PRAKASH M SWAMY
NEW YORK: “My immediate priority will be to ensure the election of India as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council,” says Ambassador T. S. Tirumurti, Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi who has been appointed as Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations in New York. A seasoned diplomat, Tirumurti succeeds Ambassador Syed Akbharuddin on his retirement. Excerpts from a wide-ranging interview:
Felicitations on your appointment as Permanent Representative of India to the U.N. in New York
I am grateful to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for considering me worthy of this responsibility. I had served in the Permanent Mission to India to U.N. in Geneva in the 1990s. Later, I was also head of the United Nations Division dealing with economic and social issues in the Foreign Ministry in New Delhi.
What would be your immediate priority?
My immediate priority will be to ensure the election of India as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. India has been conducting a strong campaign and it will be my endeavor to take this to its successful conclusion.
You are also no stranger to the US since you had served as Counselor in the Indian Embassy in Washington DC. Did you interact with the Indian-American community then?
Yes, I was posted in the Indian Embassy in Washington at an extremely interesting and important period in India-U.S. bilateral relations. Thanks to the leadership of Prime Minister late Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President George Bush, our relations took a qualitative jump. During my eventful stint, I was also able to reach out to a wide cross-section of opinion makers, stakeholders and, most importantly, the Indian-American community. I travelled to many parts of the U.S. with Ambassador Lalit Mansingh to engage with the vibrant Indian American community and galvanize their support for India-US related issues. I am truly impressed by their achievements and continued adherence to our values.
How did your family take to living in the United States, especially with a tennis background?
I am an armchair tennis critic since I am only married into tennis! My only claim to sports is that I played under the cricket veteran and former Indian Captain Kris Srikkanth when he captained my school Vidya Mandir Cricket team! My father-in-law is the tennis legend Ramanathan Krishnan and brother-in-law Ramesh Krishnan, both of who represented India at the highest levels, including in the Davis Cup. My wife Gowri was a formidable tennis player herself having been India’s national champion. They have always had strong links with the United States. Ramanathan Krishnan rose to World No. 3 after several exploits, especially in the US.
An interesting memory was when Krishnan was hosted by President George Bush Sr. during one of the tournaments in Texas. Since then, the Bush family has remained in touch. Ramesh was probably the first foreign national to win the U.S. Junior National in Kalamazoo, after which they decided not to let foreign players play their junior nationals! My two children took up tennis in the United States during my stint in Washington and did very well in ITFs. Consequently, our family has extraordinarily pleasant memories of U.S.
Your family has strong roots in Chennai with Tirumurti Nagar in the heart of Chennai named after your grandfather. How has your upbringing in Chennai made a difference to your life?
I come from a rather traditional background and family. My schooling and higher education were in Chennai – Vidya Mandir and Vivekananda College- institutions committed to excellence. I was fortunate to study Tamil right through in school, which gave me a grounding in Tamil culture and way of life. However, unlike today, there was no pressure to perform – no do or die pressures. That helped one’s personality to blossom. Since I was also an alumnus of Vivekananda College run by Ramakrishna Mission Chennai, I was influenced deeply by the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda and won the Religion Prize in College. So Chennai has indeed played a huge role in my life.
You have also had some very challenging assignments. How has that experience been?
Even some of the most difficult postings have their own charm. There are opportunities in all challenges. One memorable posting was my appointment as India’s first Representative of India to the Palestinian Authority. I opened the Indian Mission in Gaza and lived there for more than two years amidst very warm and hospitable Palestinians. That was the time of President Yasser Arafat. That was an experience thatI can’t forget. The fact that I speak Arabic made it that much meaningful.
How did you take up writing as a hobby and who are your favorite authors?
While I had many hobbies like playing the Veena, sketching, photography etc. in my younger years, I realized that when one has a full-fledged career and travels from country to country, writing is probably the easiest one to pursue. I was influenced by two prominent writer uncles’ of mine –one in English the world renowned author R.K. Narayan and the other in Tamil -Bharanidaran alias Marina- a celebrated writer, cartoonist, playwright and former editor in Ananda Vikatan magazine.
While I have been writing only sporadically since 1996, given the pressures of work, I was lucky to find well-known publishers for the three books I have written. Apart from my two uncles, my favorite author is Ernest Hemingway.
The image of India has skyrocketed abroad since the last few years. How do you see this?
There is no doubt that the leadership of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has had a huge impact at the international level. Apart from our relations with most countries being at their highest levels, his initiatives have been widely welcomed abroad, especially among the Indian Diaspora. We just had an extraordinarily successful visit of President Trump to India. Recently, Prime Minister Modi ji has taken the initiative to bring together SAARC countries and also the G-20 to address the crisis caused by the pandemic. We are poised to do even more in the post-COVID world.