Random Recollection

Remembering Old friends but No Contacts

Yatindra Bhatnagar

In course of an active life of over 88 years – 70 of which as a journalist-author-poet – I must have met thousands and made friends hundreds of people. It’s said that in your lifetime you will meet at least 10,000 people. In my profession meeting people was one of the essentials – you can’t be shy and function effectively as a journalist.

I have met people from all the continents and a hundred countries, if not all the 194 UN member-nations. Some I met in India, some in my travels to other countries where I met not only the locals but also the visiting foreigners. It was like a merry-go-round, or musical chairs or a train journey or a flight, or attending a meeting, a class or a tour. I have done all that and much more and met those thousands. In India I must have met thousands of Indians from all walks of life, in various cities and states. However, I am not able to remember, or recall, a large number of them for various reasons – lack of enough contact, lost contact, moved out of cities, countries, and sadly deaths.

The other day someone called me and said something about friends. My instant reply was, they are all dead. It reminded me of the comedian George Burns who was asked about his doctors. His quick reply was: They are all dead.

Burns was in his 90s and yes, his old doctors would be all dead.

So, maybe, are all my old friends. I am 88 years and about six months old and my old friends – some senior and some junior, mostly no more. Some may be alive but I don’t know for sure as I have no contact with them.

Happily I discovered some are still alive though I had lost contact with them for years. I want to contact them, meet with them and re-live the old days. It’s not possible though, for various reasons such as lack of detailed information about their addresses, phone or e-mail – and also the remote doubt if they would still remember me. Some I had casual acquaintance, some a little more close, some others closer and some were very close to me and my family.

One of my friends was Smysl , the acting ambassador of the then Czechoslovakia,  in India in 1968 who was fired during the Spring Revolution and sent to work in a factory. I went to Prague in 1969 and with my wife, Sadhana, in 1972 but could not meet him. I don’t know anything about him now that the country has changed, split and has become the Czech Republic. I am sure he must have been given his old status and post, if he has not retired completely.

Sadhana and I met and befriended Kent D. Obee of the United States embassy in India, and his lovely wife, in 1965 and since then lost contact. I found his name on a search through Google some time back but no address or phone number.

Similarly, there are a number of diplomats, or former diplomats, and several others whose names are either not listed or their addresses or phone numbers are not traceable. I can’t even find out about some of the Indian diplomats and members of Indian Parliament who may or may not be active now.

The other day I saw the name of one of my old friends, the ambassador of Kuwait in India, Issa al-Issa in a news report. His embassy/ residence was not even half a mile from our home in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi. Ambassador al-Issa was the Dean of Diplomatic corps in New Delhi, being there for 19 years – a record. He had come to our home for lunch and Sadhana and I had met him several times in his office and parties and receptions.

One of our meetings in his office was interesting. He offered us an elegantly small cup of coffee – the bitter but most popular and expensive Turkish coffee. I could see Sadhana’s discomfort but I gave her a stern look expecting her to at least respect the host. I also am not a coffee drinker, and that too of strong Turkish coffee without milk and sugar, but managed a few gulps. Sadhana could not take even a sip despite my look. I don’t know if the ambassador saw it – must have, he was a shrewd and experienced diplomat. But, obviously, he said nothing.

Fast forward: I saw the ambassador’s name in a news story from Kuwait just a few days back. I don’t know the latest, or if he still remembers me. It’s not easy to find out but I do want.

Similarly, I saw in some context, the name of Sen. John Bermingham, of Colorado whom I met in Colorado in 1965. A few years later he visited India and stayed with us in our home in Chanakyapuri. I took him to meet with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at one of her ‘open house’ meetings but somebody in the front office had messed up and could not find the permission I had obtained from the Prime Minister’s office earlier; he did not allow us to go. It was too bad!

There was another man, and his family –a senior staffer in the Turkish embassy in New Delhi, Mustafa Erdogan (the present Prime Minister’s family name) . For him, we were the first Indian family he had met in New Delhi, and became a family friend. He came to our home with his family - and often.

Many years back I sent a letter to him at his home address in Turkey but it came back. I don’t know if he was transferred, or what. A good friend untraceable!

There are hundreds of friends like that I would like to make contacts with. One of whom is my old friend Hissok Sull and her husband Sull Wonshik of South Korea whom I met first in 1965 in New Delhi, then 1966 in Seoul when I was their guest in their home town, and in 1972 again in Seoul when I was the guest of the Korean government.

I don’t have updated news about them ; couldn’t find them on Google, but am still interested in contacting them - for old-time’s sake.

The list is long and longer and life is going short and shorter but wishes remain – some fulfilled, some ……. Let’s say yet to be fulfilled.