‘In 1984, Pyongyang just had one hotel and one could not move out without an official escort.’
‘India was the only country with an embassy, apart from the socialist countries.’
“Till my last trip there you couldn’t take your mobile phones into the country and the only two offices that had e-mail facility were the UNDP office and the Indian embassy,” recalls Ravi Sawhney, a former Indian Administrative Service officer who served in Punjab during a tumultuous period of conflict in the 1980s and spent nearly two decades as an international civil servant which included working at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok for 18 years.
Mr Sawhney has written an engaging memoir Living a Life which provides an interesting account of his 40-year career with vignettes of his personal life.
In the concluding part of his interview with Rediff.com‘s Archana Masih, Mr Sawhney talks about the fascinating countries his work took him to.
- Part 1: ‘Centre can’t abdicate its responsibility’
- Part 2: ‘Political situation in Punjab has been somewhat volatile’
- Part 3: ‘Narasimha Rao was a prime minister with an open mind’
Your career as an international civil servant gave you the opportunity to travel to places like North Korea, Central Asian countries, Gobi Desert in Mongolia…
All the visits have been amazing experiences.
The Mongolians asked me to come in winter and I said that it would be minus 40 degrees, so they told me to visit in the spring, not realising that spring was minus 25 and one evening I was caught in a blizzard!
The level of isolation in North Korea was amazing. I first went there when I was in the commerce ministry in 1984. Pyongyang just had one hotel and one could not move out of the hotel without an official escort.
Meeting locals was out of the question.
India was the only country with an embassy, apart from the socialist countries. The Japanese had a one man office in the hotel. His work was to decipher all the speeches being made by the Great Leader and send them to his government.
Indian diplomats lived in total isolation. The socialist club used by all the socialist countries wasn’t open to them and some Indian diplomats had to be repatriated because of the alienation.
It was the most difficult posting for Indian diplomats.
My last trip to North Korea was as a consultant to review a sensitive remote sensing project funded by the Japanese government.
The atmosphere had changed at a bit and one could walk into a hotel without being escorted. The local market was overcrowded with buyers and sellers. There was a corner selling refrigerators etc.
I opened one and it was rusted inside because the Chinese government had been dumping second hand products that were being sold to the locals.
I was amazed at the country’s isolation. It has no communication with the outside world. North Korea continues to thrive because of Chinese and Russian support and test missiles while its people are starving.
Till my last trip there you couldn’t take your mobile phones into the country and the only two offices that had e-mail facility was the UNDP office and the Indian embassy.
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