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Eccentric French Envoys

After carving a niche in poetry and fiction, Kishan Singh Dhami has now shown his mettle in writing memoirs. Rising from humble origins, Dhami underwent many twists and turns before securing a position where he is today.
‘Front Seat’ is his reminisces that elucidate his kaleidoscopic pattern of life. It mostly depicts his experiences associated with his stint at the Kathmandu-based French Embassy. It contains eight essays plus four write-ups that deal with Nepal-France relations. Seven essays talk about his odd job at the French Embassy while one captures his epiphanic moments in the US where he set his feet for the first time.
The title of the book ‘Front Seat’ is a euphemism for the driving job that Dhami took up for his two-decade-long spell at the embassy. But, it stands for more than this. It provides him a lens to view the idiosyncratic behaviours of the French ambassadors who were his immediate boss. He had both pleasant and painful moments with the different French envoys. He not only describes their follies and foibles but is also full of praise for those ambassadors who honestly worked to boost Nepal-France ties and adhered to the diplomatic norms and protocol.
For Dhami, M Galas, who assumed the ambassadorial post in the mid-1990s, was mysterious. His surreptitious activities brought him under suspicion. Galas had already served as the charge d’affaires here and knew the weaknesses of the Nepalese, so he had a field day here.
“One Saturday, Galas all of a sudden called me to whisk him off to Bouddha. There he sneaked into the Bouddha stupa and returned one hour later carrying a bag with a mysterious item inside it. The envoy felt jittery and kept mum about the object he was carrying. Specks of vermillion were spotted on his shirt. I was at sixes and sevens and had no courage to inquire about the hidden thing,” writes Dhami.
Then, he hurriedly took his nervous boss to his quarters. “The ambassador hid the strange object in the bathroom. In the evening, I heard the news that an idol had been stolen from Bhaktapur.”
Once Galas had two fully loaded boxes of banknotes ferried to a bank at Durbar Marg. He produced the oodles of money to buy the shares of Oriental Hotel, which was later converted into the Ambassador Hotel.
Appointed in 1993, Daniel Dupont represented another wacko character that hardly matched his post and responsibility. He and his spouse had a hobby of driving new and expensive cars and organising parties in their official residence. Every week Madam held a get-together for the wives of foreign envoys and former Nepalese ambassadors.
“Dupont’s son had an affair with a damsel with a ‘Thapa’ surname. The lover and beloved enjoyed dance and dinner till midnight, and I had to drop her at her residence at Bhaisepati in the dead of night. Sometime I cursed my profession,” Dhami expresses his helplessness.
Unlike Galas and Dupont, Mitchell Lummaux, who assumed the ambassadorial mantle in1996, was a man of integrity and showed genuine concerns about the economic development of Nepal.
Recalls Dhami, “Lummaux used to insist on making the Nepalese economy strong and self-reliant. Accordingly, he succeeded in having the shares of Indo-Suez Bank distributed to Nepali citizens. This step infuriated Chaudhari Group that started boycotting French receptions and parties. This event showed that Nepal’s nouveau rich does not want to work for the benefit of the Nepalese but only for themselves and their families.” He also loved Nepalese art and literature. The French envoy helped Nepalese artists sell their paintings in Europe, thereby introducing Nepali paintings to European people.
Appointed in 2004, M. Jolivet was also a good friend of Nepal and promoted Nepal’s tourism. He enjoyed trekking, and Dhami had to sweat because of this. When other European missions looked askance at Nepal during the rule of Gyanendra, Jolivet stood firmly to enhance Nepal’s tourism sector. Prior to leaving Nepal, he held a press meet where he said, “Nepal is a very appropriate destination for tourism. It is safe for tourists. This country is really a heaven. This is a pious land.”
M. Gilles-Henry Garault, who took over the helm at the embassy in 2007, was a happy-go-lucky diplomat. He did not care a hoot about boosting bilateral relations but spent time womanising and partying, argues his chauffer. What was interesting was that he had heard the name of Nepal only a few years before while visiting China.
Dhami calls him a ‘playboy ambassador’ because he had many girlfriends although he had a wife and daughter. “He was 50 but had romantic relationships with Japanese, Chinese, British, Spanish and Korean girls,” Dhami writes in ‘Hero-like Henry.’
According to the author, his Chinese mistress mostly consorted with him and enjoyed the spoils of his office. “But, their Romeo-Juliet style life was also punctuated by bitter quarrels and fisticuffs. Hunky Henry forgot the basics of diplomacy that he represented France in Nepal and needed to demonstrate minimum diplomatic etiquette. He even argued and fought with his wife in public to the disgust of onlookers.”
Darchulako Manche Americama (Man from Darchula in America) tells his first and pleasant trip to the US that mesmerised him and widened his horizon. It is also about filial love and a bond between a father and daughter. But he had to shorten his stay in the US because of a ‘sadist’ charge d’affaires of the embassy, who told him to return to Nepal immediately though he was on official leave. His harassment finally forced Dhami to quit his embassy job. The author tells the truth. His simple and mellifluous language makes the essays quite interesting and exciting. The collection is sure to further enrich the blooming Nepali diaspora literature.