A Diplomat’s Diary

André Aranha Corrêa do Lago the Ambassador of Brazil to India

 Excerpts from an interview with Seema Dhawan

Photography- Shazid Chauhan

For how long are you in India?

It’s been almost three and a half years.

What illusion did you have of India earlier?

I used to come to India quite often in the last 15-20 years because I used to work a lot with climate change issues and with sustainable development issues and India  and Brazil are very close to that area. I had a few meetings in Delhi and Hyderabad so I was always infinitely interested in India not only because of the friendship between the two countries but also because of architecture and Indian art

How did you find Delhi?

I had a very clear statistics and notion about Delhi and people because I had been coming quite often and we knew that the people are very interesting  but what makes a huge difference once we start living here is that they are ten times more interesting and intellectual than what we expected. So many friends, so many productive people, so many intellectual people whatever area you go!

Have you been to other cities in India?

So many…but there is one city Orchha (a town in Niwari district of Madhya Pradesh state) I had never heard of but now I’m in love with. Orchha is a city with fort,palaces and temples and quite near to Jhansi,Gwalior and Khajuraho

Then I loved Ranthambore National ParkIt’s so beautiful. It’s a mountain that becomes a Fort, and then you have the tigers. And I saw so many tigers, In two hours we saw five tigers.

What about the cultural similarities and differences between the two countries?

India is a country that cannot be compared probably to one country; it can only be compared to China in the sense that it’s such an old culture and such a sophisticated culture.You can’t compare to Brazil. Brazil is a country that has a contemporary culture, and it is much, much more recent than India. India has this accumulation of cultures and that is a big challenge for us to try to understand because the thing is that none of us outside of India will learn how complex Indian history is. So, we have to start from scratch.

But what brings us together, is the fact that we are both very diverse countries, diverse in races, in religion, in cultures. And so, we in Brazil, had a series of indigenous civilizations and the Portuguese arrived in 1500. After that period we had huge immigration from Japanese Lebanese,, Germans, Italians. So people came from everywhere. This mix of diversity, is I think something that brings us very much together. But your culture is infinitely more, longer than ours. And you have many religions also in India.The essential difference I find between Brazil and India today is that Brazil is a very urban country. Brazil is now 87% urban.  And India still has a very large population in the countryside. So, I think it is something, somehow a strong difference between us.

Exactly, in India, if you go from one state to another, you will see a difference in language, cultures, religions, traditions and beliefs.

Absolutely. We are very small compared to you because we only have one language. Brazil is two and a half times bigger than India but we only speak Portuguese. We think we are incredibly diverse, but compared to India, nobody is as diverse.

 So you love India?

Absolutely… My wife and I are crazy about India. There are so many more things that we want to do. We hope to stay a long time still here in India

What all have you imbibed from India?

I think the cultural part of India is something very fascinating and has touched both of us. And my wife loves literature and so, she’s quite fascinated by Indian literature also, but my wife also loves the craft. I’m very simple to please just architecture and I’m very happy, but I’m also very interested in others, in other aspects of your culture. But, there is a frustrating fact that we don’t have time enough to, to be able to absorb India, but  all the Indians already told me that even an Indian, discovers every day, some other aspects of the country that they, they didn’t know. So we take from here, the friendship of people, because people are incredibly generous and intellectual, that’s amazing! The number of intelligent, smart people you meet in India cannot be compared to any place we’ve lived. This is really fantastic. So you have to be very awake, you know, to say something that can be comparably, as interesting as what the Indians are saying during the dinner or during the lunch, you have to be very attentive.My parents always told me, you can never stop being curious, because if you start thinking that you know about things that you understand things, etc , life becomes very boring. And if you continue to be curious, you have very stimulating things happening to you every day.

Are you interested in Indian cinema?

Yes. I’m completely crazy for Ray’s (Satyajit Ray} movies.  I also love Indian web series, for instance Mira Nair’s ‘A Suitable Boy’.

Indian Cinema and Series are quite similar to Brazil in the aspect that these are very self critical. We don’t need any foreigner to criticize us. We criticize ourselves much better than foreigners.And it’s admirable because this is very similar to my country. You know, you don’t need the outsiders to interpret you, you know, your qualities and you also know your issues and you deal with them very openly. And these Indian series are amazing. I had to read in depth to start watching the crime series. The actors are amazing, the direction is wonderful.

But the fact is that it’s sometimes   unfair to countries like India or to Brazil that most people don’t know many of the positive aspects of our country and they concentrate only on the negative because we are too diverse.

Yeah. And I met a charming man a few years ago in Tokyo before living here, and he gave a presentation on India. And obviously he was showing the beautiful things of India. And so someone in the public raised their hand and said, ‘You are telling all these beautiful things. But what about the negative  issues and he gave a long list of things. And he answered super graciously. He said, ‘you know, we are 1.3 billion people. You will always have bad news, but I’m here to remind all  of you  that we have so many wonderful things. News.

