Vivek Kumar who? Got to be careful here, he might be posted to where I am and I will be off the list to all the samosa parties at the Indian Cosulate.

Vivek Kumar is a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), 2004 Batch. Based in New Delhi and travelling all over the place, Vivek is a 2002 IIT Bombay chemical engineering graduate. Now you might be thinking, what exactly is a chemical engineer doing as a diplomat? If you are, then you are in trouble. why? Because you are thinking just like me and that’s never good…. We leave that discussion for a later date.
Now the Mutiny caught up with Vivek in Delhi and asked him a few Miss Universe kind of questions. He couldn’t give us a photographs because his mother has put them all up on 😦

You have studied, traveled and worked around India. What in your opinion is the bond that unites us?

I don’t know who coined this phrase, but “Unity in Diversity” pretty much sums up the description of the bond that unites India. Wherever you go, you can feel a sense of belonging that goes beyond history, geography, religion or language.

I get very irritated when people refer to Indians (and PIOs) as South Asian/Brown/ Desi etc. I feel our national identity gets diluted if we promote such identities. Do you feel I have a point? Or do you feel I should go easy on the toddy drinking and petrol sniffing?

You do have a point. But there is nothing wrong with “south asian”, and the term “desi” was almost certainly coined by an Indian (or South Asian!). As to the word “brown”, it is perhaps racist and I would be offended too.

All said and done, the ignorance of other people is best left to them and you should easy on the toddy drinking. Can’t say the same about petrol sniffing, the smell sure is nice 😉

If you didn’t make it to the IFS, did you have a plan B?

Yes, and no. Getting a degree from IIT Bombay surely gave me a default Plan B, but I did not intend to use that option. If I had not made it to IFS, I would probably have found some other way of doing my bit. I have always been driven by the idea of “making a difference”, and I would have found some other way of doing exactly that. But I am certain that it would not have involved working as a Chemical engineer or a software developer because these things just don’t excite me personally.

I had often thought about being a school teacher, or running a school of my own in some remote area. But I got through IFS and did not need to develop those ideas further. May be I’ll think about something after retirement!

Is there anyway you could use your chemical engineering skills in the IFS?

An engineering degree gives you a different way of solving problems – look at a complex problem, analyse it, break it down into smaller parts and then solve each one of them. That’s one way to use one’s engineering degree.

Specific to Chemical engineering, we used to have courses in project management, optimization etc and the basics of those courses are as applicable in working for the Government as in a refinery.

Specific to IFS, there are so many issues related to environment, global warming, disarmament etc where an engineering degree makes it easier to understand the complexities involved.

All in all, an emphatic yes to your question.

I always wanted to ask this but didn’t know who to ask. Perhaps you can help me, since diplomats are experts in this area, can I make vodka out of bananas and coconuts?

You can’t make wine out of wheat and potatoes. So I guess you can’t make vodka out of coconuts or bananas. But I am sure you can make Ethyl Alcohol and market it with some other name – Bana-nodka or Cocodka!

Don’t forget my royalty if you ever do 😉

Indian diplomats are usually authors who need a day job. Is there a book inside you waiting to be written?

I think there is a book inside everyone that is waiting to be written. We all have such diverse lives and so many interesting stories to tell. I am not sure if I have the writing skills to be able to tell my stories well, so I would have to wait and see.

What kind?
Even before joining the IFS, I had started on a fan-fiction sort of Sci-fi novel (like Douglas Adams), but it has stayed unfinished for the last 2-3 years. I hope to finish it some day in a totally different form.

Do you think cricket killed hockey in India?

What killed hockey in India was that we stopped winning, and around the same time, we started winning in Cricket.

There are many reasons for this – introdution of astro turf, changing rules, a different paradigm of playing hokecy where power and passes became more important than dribbling. All in all, we failed to adjust to these changes.

On the other hand, “Kapil’s Devils” brought home the World Cup after beating a team like West Indies who used to be almost unbeatable.

Once such a paradigm shift happens, it takes a long time to reverse the process.

We need some extremely inspired performances in Hockey to bring it back on centrestage. There is nothing to stop a country from doing well in many games – look at Australia.

But whether this would happen or not, is anybody’s guess.

Is it true that as a diplomat, you need permission from the government if you want to marry a girl in a country you are posted? If true, why is that?

Not just to marry someone from a country of our posting, but any foreign national. If an IFS officer wants to marry a foreign national, he/she would need to take prior permission from the Ministry of External Affairs. From whatever little I know, this is to prevent “conflict of interest”, and permission is usually granted without any hassles.

Is it practically possible for two diplomats to get married? Have there been such cases?

There have been many such cases. The case of two IFS officers getting married is no different from two software professionals getting married. As long as the couple can manage their career ambitions and career plans in line with their personal life, there is nothing to stop two people in the same profession from getting married.

How different do you think would India and the Indian identity be for our children say in 30 years from now?

The toughest question for the end!

The frank answer is that I have no clue whatsoever. But I am sure it would as different as it was for us (from the perception of our parents).

I find it hard to believe that people had to wait for years to get a telephone or gas connection, or to buy a watch or a car. I find it beyond my strangest dreams to believe that a bicycle used to be classified as a “luxury good” in India.

From those shortages, we have moved to a better standard of living for a large number of people. Challenges still lie in front of us, but I am sure that our children would live in a much better India and would wonder how anyone ever managed to live without a cellphone or an internet connection.