The Ones Who Lie Abroad
By Kamal Sunavala

I know, are usually ambassadors. And we mean lie in the worst sense of the word. This is going to be a surreal piece on two diplomats. A hopeful one, even. Let me be momentarily partial to India and start with home brewed coffee and red carpets. I entered the Indian Embassy at Malostranská.

I felt I had re-entered my maternal grandmothers living room. Persian carpets, tall mahogany elephants, mismatched sofa covers and scores of paintings adorn this impressive building. I was warmly welcomed into the office of the First Secretary and Head of Chancery, Mr. Chari. He offered me some south Indian coffee which any java connoisseur will know, is a treat, on a rainy afternoon.

Mr. Chari was the uncle next door, he was the comforting family doctor and he was anything but a government appointee in a foreign country. Even his office smelled like India, with the faint traces of a late Indian monsoon, jasmine and of course, south Indian coffee. Instead of going into tedious detail about every little event that underlines official cultural promotion, he told me of how worried he gets when young Czech teenagers of merely fifteen or sixteen want to visit India for two weeks with five thousand Czech crowns in their jeans pockets. He told me how he tries to advise them personally of the safe places to live in, the cheaper trains to travel on and the fact that they must try and stay in a group to avoid any danger at night in big cities.

A man who went beyond stamping passports. A man who gave a sneak preview to a traveller, of the warmth and hospitality to be expected in India.

Cut to the beautiful Strahov locale of the Department of Cultural Relations and Czechs Living Abroad where Zdeněk Lyčka is presiding Director. This well spoken, well dressed gentleman who gracefully entertained my questions one sunny morning in his office, reminded me of a History professor I had in college. Same beard, same smiling eyes and the same head filled with the knowledge of the world.

At first, Zdeněk rushed about to find me bits and pieces of articles which had information about Indian culture and Turkish culture and Scandinavian culture being promoted in the Czech Republic and similar efforts to promote Czech culture abroad. He was literally doing culture, his job. That’s what I thought, until he settled down, with a twinkle in his eye and mentioned to me what he really loves doing. He likes stories. He loves telling them and he loves listening to them. He loves reading them and what’s more astonishing and not everyone’s cup of tea, is that he loves translating them. How many Czech people in high government positions do you know who are currently working on translating short stories from Lapp into Czech?

Zdeněk belongs to a fearless breed of the honest diplomat. Who didn’t embellish things for my benefit. Who didn’t tell me fifty times what a great country India is. Who didn’t hesitate to say that his passion was travelling around the world and that was the best part of his job. And who didn’t hesitate to say that the worst part of his job was to have an understaffed department. He didn’t belong in a suit. He belonged in Picasso’s white shirt, with his fingers ink-stained like Hemingway’s and his twinkling eyes thinking of a new story and a great way to tell it.

I walked away that week having my faith restored in one tiny aspect of the monster we call government.