A Brief Encounter with an Ambassador

Holed up at home, far from college or university, students have been particularly hit hard by the pandemic. You imagine and rue over all the beautiful things that might have happened over the past two semesters. The bonds that would’ve deepened, the relationships that would’ve strengthened, the in-person classes that would’ve edified much more than online ones and most importantly, vibrant events that make universities what they are. Lectures, seminars, competitions, debates , quizzes, and possibly every single thing under the sun. Especially as a Delhi University (DU) student, you attend almost as many classes as extra-curricular events. Those times are sorely missed. As one wistfully ponders through those halcyon days of things happening at a break-neck speed and the air animated by a sense of youthful vivacity, it is terribly glum to recognize that the present represents a plodding unfolding of events with things moving at a glacial speed at best. However, I took the liberty to wallow for a few moments in pleasurable reverie as I recollected the events of my Department Fest at Hindu College. It eerily had a lot in common with present times. Amidst a sea of activity and a maelstrom of excitement in colleges across North Campus, our fest was a dud. Read on to find out what happened, why the event (almost) failed and how a bombastic yet kind person from Venezuela salvaged the fest from certain ignominy.

Polity, 2019, the official fest of the department of Political Science, Hindu College was a disaster. If not, it came close to being one. It contained nothing that could attract students from other colleges. Only a few speakers were prominent and known to the masses. Fun events, a desideratum to lure students, were utterly lacking. The 1st years alone make up about 170 students of the department. But the footfall in many sessions was abysmally low. In some sessions, the auditorium was deserted to an extent that the organisers decided to make them informal chat sessions.

But it is not right to blame the students of the department for their indifference to their own fest. Delhi University (especially North Campus) is seldom at a loss for colorful and vibrant events that are at the same time intellectually enriching with prominent speakers on board. Most of us are jaded attending too many of those. So, if you expect us to sit for (at least the most part of) two long days at such programmes, you should offer something compelling we would not like to miss.

Some of us took two days off from college (the dates were 30th and 31st of January), others came to see how the fest was faring and then voted with their feet. Some were involved in the organising works (decoration, suchlike). Some stoics sat through many sessions. I, apart from lifting a few benches from Room 103 to Zoology lawns, spent most of my time playing cricket in the hostel backyard.

The second day was kickstarted with an interaction with three diplomats. The ambassadors of Argentina, Azerbaijan and Venezuela were in the panel. I, and most of us, were thinking it was going to be a debacle and the Ambassadors would leave disappointed. The poor sound system of the seminar room bolstered our forebodings.

The Ambassador of Argentina spoke first. He descanted on the relationship between India and Argentina and how it can be improved. He was aware that he was boring us and himself. But he couldn’t help it, neither could we. We had to sit through it. We couldn’t even feign attentiveness.

Then came the gentleman from Azerbaijan. He was better. In the middle, he spoke about Bollywood films being shot in his country which cheered some of us up. We were thinking, he saved us from a two hour long prolix and insipid monologue.

Last came the man from Venezuela, Ambassador Augusto Montiel. He started off just like the other two men; giving an introduction of his country, its ties with India, trying to make a few jokes in between to prevent the audience from tuning out. But as he went on, he began to pick up steam. It was (and is) a time of crisis in Venezuela. Adding to its terrible economic crisis was Guaido, the leader of the National Assembly, declaring himself President of the country with the backing of the United States. He spoke incandescently about how this development was a farce and a blatant aggression of the US. He had brought with him a series of videos and photos to substantiate his argument. When the audio-visual system erred, he jokingly remarked ‘Hindu College needs a better sound system!’

In this frenzy, he exceeded his time limits. In his peroration, he received a note from the organisers reminding him of the time constraints. He apologised and said glibly ‘I won’t take more than two minutes’. But he took well more than that. Speaking of the impact his speech created, I found his case quite convincing. Perhaps I was naive. I was not well aware of all the facts and nuances of the problem. But I tended to lean more towards his argument.

Once the Ambassador ended his speech, we thought it was all finally over. But he proved us wrong. He asked the audience to come on to the stage to click a group photo. I was already planning to take a picture with him, so I leapt at the opportunity and went on to the stage with alacrity. He introduced his wife, mother and mother in law to the audience. They had been listening to him, sitting in the first row. We were surprised. He had also brought with him some secretary from the embassy. He asked the latter to bring ‘those’. A bag arrived and he pulled out from them, placards! They read ‘hands off Venezuela and other pro Maduro regime slogans. We were flabbergasted. He presented a small simulacrum of the Latin American leader Bolivar to our college.

After that, he pulled out flags of Venezuela from some other bag and passed it on to members standing on the stage. We wondered, ‘what else does he have in store?’ Then he shouted slogans and we repeated them willingly. ‘Jai India!’ ‘Jai Venezuela!’ Once the brouhaha about the group photo was finished, the crowd began to disperse. I stayed around and spoke to him. ‘I’m swayed by your passionate speech sir. Can I take a picture with you?’ I said. He shook hands with me and said ‘Yes,sure.’ I asked one of my friends to click a photo. He asked me what my name was. I said Aditya. Adeetya?’ ‘No, Aditya. ‘Alright, I’ll try to remember it’.

What struck me the most about him was, he did not make light of this opportunity. He did not think of this meeting as unimportant. He did not dismiss it with a short shrift. He instead treated it as an opportunity to interact with the young population of the country to which he was the Ambassador of his own. He saw a discerning audience, however less in number they might be, to which he could disseminate and propagate his ideas. One might call it propaganda. But I see it as a lesson on how to seize every opportunity, however small they might be, while you can. After all, it was he who saved polity.

-Prasanna Aditya (Freelancer)

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