TOWARDS BECOMING A DIPLOMAT

By: Dr Ausaf Sayeed*

It was rainy season in the month of September in the year 1963 in a hospital in the city of
Hyderabad where a new-born baby was the cynosure of all eyes. The parents were full of ecstasy
for their first child was born..... That was me! My father, Late Mr Awaz Sayeed, worked for a
public sector undertaking, the Food Corporation of India, as an administrative assistant till he
retired in 1982 as a gazetted officer. His life was a transition from great opulence to wanton
struggle. Son of a Yemeni-born father who served as the State Financer of the Sultan of a small
principality called Mukkalah in Yemen, my father was the youngest of his five brothers and four
sisters. A reckless wastage of wealth by some of his elder brothers forced him to join government
service at an early age. He had a passion for literature and took up short-story writing in Urdu at
a young age and earned great fame in life. Being scholarly and intellectual he used to involve his
two children — me and my younger sister, in his literary activities. Any new story written is first
narrated to us before it is finalised for publishing or narration on the All India Radio. His
commitment to story-writing was so great that other aspects of life like monitoring the children
and disciplining them was of lesser importance to him. That is where our mother filled the gap
and took exceptional pains for our education and brought-up. Being the daughter of a District
Judge, she realized the importance of giving proper education to her children and convinced my
father to admit us in a good missionary school, the St. George's Grammar School in Hyderabad.

I had already studied up to the fifth standard in an obscure school, the Jawahar Upper Primary
School located in the Vijaynagar Colony in Hyderabad, which hardly contributed in grooming
my personality in those formative years. The influence of peers in our locality Mallepally also
had a negative impact on my academics. The transition from a purely ordinary school to a
missionary school was not a smooth one for me and very soon I became one of the most
prominent back-benchers of my class. My favourite avocation was to bunk classes and go to
theatres on the Abid Road and watch movies while still in 6th or 7th class with a blithe lack of
concern for academics. I had to ingenuously tamper my score cards every semester to save
myself from the wrath of my parents for scoring outrageously low marks. I remember the
incident when after scoring 2 out of 200 marks in mathematics; I took the courage of asking my
math teacher why he had given no marks for practical geometry in which I claimed I had
constructed circles and triangles. He had looked at my shabby work and remarked "Is this
construction or destruction?"

When I reached the tenth grade, much to the anguish of my parents, I decided to leave the school
and appear for the SSC examination as a private student, as I perceived it to be a much simpler
education pattern than the ICSE. I got through with reasonably good marks ... but definitely not
the first division, which I definitely feel was due to wrong totalling of my Special English
paper... and secured admission in a neighbourhood college, the Anwar-Ul-Uloom Degree
College, in Intermediate (10+2) with Biology, Physics and Chemistry as my optional subjects.

When I completed my Intermediate with first division in 1982, my parents wanted me to take the
MBBS entrance test, as was, and still is, the most popular trend among all science students in
India. I declined to oblige them, for I was not interested in becoming a doctor. In fact, I was not
sure what I wanted to do.... probably a typical characteristic of the present-day youth. My parents
were heart-broken and completely gave up on me and owed to make my sister a doctor instead.
My sister, Seema Nishat, who was a brilliant student right through, always used to add feathers
of academic accomplishment in her cap and getting admission into MBBS was only a matter of
routine for her. I vividly remember the announcements made on the annual day celebrations of
St. George's Grammar School (Girls’ Section) during the price distribution ceremonies year after
year "first in class, first in maths, first in science, first in English…. Miss Seema Nishat"… and
amidst thunderous applause my sister would go and receive all those trophies, barely managing
to hold them together. I definitely thought that she was a nut! She is at the moment a successful
practising doctor residing in Tampa in the United States with her husband Dr Wajahat Ali and
three children, Maaz, Baseema and Ammar.

Coming back to me.... after declining to appear for MBBS entrance, I took a passion for writing
articles on topics of science which were published in many students' magazines like the Junior
Science Digest and Science Master. Being not so interested in sports, I used to utilize my spare
time in acquiring technical skills like typing, shorthand, telex, etc. In fact, I had obtained a
Higher Technical Degree in Typing and a Lower Technical Degree in Short Hand! My short-hand
instructor's dream was to make a first grade steno so that I can become a Personal Assistant to an
IAS officer!!

