An Australian with an Indian heart
I was very excited about this job and I asked for it. It is a job that I had set my eyes on for some time because I also had a personal interest in India.
However, it took a little longer because there was a change of government in Australia and when finally I was posted in India, it was a strained relationship between the two countries and it became a challenging assignment for me,” says Peter N Varghese, High Commissioner of Australia to India.
Meet the foreign diplomat with an Indian connection. When Varghese arrived, the Indian student security issue in Australia was hitting the headlines everyday. “The day I arrived, I had the student security issue to deal with since it was all over media.
“It was quite challenging because a lot of people watching the television had a bad impression of Australia. Most of the dinners I attended during the first year had long conversations where people used to ask me ‘why are you beating up Indians?’” recollects the High Commissioner who bears a distinct Indian resemblance.
“My parents belong to Kerala but migrated to Kenya first and then Australia,” he shares and adds that he never thought that it will be easy for him in India just because he has Indian roots but “an Indian background has been advantageous for it has helped in building the relationship more quickly.”
He also admits that he has not had a “typical Australian story” for he was born in Kenya and moved to Australia at a very young age. But this experience has given him a broader perspective.
“I have grown up in an Indian environment in Australia with eight siblings. My parents had a love marriage in 1942 and decided to move to Kenya.”
If he had not been a diplomat then Varghese would have followed in his parents footsteps and become a professor! “Both my parents were teachers and even I wanted to be an academician.
“After completing my education in the 70s I did get offers for a doctorate scholarship but I realised that the job prospects were poor so I opted for civil services.”
He shares that it is due to his academic background that he has a global worldview. “Ideas were very robustly debated over the dinner table. Such was the stimulating environment that I was brought up in.” Hence, he has “always been interested in ideas and reading books for partly it is a reflection of my upbringing.”
Apart from representing his country, Varghese has varied interests - he loves playing tennis, listening to music and is an avid art lover. His travels, though, have been more limited – he has paid several visits to Kerala, “My colleagues think that I have a bias towards Kerala,” he laughs but admits that he considers Brisbane home.
The High Commissioner is now looking forward to the four-month long Oz Fest which will feature renowned Australian and Indian artists performing all over India, “Indo-Australian relations have been good politically but now we want to have great relations at the community level,” he signs off.