Sunday, 29 January 2012
There was a full house in the Henry Price Room at Chatham House Wednesday January 18 2012 as I spoke for half an hour on the subject of Sonia Gandhi; her journey into politics and style of governance in India followed by a Q and A for another half an hour. Before the session started one of my friends, Wadham college alumnus Lawrence Peters showed me a board where Indian speakers at Chatham House were listed; Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Dr Manmohan Singh and at least one current cabinet minister were there.
The event was organised and chaired by Dr Gareth Price, Senior Research Fellow at Chatham House's Asia Programme with the rest of the Asia Programme team. I found no difficulty in filling my time up and I could see several participants taking notes, while three eminences in gilded frames looked down at us from the walls, one of them being Henry Price himself.
The Asia Programme team had asked me if I wanted any photographic illustration to accompany the talk and so Macmillan sent them the photos from the book, one of which showed Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi on tour in the North East state of Mizoram while Rajiv was prime minister. Both husband and wife were standing in a jeep, waving to local people who had lined the street.
There have been many instances of serendipity to do with this biography and a remarkable one came to light on this occasion. Assistant Professor in Political Science who is currently at the India Research Centre at the London School of Economics, Dr Anup Shekhar Chakraborty, put up his hand to ask a good question but before he did so he told us all that he was one of the young schoolchildren in the photo up on the screen. He had been five but distinctly remembered that occasion. The representatives from universities, banks, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and three different embassies smiled in amazement.
Former Observer Middle East Chief of Bureau Shyam Bhatia asked three challenging questions which I had not prepared for so answered simply and truthfully - he seemed satisfied.
Palgrave's person sold a number of books after the session and as we packed up to leave the security guard came in rather breathlessly to tell me that he had held a family at the door as they did not appear to be on the guest list. I asked him to bring them in; it was Dr Vijayanand Kowtha and his family who had just flown in from Washington and were keen to attend the talk but had not registered in time. They seemed so disappointed to have missed the content I showed them my mind map of the speech and answered all the rapid fire questions they had for me - so they got a mini-session all to themselves. They were excited to visit London again- Dr Kowtha was formerly at Chatham House which is how he knew about the talk.
Posted by Rani Singh at 23:35