In 1988, I accompanied the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China as part of his press delegation. Relations between the two Asian giants China and India were not great. Visit of the last Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru to China was 34 years ago.
Rajiv Gandhi took the bold initiative to thaw the deep frozen relationship between the two countries. Mr. D.C. Bhowmick, a senior journalist colleague in All India Radio, was supposed to accompany PM Rajiv Gandhi but he fell sick and suggested my name as replacement. It was accepted by the Prime Minister's office and I was part of China delegation.
We reached China during the severe winter month of December, when temperature at times, goes sub-zero. Outcome of the visit is now history.
Here are some interesting titbits from the visit:
Another important meeting between the veteran Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and Rajiv Gandhi became famous because of the hand shake between the two, which lasted for three minutes. Meeting was conducted in the Great Hall of the People. Initial proceedings of the meeting were broadcasted through loud speakers for the benefit of Chinese people.
Rajiv Gandhi visited the Great Wall of China, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, braving chilly weather, frosty winds and sub-zero temperature.
The major attraction at the official banquets was the exquisitely carved vegetables in the shape of a dragon symbolising China, a peacock symbolising India, and two doves symbolising peace.
During Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to a famous restaurant in Beijing, he tasted a much coveted Chinese delicacy, Peking duck, served with much fanfare.
Bicycles dominated the streets of Beijing, but Japanese and American cars could also be seen in large numbers. The most dramatic change was visible in the young generation. The drab tunics of the older times had been replaced by colourful outfits.
Private enterprises and multinational companies were slowly making their presence felt in China.
After the Beijing visit, the Prime Minister was to leave for Xi'an in the second phase of the trip. The press delegation was also moving with the Prime Minister regularly. This is a very interesting turn of events. I sleep very soundly and that night, I wanted to book a wake-up call with the operator in the hotel but she knew only Chinese, so I couldn’t make it. By the time I got up, it was 7 AM, and the press delegates had already left for airport.
I just rushed to the lobby with my luggage. Luckily, I found Mr. Suman Dubey, who was part of the PMO, making arrangements for despatch of luggage to the airport. I had only met him once in Delhi for some official purpose. When I told him what had happened, with a pleasant smile, he asked me to get into the car. I would have been in big trouble, without the help of Mr. Dubey. After this incident, I always carried an alarm clock in my luggage.