Ajay Singh, whose Fiji: A Love Story (Memoirs of an Unconventional Diplomat) has just been posthumously published, was indeed a very unconventional plenipotentiary. Before he was selected as India’s envoy to Fiji in 2005, Singh had led a life that was as extraordinary as it was varied. He was a radical activist in St Stephen’s College and also helped shape the pioneering news fortnightly india today. After the fall of the Emergency regime, he was appointed managing trustee of the Kisan trust by peasant patriarch and former prime minister Charan Singh. Within a decade, he was elected to the Lok Sabha and became a minister in the shortlived Janata Dal government.
Yet his diplomatic sojourn had a very special place in Ajay Singh’s heart. Few would have guessed that the urbane, witty Ajay had a Fiji bond stretching well over a century, from the time his greatgrandfather Ram Chander sailed the high seas to become an indentured labourer there. Later, his father Bhagwan Singh was the first Indian high commissioner to Fiji when it attained independence in 1970. Ajay married a thirdgeneration Fijian of Indian origin, Shiromani.
The book, written in an easy, flowing style, traces the long and winding history of this unique bond with fascinating anecdotes. The family history includes the incarceration of Ajay’s greatgrandfather Ram Chander in Suva jail for nearly three years on trumpedup charges after a fight between two rival gangs of labourers and his return some years later to his native land, the return of his son Bere Singh to Fiji to work in the civil service there for 16 years before coming back to India and Bere’s son Bhagwan Singh’s top diplomatic posting in Fiji. It underlines the family tradition that Ajay must have felt he was carrying forward in his mission to the island state.
However, his ancestral ties with Fiji were only part of Ajay’s love affair with that country. His real passion was triggered by
AJAY’S LUCIDLY WRITTEN MEMOIR TRACES HIS FAMILY’S LONG, COMPLEX TIES WITH FIJI
his enduring admiration for his wife, Shiromani, about which he writes with great feeling. It is this bond that saw the author through many ups and downs till she was snatched away by cancer. Not long afterwards, Ajay passed away, leaving an unpublished and not quite finished manuscript on Fiji. Fortunately, with the help of his friends and colleagues, it has come out as both a fine historical chronicle and a personal saga. ■