17-23 January 2014 #690

Well versed in diplomacy

At first glance diplomats and poets do not seem to have much in common. But according to poet-diplomat Abhay Kumar, Cultural Attache at the Indian Embassy, the two professions do seem to have a lot more convergence than we think.

A few names stand out: the Mexican writer Octavio Paz was his country’s ambassador to India, Pablo Neruda was once a Chilean diplomat posted in Rangoon and Colombo. The poet, St.-John Perse, was the nom de plume of Marie-René Auguste Alexis Saint-Léger, a senior French diplomat, and the Yugoslav writer, Ivo Andric, was posted in Berlin as a diplomat at the start of World War II. All four are Nobel laureates.

Closer to home, Nepal’s former ambassador in London, Singha Bahadur Basnyat, is an accomplished musician and the Brazilian ambassador in Kathmandu, Marcos Duprat, is a well-known artist in his home country.

“Poetry and diplomacy are about words, symbolism, figures of speech, allusion, and not saying anything directly,” explains Abhay Kumar, “a good poem is never direct.” Kumar is in the illustrious company of other Indian diplomat-writers like Shashi Tharoor, Pavan Verma and Vikas Swarup, who wrote Q&A, the novel on which the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire was based.

Since he arrived in Kathmandu, Abhay Kumar has reactivated the centrally located Nepal-Bharat Library as a cultural venue for the arts with events like Poemandu, Conversations and Voices which feature young Nepali artists and actors, visiting writers, discussions and film screenings.

Kumar says he became a poet and diplomat somewhat simultaneously while posted in Moscow. “Poetry needs the mind to be pure and unburdened and creativity thrives when there is a coming together of different cultures. Russia with its rich literary tradition was an ideal setting to hone my poetry,” he says.

Kumar is keenly interested in environmental issues and a lot of his poems are about the need to preserve nature, including his Earth Anthem which was launched in New Delhi and Kathmandu last year. His unofficial SAARC Anthem is a mixture of nine languages spoken in South Asian countries, and includes Bangla, Dhivehi, Dzonghka, Sinhala, Nepali, Pashto, Urdu, Hindi and English.

Kumar says he hopes that his song will inspire the SAARC Secretariat in Kathmandu to launch a competition among member countries to produce an official anthem, as do the EU, ASEAN and the African Union.

Listen to the SAARC Anthem:

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