15:02, April 12, 2010
An interview with Achal Kumar Malhotra, India’s Ambassador to Armenia
“My country won its independence in 1947, five years before I was born. Thus you can say that India and I spent our childhood together and grew up together. It was a time of interesting developments in India and I was present to see them. For example take the TV and then color TV, the introduction of electricity and long distance communication. I am a small part of my country’s development,” says Ambassador Malhotra about his early years in India.
On 15 August 1947, India gained independence from British rule, but at the same time the Muslim-majority areas were partitioned to form a separate state of Pakistan. On 26 January 1950, India became a republic and a new constitution came into effect. Most Hindus, living in Pakistan, were forced to relocate to India. Ambassador Malhotra’s grandparents and his young father also made the trek.
Ambassador Malhotra’s father was a businessman. His mother, despite having an education, remained at home taking care of the family. The Ambassador says this is the hardest job in the world.
Went in for the sciences as a young student
Achal Malhotra was the eldest child in the family. He had a younger brother, who died at the age of 22 in a car accident, and a sister. His parents have since passed away.
Ambassador Malhotra says his parents were open-minded and afforded their children a wide berth to make independent decisions.”When I was a young student, I had a greater affinity for the sciences – math, physics and chemistry. There was a trend in India at the time urging young people to become doctors and engineers. Afterwards, I realized that the sciences weren’t my cup of tea and I focused on literature.”
Ambassador Malhotra studied Russian language and literature at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi (Nehru was the first, and to date, the longest-serving prime minister of India, from 1947 until 1964, and leading figure in the Indian independence movement)
“After graduating, I studied ‘tourism management’, but only as a passing interest. I had already entered the diplomatic corps when I studied the tourism management. In any event, it didn’t change anything in my career. I had an interest in tourism; to find ways to develop the sector. Tourism is an important component in the field of economics. It not only generates revenue but also helps to build bridges among different peoples,” says the Ambassador.
“People make their surroundings good or bad”
Ambassador Malhotra has worked in Moscow, Bonn, Brunei, Sri Lanka and Vienna.
“Every country has its good and bad sides and each country has left a certain impression with me. Moscow was my first foreign posting and just as you never forget your first love, I’ll never forget my first posting. Russia was part of the Soviet Union at the time and not many spoke English. But I had no problem conversing and meeting people since I spoke Russian. I was quite young when I served in Brunei. But I was the number two person after the ambassador. He would be gone for long stretches due to health concerns so, in effect, I was acting ambassador. While in Bonn I would often travel quite a bit. The country of Sri Lanka has a rich historical legacy. I worked as the chief ambassador in the city of Kandy, a wondrous town with an Indian community of one million. It’s where I wrote my book, “Sri Lanka and India; Fabled Connections.”
‘Then, I saw that I had a passion for photography. All the photos in the book are mine. I first played golf in Sri Lanka. In Vienna, I had my first experience working with a number of international organizations. It was also in Vienna that I was able to quench my artistic hunger. I went to art shows, concerts and other cultural events,” he continues
“I have positive impressions from Armenia. My philosophy in life, in a word, is that people are the ones that make their surroundings either good or bad,” says Ambassador Malhotra
The Ambassador believes that Armenia faces all those problems that are faced by other nations in the stage of consolidation. The most important of these challenges is to build a stable economy and to withstand the economic crisis.
Armenian women are just as beautiful as Indian women
“I am convinced that truth and goodness always win in the end. If I you can’t do anything nice for someone, at least, do nothing bad or any harm. I really believe in the philosophy of karma. Its major tenet is that a person does is or her absolute best without expecting anything in return; one is not concerned about the result,” says the Ambassador.
Ambassador Malhotra believes that Armenians and Indians are alike in many ways; in their attitude toward life and family values. He offers the example of children taking care of their aging parents and says that when our folks enter their ‘golden years’ they need extra love and attention. Ambassador Malhotra points out that, when they were alive, he took his parents with him on his postings.
