( By Harsh V Shringla)
I was deeply saddened and pained to learn of the death of ambassador Ranjit Sethi. Ambassador Sethi was by far one of our most outstanding ambassadors. His linguistic skills and the ability to strategise effectively in dealing with complex issues were legendary.
I had the privilege of serving under ambassador Sethi in Paris from 1993 to 1995. As special assistant to the ambassador, this was a unique opportunity to serve under a senior ambassador of extraordinary and unmatched calibre. I not only observed him engage in the best practices of diplomacy but also took inspiration from his handling of the complex issues that came before us. Ambassador Sethi was mentor, tutor and guide to me in the process of developing the skills that went into the making of a diplomat.
An area in which ambassador Sethi excelled was languages, one of the most important attributes of a diplomat. He was a linguist par excellence. His French was impeccable and it was not surprising that the then PM, Mrs Indira Gandhi, used him as an interpreter for her meetings with French-speaking dignitaries. Some of our French notables remarked that the ambassador spoke better French than them! Considering that ambassador Sethi’s officially allocated foreign language was Mandarin, in which he was reputed to be even better than French, this was indeed remarkable.
Most important of all, ambassador Sethi possessed fine human qualities, which all of us who served with him remember and recall with a great deal of affection and poignancy. Kind and generous to younger officers of the Mission, I recall the many exceptional occasions spent socially with him and the family outside of the strenuous working hours.
I maintained contact with ambassador Sethi until very recently. He was pleased to learn of my postings as ambassador and more recently as foreign secretary. I recall reading with fascination the compilation of essays he wrote of his experiences in different parts of the world after he retired. I realised that I shared some of the places he had been posted to, and still recall his evocative description of the Red river that flows past Hanoi. I have conveyed, on behalf of the ministry of external affairs, sincere and heartfelt condolences to Mrs Indu Sethi, Vivan and Diya. Ambassador Sethi will be greatly missed as a senior colleague and member of the Indian Foreign Service. For me the loss is personal and profound.
(The writer is India’s foreign secretary)