Diplomacy through books

Tools of diplomacy are many, and one that Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Navtej Sarna is fond of using appears to be books. An author and bibliophile himself, Mr. Sarna has organised a series of book discussions at the Indian Embassy and his official residence in recent months.

The discussions are on books on India, or by Indian or Indian-American authors, and occasionally end with participants receiving a copy of the book signed by the author.

Book discussions are plenty in the American capital and each day, there are several to choose from, but those at the Indian Embassy also serve as propaganda for Indian soft power. The gatherings usually comprise a handful of White House and State Department officials, American journalists, Indian Americans, Congressional staffers and experts on India. Some events are by invitation and some are open to all.

Some events act as a window to a particular facet of India — for instance, Israeli scholar Ornit Shani’s talk on her book
How India Became Democratic
or Kamal Verma’s event on
Understanding Mulk Raj Anand
. Indian-American author Sandhya Menon read from her bestseller
When Dimple Met Rishi
, about two Indian-American teenagers whose parents are trying to fix their marriage. So, one can imagine the range of issues and topics that these events cover.

In a place that has ‘no free lunch’ as it operational motto, no book event comes with a free book to participants. In fact, some book-signing events sell the books at a premium. However, Mr. Sarna’s generosity with books stands out in itself, not to speak of the topics.

A recent talk by Amish Tripathi provided a fascinating, pluralistic interpretation of Hindu mythology. His ease of narration and clarity probably explained his popularity and that event was one of the liveliest ones. People drove for several hours from other cities to listen to him. Most of the attendees were thorough with the characters and plots of his novels and Mr. Tripathi explained his plans for several more books. The talk left me determined to read all his works, a task made easier by the author himself, who has sent me the entire collection.

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