The Ambassador says that the two people are very similar in make-up; they have a warm heart and like to interact with others. “Even though Armenians consider themselves Europeans, deep down in their souls, they are an eastern race. Armenians are attempting to adopt various values from Europe. I would advise caution and to take only the best. India went through a similar phase in the 1960’s and we wound up taking the good as well as the bad. Things have fallen into place since then. We must strive to learn democracy, the rule of law and equality from Europe.”
“Just imagine if there were only gays and lesbians”
The Ambassador pointed to homosexuality as one of the negative values to avoid. He believes in flies in the face of the natural order since nature created male and female to procreate and for the world to survive. “Just imagine if all of society was comprised of gays and lesbians. In 100 years there’d be no one left in the world.”
Ambassador Malhotra thinks that Armenian girls are just as pretty as Indian girls. “They are white-skinned, like Europeans, but have black hair, which is particular to eastern races. This resulting fusion of the two elements is quite beautiful. Armenian men are another issue and lag behind their women folk when it comes to looks.”
When it comes to having Armenian friends, Ambassador Malhotra says cementing friendships takes time and that he just arrived in Armenia a few months ago. Thus, he’s only had a chance to brush shoulders with people with links to India; the former ambassador, for example, and those who’ve studied in India.
The Ambassador plays golf every weekend to unwind
Ambassador Malhotra told me that he likes to read, both general reference books and fiction, to play golf and travelling. He confesses he has a soft spot for Indian fiction.
The Ambassador can be found every Saturday and Sunday at the golf course located at the Vahakni Residential Community just outside Yerevan. On the links, he’s usually playing with Armenian aficionados and members of this or that international organization.
The Ambassador likes the soothing qualities of the game. In between the driving and putting, you get a chance to stroll the lawns, listen to the chirping of the birds and chat with friends. And of course, there’s the magnificent vista of Ararat in the distance. After an afternoon on the links, the Ambassador enjoys a meal of “Ishkhan” lake trout or grilled “khorovatz”; extra spices please.
Ambassador Malhotra points out that when he arrived in Armenia the weather wasn’t that great so he’s only been to some of the nearby spots of interest – Garni, Geghard, Khor Virab, Lake Sevan and Ijevan.
He plans to visit the Marzes (Regions) of Armenia and meet with the Regional Governors. The Ambassador also wants to travel to Lori, where the Indian government is financially assisting in the reconstruction of a school.
The Ambassador has read the Russian classics in the original.
“I probably even read a few Armenian authors in the Russia, but I must have thought at the time that they too were Russian or Soviet writers. Armenia must do a better job at promoting its culture overseas. I am trying to find translations to read. I have seen a performance of the “Gayaneh” ballet. I’ve visited some colleges and shortly plan to spend time at the Matenadaran, National Picture Gallery and exhibitions.”
“My wish is that the world becomes one big family”
Ambassador Malhotra lives with his wife here in Yerevan. They have one son who is studying economic in Vienna. The Ambassador says that he wouldn’t be adverse to his son marrying an Armenian woman and says that’s a personal decision for his son to make. If his son winds up finding someone suitable, with which he shares common interests, then the Ambassador doesn’t see a problem since, as he puts it, ‘Armenian women are the prettiest around, right?’
Even though he doesn’t believe in wishes coming true, Ambassador Malhotra listed a few of his own. “I wish to lead a long and healthy life to the end and that my wife and I enter our senior years without the need for medicines and medical equipment. I wish that our son becomes a success and marries. On a global scale, I would like to see the creation of one big united family where war, borders and hatred would be replaced with peace and the possibility to develop and relate with one another. I have one further dream; to write a book about the Indian road to development. I already have a mental outline in my head. Perhaps I’ll start writing the book in Armenia.
Achal Kumar Malhotra gains a great deal of satisfaction from his chosen profession. “India is also a developing nation that takes good care of its diplomats. The government provides us with housing, transportation and medical benefits. It also sees to it that our kids get a good education.”
“Armenians may say they are Europeans, but deep down they’re an eastern people”