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What does a Deputy High Commissioner do?

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By Arun Kumar Sahu*

It was a lovely spring day in Ottawa, a welcome relief after a harsh winter. I was walking on the lawn in front of my official residence, hand-made coffee in hand, sun beaming. I’m not a regular coffee drinker; I’m extremely fussy with the taste. Ordinarily, I prefer the Columbian cappuccino served by Bridgehead. Caffeine cleanses the clutter in my head. So much clutter! I sometimes wonder how a small brain can carry so much!

Two young teens were passing by. A boy and a girl. They were discussing their impressions of the houses on the street, the design and the architecture, possibly. Just as they were about to pass by me, the girl pointed out “This is different, doesn’t look either Canadian or British.”

“It’s French. See the height and the design of the roof.” The boy responded. To confirm, he asked me, “Sir, do you live in this house?”

“Yes, sir.” I replied, emphasizing my “Sir” jocosely.

“Isn’t it a French architectural structure?”

“Indeed, it is.” I said. “Built in the 1970s, it’s got high ceilings, wooden beams, and tall, wide glass windows.” The boy looked at the girl, smiled that “I told you so” smile: peppy, patronizing and caressing. The girl blushed in return, reassuring him he was truly “brainy”.

As I was enjoying their teenage communication, the girl looked at me and asked, “What are you that you get to live in such a lovely house?” I was taken by surprise for a second. It brought to mind that oft-asked question: what do I do? What have I done in the last 21 years of serving in the Indian Foreign Service, on duty almost every day of the year, apart from living a nomad’s life, moving my family from one country to another every three years. Trying to give a short answer that could be digested by a young mind, I said, “I am the Deputy High Commissioner of India in Canada”. She seemed to be impressed by the designation. At least, being a Canadian, part of the Commonwealth and the Queen of England still being the titular sovereign, she did understand that I somehow share the Queen’s extended identity. She smiled, shook her head in appreciation and they walked away, leaving me to reframe and rephrase the answer for myself, for future reference.

As a senior civil servant, I am bound by my constitutional oath to discharge my duty twenty-four seven, even during holidays and leave, if required. An embassy or high commission is an extended office of India in a foreign land that delivers passports, visas, cards for overseas Indian citizens, looks after the welfare of the Indians in distress, promotes tourism, culture, trade, investment; forges collaborations in education, science, innovation and research. A Deputy High Commissioner oversees it all. These efforts combined create opportunities and environments in and outside India so our 1.25 billion Indians can realize their dreams and fulfil their aspirations for a better, brighter tomorrow.

 

*Arun Kumar Sahu is the Deputy High Commissioner of India to Canada. He may be contacted [email protected]

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