But if you want to concentrate on the bad, be sure with 1.3 billion people, you will always have something bad to say, so true!

We have problems in my country. We unfortunately have huge problems, inequalities that we’re trying to fight this, but all these things are very much linked to the very strong growth of the population that we had in the 40s, 50s and  60s  and 70s. Later, it got less, We all have, we don’t have enough schools. We don’t have enough universities. We don’t have enough housing, but any country that multiplied its population by four, since the war, cannot have enough of all the things. And most of the countries that criticize Brazil and India, their population didn’t grow at all. So they don’t understand why you don’t have enough schools , why you don’t have enough hospitals. Of course you have the same population since 1945, we would also have enough schools, hospitals etc . But anyway, we have to understand that  our countries are so wonderful that I think many people are jealous.

It’s the mindsetAnd we can’t change!

The people that have this negative mindset are people that think they know more and they’re not open to new information and to new points of view. And I think that if you approach India or Brazil  with an idea that you already have of India, then you can’t change. That is frustrating.

What about Indian music?

Ah, I’m fascinated by, Indian classical music, but I’m trying to understand but, I have not progressed very much on that, but this is something that I  I’m starting to concentrate more now  to really understand Indian music and dance, it’s so important  by the way, there is a very strong integration between dance and architecture in India.

What about your other interests?

Architecture .I studied economics and I also love economics and I’ve been a civil servant for almost 40 years

 I’m quite fascinated by any aspect of Brazil. So I’m crazy for Brazilian music. I’m crazy about Brazilian history, Brazilian art, Brazil, and contemporary art. So I think my curiosity for my own country never stops.

My father was a diplomat, so I studied most of my life in French schools. So I’m quite, quite interested in French culture also.

Your wife is French?

Yeah, her father is French and her mother  an Italian.

 How many children do you have?

I have four kids, from the age group of ( 26 to 21) one is here with us at the moment, three are in Brazil at the moment.

And do you know about the fashion industry of India?

Yes. You have so many talents. It’s really crazy. It’s really wonderful. And you also have an amazing tradition of crafts and fabrics.

Do you know any Indian fashion designers?

Rahul  Mishra,I find him very talented.I saw  his show at the French embassy, I think he’s incredibly good.

Anything fascinating about India?

Everything especially you have this fantastic tradition of weddings, which I think gives a high boom to the whole economic sector.

As an economist, I think it’s brilliant because it’s something that involves lots of people, involves hotels, involves design of the venue, clothing,wedding planners,food, and then it  is joyful. And then everybody dances, everybody learns how to dance.

Weddings in India, by the way, are a good comparison because carnival in Brazil also is an opportunity  where you have these enormous  parades and involve many people and, and the clothing are absolutely splendid .

Have you attended Indian weddings?

Absolutely. And, it’s really great fun, they got together three generations of the family to dance together. that’s so lovely..I loved thatI would be so hesitant  to dance, but, I see that people have  to overcome their timidity and be the part of the show

The choreographer teaches them no doubt but you have to go and you have to dance on your own.

What about Indian food?

I would love Indian food but here at the embassy, most people would like to have an experience of something that is more Brazilian. So at home, we serve essentially Brazilian food, which is very mixed now, because since we have lots of immigration,  and we have lots of, African elements and lots of European elements.And we joke with our Indian friends that,  many of the products that are the classic products of Indian food, in fact, come from the Americans. So be it tomato, be it  chilli, be it  potato, all these things come from  America. I love Indian sweets.

What would you say about the relation between the two countries? Where would you see it growing in the coming years?

I think that there is a very positive predisposition. When people hear about Brazil in India, they smile .It’s the same thing in Brazil, but we still have a very distant relationship. And I think, if I could recommend, or two governments, something, we have to increase the people to people exchange. For that we really need to take more Indians to Brazil and bring more Brazilians to India. Because our countries are very complex and people need to experience them. So, I think that is really missing. It’s very rare that I meet an Indian who has visited a few areas of Brazil that has not only been to one city or whatever, and the same thing, on the other side.

Trade is increasing a lot. Investment has increased also, and we are very collaborative in international affairs. so we have a very good and very intense relationship, but we could definitely do more if we know each other better.

I think that we have to really create more opportunities for the trips. Now it’s very complicated because between India and Brazil, there are 25 interesting places to go. So most people stay on the way.  You can go to Brazil through  Abu Dhabi,Europe or Africa or even through the US.We have a tendency both in India and Brazil to stay in one of those places on the way and not go all the way at the end. So it would be wonderful to have a direct flight, which we don’t have,

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