Different Dialogues: His Excellency T.P Seetharam


In conversation with His Excellency T.P. Seetharam – Ambassador of India to the United Arab Emirates.


Diplomatic Profile – Ambassador T.P. Seetharam has previously served as Indian High Commissioner to Mauritius. He has handled India’s bilateral relations with countries in Europe as well as the European Union in New Delhi as Additional Secretary, West Europe and as Joint Secretary Central Europe. In Permanent Mission of India in Geneva, he was Minister (Disarmament) dealing with Conference on Disarmament. He has worked as Deputy Chief of Mission in Bangkok (Thailand) and dealt with UNESCAP. He also served in Indian Embassy in Phnom Penh (Cambodia). He was Press Secretary to President of India Mr. K.R. Narayanan. Ambassador Seetharam has considerable experience in China; in Southern Africa having worked in Lusaka, Zambia and having helped open Indian offices in Windhoek, Namibia as well as in Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa.

Months on end pass, I do not visit Abu Dhabi – though I would like to be there. The relived moments in Abu Dhabi are the quick flashes of an ever-changing landscape consisting of new, tall buildings coming up. I guess, it is the same old green-blue sea that exists there, on whose shores I have leisurely walked by the way of the iconic landmark: The Corniche. Perhaps, the space there, too, must have evolved to suit the expansion of the capital city of UAE.

On my recent trip to Abu Dhabi, I was meeting India’s Ambassador to UAE – His Excellency, Mr. T.P Seetharam. The value of my privileged meeting was meant to be enormous… the reward of an interview for my multi-national readers; the other factor was to derive insight regarding the ongoing global turmoil – which has shaken communities, worldwide.

I know that brilliant analysts, leaders, medical teams, journalists, who are determined to be the best guides possible are becoming more and more concerned with the horrific developments. So am I! So am I – as an ordinary, but, a responsible citizen of the world. Therefore, His Excellency T.P Seetharam with his large and specific vocational background would be the ideal person to offer me understanding from different angles. And that he surely did!

The Dubai-Abu Dhabi road stretches by 165 kms, a distance that can be covered in 1 hour and 45 minutes. As I began my car journey, my mind began finding fresh thoughts on the beginnings of these two biggest cities of UAE – Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I was thinking of the rich, firm bond between the two ruling families – the Maktoums and the Nayhans. They witnessed the collapse of the pearling industry, and went through sizeable difficulties during World War I and the Depression Era in the 1920’s and 1930’s. All that is behind, and steadily things have developed in the most mannerly way. Today, UAE is a role-model-country for other nations to admire. And as an Indian, I do love my second home – Dubai!

So, one April afternoon I was on my way to receive a knowledgeable sermon from the most important person, representing my country, India. To put it poetically, it is the wise who are best to open the ears of others, because their words come from the spirit of light.

His Excellency, Mr. T.P Seetharam vividly depicts a warm, cheerful memory as to why he chose to become a career-diplomat. His older brother was a diplomat, and while visiting him in Tokyo, the trip provided young Seetharam a lofty guideline for his own future… a future that must have kept enhancing the sensitive component within him to nurture human relationships and diplomacy; so, he followed his brother’s footsteps.

Before coming to UAE as Ambassador of India, Mr. Seetharam has previously served as Indian High Commissioner to Mauritius. He has handled India’s bilateral relations with countries in Europe, as well as the European Union in New Delhi as Additional Secretary, West Europe and as Joint Secretary Central Europe.

During our dialogue, we were talking about just how he is enjoying his work in UAE, and what mattered, globally, to bring about the process of peace in the conflict-ridden regions. So, there were definitely two parts to my interview.

‘In UAE, we have a large Indian community, there are almost 2.2 million Indians over here. So, it is all about time-management. As the ambassador, my presence at the various programmes is vital. Understandably, it is demanded.’ Mr. T.P Seetharam tells me with a smile.

I ask him, ‘But was it not so in your earlier postings? ‘No,’ he replies. ‘In Taiwan there were only 2000 Indians. In Beijing, there were only a few dozen Indians.’

When Mr. Seetharam mentioned Beijing, my interest deepened because I was already aware that he has studied the Mandarin language – at the time of his joining the service. He chose learning Mandarin, as a part of the compulsory foreign language. His stay in Beijing had made him a fluent speaker. He says, ‘Language comes back to you. What you forgot can come back, especially, the spoken language’.

It was absolutely fascinating to find out from him the points of comparison between Mandarin and the English language. I gathered the most interesting aspects from Mr. Seetharam! The Mandarin is far more complex than English. Its script is different, the grammar is different, and the ‘logic’ of the language is different; objects are all in the neutral gender, the concept of singular and plural is non-existent… one chair, two chair, three chair – yes, that’s how it goes the Chinese way! The verb also does not get influenced. So, in the overall context of things: “Long time no see” – is a perfect sentence according to the Chinese language principles!

Mr. Seetharam is a Chinese (Mandarin) speaking officer of 1980 batch. He was Director General of India-Taipei Association (2007 – 2009) and has worked with Indian Embassy in Beijing (1990 – 1992) and Indian Commission in Hong Kong (1982 – 1984).

I was curious to know from Mr. Seetharam which was the posting he best enjoyed. He pondered on my question and said, ‘It is important to move around. All places are fine. If you start remaining too long in a place, then you might forget the identity of representing your country. It is almost an international law – 3 or 4 years is the term for a diplomat.’ Pausing for a moment, he added in a light-hearted manner, ‘Diplomacy if over extended beyond a time-frame is negative for the diplomat, it can become – what we call, localitis!’