Then I decided to join graduation in the PG College of Science, Saifabad taking a rather rare and
less popular subject, Geology, about which I had no background. My parents were now almost
certain that I was a nincompoop. However my life turned from this point of time and surprisingly
I started taking exceptional interest in studies so much so that I passed my graduation as a top
ranker in my college and also scored the first rank in the entire university in the entrance test for
securing admission into the Masters. My penchant for studies saw me emerge as the brightest
student of Osmania University in the field of geology which won me the Y.G.K.Murthy Gold
Medal in the Masters. Thereafter, I received scholarship from the Council of Scientific and
Industrial Research (CSIR), a premier organisation for science and research in India, again after
securing exceptionally good marks in their qualifying test. This enabled me to register myself as
a research fellow in the Osmania University in Hyderabad.

It is at this point of time that one of my professors called me and advised that I should look
beyond my normal career options and take a go at the Civil Services examination, which is one
of the toughest competitive examinations in India for entry into different prestigious services in
the government. I took his suggestion to my heart and started serious preparations, working
almost 12-15 hours a day for nearly a year. It was a phase when the thought of getting into Civil
Services used to linger in my mind day in and day out. I was obsessed by this ambition. Even
when I was with my friends or relatives I used to think and plan about the exam while feigning
that I was happily conversing with them on subjects of their interest. My efforts paid off when I
got selected for the Civil Services examination in 1988 and joined the service in August 1989.

While preparing for my subject Geology for the Civil Services examination I had faced certain
difficulties like paucity of good reading material, lack of awareness of the examination pattern,
etc., since the university professors were not fully conversant with the pattern of competitive
examinations and were unable to guide me properly. This prompted me to write a book in 1990
titled 'Trends in Objective Geology for Civil Services' for students like me who aspire to become
civil servants. This book is now in its 27 th year of publication and is still widely referred by
geology students.

Joining a prestigious service, like the Indian Foreign Service, did not deter me from continuing
my studies. I continued with my research work, which was half completed when I joined the
service, and finally obtained a Ph.D. in 1992. This gave me immense academic satisfaction. I am
a firm believer in the concept that a man learns at every stage of life and should therefore never
be complacent.

After a rather long probation period lasting for about two years during which I was exposed to
various facets of diplomatic and office work in India, I was sent to Egypt in 1991 as a language
trainee to learn Arabic and familiarize myself with all aspects of work in diplomatic missions
abroad. I studied in the American University in Cairo for three semesters and picked up Arabic
language to the best of my abilities. After two memorable years in Egypt during which I
extensively travelled and explored this ancient country, I was posted as the Regional Passport
Officer in my home city of Hyderabad in India in May 1993. It was a challenging job which
required me to meet over 500 people a day and try to solve their problems. I tried to devote my
time to simplify procedures and make life easier for the common man unmindful of the stiff
resistance from vested interests in different quarters and the consequent personal inconveniences
that I had to bear, which are best left unsaid here.

I joined the Consulate General of India, Jeddah in January 1995 as Consul (Haj) and spent one
year in ameliorating the hardship of 60,000 odd pilgrims from India who came to Saudi Arabia
for performing the pilgrimage. Thereafter, in March 1996, I was deployed with the Embassy of
India, Riyadh as First Secretary (Economic and Commercial), an assignment which I would not
forget for providing me with lot of challenges and for enabling me to contribute my mite for
giving a visible thrust to the vibrant Indo-Saudi bilateral economic and trade relations. This was
followed by my posting to the Embassy of India, Doha, Qatar as a First Secretary/Counsellor
(Commercial). I served as Consul General of India in Jeddah from August 2004 to July 2008.
Thereafter, I served as Joint Secretary (Director-General) for West Africa in the Ministry of
External Affairs, New Delhi, looking after bilateral relations with around 25 countries of Western
and Central Africa. This was followed by stints in Yemen as the Ambassador of India and in
Chicago as the Consul General of India. After completion of 27 years of diplomatic service, I
am now working as the High Commissioner of India in Seychelles.

I have three smart sons, Faateh aged 25 years and Faaleh, aged 22 years and Azhaan aged 18
years. I am fortunate to have a good, caring and loving wife Farha, who is an egg artist and a
painter. This sum up in a nut shell my journey from childhood to adulthood and to a career as a
diplomat!

* This is an old article written by me several years ago, but updated slightly now and re-uploaded for providing
motivation to others. Originally it was an ice-breaker speech delivered in the Kohinoor Toastmasters Club, Riyadh,
in 1997.

***