External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday told a group of American students that it is his interest in music and also his family atmosphere that led to his diplomatic life.
“What made you all interested in international relations?” asked Angel Brian, a sophomore international affairs major and also a 2019-2020 Global Citizen Year India Fellow, to Mr Jaishankar and Secretary of State Antony Blinken as both of them attended an event at the Howard University.
“Why did I start getting interested in the world? I think part of it was probably an interest in music that, you know, you heard music beyond your own and then you wondered, you know, what kind of music, where is it from, what kind of people,” Mr Jaishankar responded.
“I think the food part of it came much later. It was easier to afford music than food when you were younger. Some of it also came from a family environment, which was a little bit international,” he said.
“In fact, I mean, we talk of educational professional exchanges. My father came here when I was about 10 years old on a fellowship, in fact, on a Rockefeller Fellowship, to study and to do some sort of professional training here. So I think, again, there’s a little bit of parental influence,” said the top Indian diplomat.
Mr Jaishankar said the first foreign music album that he heard was 1959 American album called The Hitmakers. “I actually now have it in Spotify, and I still listen to it for reasons of nostalgia,” he told students of the prestigious Howard University.
“And I guess, in a way I’m talking of the 1960s, ’70s; may sound like pre-history to you, but it was really a time when the world was beginning to globalise much more. I mean, there were more tourists, people, the idea of travelling abroad of seeing, other cultures come,” he said.
“Every time, actually, you would have something foreign happen in your school or university, there’d be tremendous excitement about it. I guess it was a combination of all those things,” Mr Jaishankar explained.
“I managed to try a whole bunch of different things before I wound up doing what I’m doing. And finding that I had virtually no talent for any of them, wound up where I am. But it’s important if you have the opportunity to try different things, because you might not figure out what it is that you want to do right away,” Mr Blinken said in response to the same question.
Mr Blinken said his grandfather fled pogroms in, interestingly enough, what is now Ukraine back at the turn of the last century. “Later, a stepmother who fled communists from Hungary; a stepfather who survived the concentration camps and was liberated by the United States. And these stories and others were a big part of it,” he told the students.
“But then I had an experience at a young age that also ties into what we’re talking about. That is the experience of actually living abroad as an American. When I was nine years old, we moved to France, and I moved there with my mom and my stepdad,” he said.
Mr Blinken said he spent nine years in France from age 9 to 18, all the way through high school.
“That experience, actually living abroad, seeing your own country through the eyes of others, expanding your own horizons to a different country, culture. And being, of course, in France, that opened up all of Europe with a Eurail pass and a few other things back in the day. That had a profound impact,” he said.
“There was a lot going on in the world in the ’70s as there is today. Whether it was the Vietnam War, which was still happening, whether it was the Cold War, which remained, but what seemed to be its height, whether it was conflict in the Middle East, all of these things were part of the conversations that they were having in school,” the US Secretary of State said.
“And because America one way or another was often in the middle of these things, you’d find yourself almost acting like a junior diplomat, somehow representing your country, defending it, getting into conversations, discussions, arguments. I think that as much as anything else really got me interested in foreign policy generally and in diplomacy; how do we find ways to have these conversations?” Mr Blinken said.
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