I completely got the logic behind the humour-term… yes, ‘localitis’ did sound like a disorder!

As the freshly brewed tea arrived in the Ambassador’s office, our conversation continued with the description of a diplomat’s role. Mr. Seetharam said, ‘When we are transferred to a new place, it is important to read the history of the place. Primarily, reading is necessary. Moreover, in this job, I meet people in their work-setting. I absorb the culture of the place, of the people – through the cultural events, even a funeral meeting has a meaningful place. It is all about how I have to be present at a place where my responsibilities lie.’

Born in Valliyil family in Kayamkulam, Kerala in 1956, Ambassador Seetharam is married to Deepa of Elenkath family in Trivandrum. They have a son Navneeth, and a daughter Devi. While Navneeth is in the sphere of Hotel & Hospitality Management, Devi is a professional artist – a painter.

I learnt, Deepa took to learning different art forms – while the family was posted in Switzerland, Africa and in China. She learnt: Porcelain painting, Decoupage, and Chinese style ink drawing on paper. Currently, Ambassador Seetharam and Deepa have started with the unique concept of promoting Indian artists in UAE. They have informal art events under the canopy of: Art at India House in Abu Dhabi.

I can imagine the conviction and hard work of the diplomats who continuously create bridges of connectivity for their respective countries with the rest of the world. The traditions of their vocation keep the hard demand on them to be extensively positive and intelligently sharp. The other part is the strictness of discipline! By the time they are all set and settled… it is time to move on – being content to shift to any city of the planet. A city that is geographically lower or higher, harsher or nobler, that cannot be a whim to reject or decorate. Whether it is peace or war – diplomats have to embrace life with courage and optimism.

Another significant emphasis from me was to find out from Mr. Seetharam about the deeply moving conditions of intense conflict… conflict, based on several factors, which is eating into the souls of so many countries – be it Libya, or, Iraq, or, Syria, or, Yemen, or, Ukraine. I could name Africa and Afghanistan, too, in this disastrous category where human life is perishing by the day. What about the unrest in the rest of the world!

‘What’s going on, Your Excellency?’ I asked Mr. Seetharam with a sense of confusion and hopelessness. In truth, the every-day-events of the world have been playing havoc in my daily life… as if they are my personal problems. How upsetting is that!

I continued in the same mood to show my despair. ‘Your Excellency, were you ever expecting this type of global warfare? What is going on?’ His reply was quick and calm. He said, ‘I have lived in societies where there have been upheavals. In those same societies, things have changed now – changed for the better. It’s a different world for them, now. I was in Cambodia in 1993. A big transition took place when United Nations conducted elections after a long, violent struggle.’

Mr. Seetharam was referring to his posting in Indian Embassy in Phnom Penh- Cambodia during 1992 – 1993.

He continued, ‘History happens. There is economic crisis, social crisis. Most diplomats, since they move from place to place, they witness some of these rapid change, and they are more mentally prepared. They are conscious of following the trends. We are in the business of analyzing the trends.’

Mr. Seetharam’s words had a certain power which was in parts erasing a portion of my hopelessness. ‘Do you think all this hatred and violence will end soon? What’s United Nations doing?’ Mr. Seetharam replied in the same tranquil voice, ‘I cannot foresee things. I can’t predict – but I can see trends from day to day observation. United Nations does good things in its own way – like, the socio-economic sector, health sector. It has the International Labour Organization. It has its Economic Council’.

‘So, Mr. Seetharam, can I go with a hope that human catastrophe will come to an end? This is my final question to you’. I said. He answered, ‘We have so many examples, or, ways of reaching solutions. I have seen this in China, and South Africa – where they found their peace, eventually, from utter hopelessness. There are good lessons around us, and we need to pick from those particular circumstances. Good people want to do good things. The urge for peace-development prevails over bad times. We have examples of sages, philosophers, statesmen’.

I felt so relieved hearing these words from Ambassador Mr. Seetharam! My mood had found the anchor of hope for myself, I felt a sense of consolation. ‘Your Excellency, it is wonderful to benefit from your sound views,’ I said with gratitude.

Indeed, I was rejuvenated by the statements of a veteran who had readily re-endorsed my faith in the human spirit. Mr. Seetharam’s parting words were, ‘There will be negotiations, solutions will be found that’s how history happens.’

The interview gave me new grounds for exploring… like a man who is lost, and quite suddenly finds a way to review a better tomorrow. Now I was a changed person – that’s how I felt.

As my car sped homeward to Dubai, I told my long-time driver, Zabed, ‘Zabed, there is a promise waiting for all of us. Over time, peace will prevail in all areas of barbadi – devastation. You and me must pray for everybody. You and I have the same God.’

I surely know that Zabed from Bangladesh valued the worth of peace and stability – as much as I did. One day, something better would emerge – like how the leaders of UAE have shaped something dazzling and beautifully peaceful, out of the sandy dunes of the Empty Quarter.

Q 1. What has been the turning point of your life?
A. I was Assistant Professor of English at Madras Christian College when I decided to take the Civil Services Examination, inspired by an older brother who was already an Indian diplomat. That turning point brought me on to a career path which has eventually brought me to UAE.

Q2. If you could go back in time, what would you want to do?
A. Go back in time and start all over again as a diplomat exploring other parts of the world I missed this time.

Q3. What are your future dreams?
A. I hope to return to the academic world, share my experiences and insights with the younger generation and offer them an opportunity to make more informed choices about their own lives.

Geeta Chhabra

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