surfaced in my inner mind.  In the brief silence I was thinking about a new world, a better world where every single human being would be safe with a decent home and a hearth. 


Among other things, what particularly stood out during our dialogue was Navdeep Singh Suri’s short statement: ‘My family is steeped in literature.’ 


I requested him to elaborate.  As our conversation grew, I came to know that he is the grandson of the acclaimed Punjabi novelist & poet Nanak Singh.  His father Kulwant Singh has been running a reputed publishing house, and his mother Attarjit is a scholar in her own right – she has taught Punjabi to college students.   

He said, ‘My grandfather, Nanak Singh is regarded as the father of Punjabi novels, he wrote 50 novels in his life time.  Pavitrapaapi which was made into a film in 1970 starring Balraj Sahni is translated by me into English and given the title: Saintly Sinner.  The other novel which I have translated is Adh Khedia Phul and its English title is: A Life Incomplete.  This was published by Harper Collin.’


Drawn towards these facts narrated by Navdeep Singh Suri, and his calling to nurture the legacy of his grandfather – all of this makes a fascinating real-life-story of a career diplomat who must be having the knack to get the precarious balance between his grueling office work – which also means frequent trips to his motherland and shifting to different global destinations… this would seem to me a defying situation.  He tells me that a regimented life of discipline has been vital to keep the candle burning and the pen moving.  He grins and points out, ‘I would do 300 words a day, then carry on the week-end if I missed out on some days. You’ve got to set a target.’


It is important to mention that Navdeep Singh Suri is proficient in Gurumukhi (Punjabi), Arabic and French.  Wow!


With thank-you words I shook hands with Navdeep Singh Suri, and from the moment I was homeward bound to Dubai… I hoped a guardian spirit would watch over the treasures of Nanak Singh and help his written chapters to spread through his grandson.  To me, the whole of the writing is the imperishable wealth… which comes from spreading and sharing.  Dramatists, poets, story-writers – all of us in our particular categories desire to make an impact on the minds of mankind.  Our creative work (no matter how big or small), is almost a form of penance which offers us a large reward if we are understood by our work.


God willing, there would be another interview again where we would fill it with the joy of freedom of books, quotes and translations… translations of Nanak Singh’s creative work.  


Q1. What has been the turning point of your life?

A. The turning point for me was the advice given to me by a senior manager in Vizag Steel Plant during my first job in 1982. He insisted that I should not waste my time in the steel plant, that I ‘was meant for better things’ and that I should work to join the civil services. After some initial resistance, I took his advice, sat for the highly competitive civil services exam and qualified in my first attempt. This enabled me to join the Indian Foreign Service back in 1983 and to embark on a 35-year long diplomatic journey. The rest, as they say, is history.


Q2. If you could go back in time, what would you want to do?

A. In professional terms, I have had an exceptionally fulfilling career and even if I went back in time, I would probably choose the same pathway. It is a rare privilege to represent a great nation like ours in different countries around the world and to work on a range of issues ranging from trade and investment to defense and security, from engaging with local officials to supporting the Indian communities.


Q3. What are your future dreams?

A. To remain healthy and productive as I grow older and to continue to contribute my best in a few areas where I can make a difference; to enjoy the luxury of time for activities that have been starved due to my preoccupation with my work – for instance, to give more time to reading and writing and to travel extensively within India.