It is Karma I spent 15 years in India, which will always remain part of our family: Ambassador Castellanos
The world of diplomats is peripatetic in nature. Ever so often the person donning the colours of the country as its representative moves on after contributing to bilateral relations in the country of posting. The cycle of change is constant, perhaps three or four years.
Yet in some cases, the posting gets prolonged beyond one’s calculations as in the case of Ambassador Hans Dannenberg Castellanos of Dominic Republic. He arrived here in 2006 to set up the country’s Embassy and stayed on till January 9, 2021. As he packs his bags and moves to Russia, sharing thoughts of his journey with K.V. Prasad, the Ambassador recalled a conversation with a Guru at Pushkar predicting his stay in India would be for over 12 years.
“I feel it is Karma that I spent here so long because as diplomats we are used to going to a different challenge every four or five years…my sons are Made in India, both were born here. One is fascinated by Lord Ganesha, loves Indian food while the other prefers Yoga. India will remain with our family”. India can now boast of having two young Caribbean from Dominic Republic, as the Desi-born brand ambassadors.
Q, What are your observations as a diplomat who spent a decade and a half here?
A.I came to Delhi to a great challenge of opening our mission, which is a unique and difficult task for any diplomat. Coming to a country where you did not have a presence, you need to get your country known and the logistics. The best thing of such a long tenure is that I have seen a great amount of changes in India not only infrastructure of Delhi and the strengthening of economy but political changes and transformation of India.
I have also seen a great amount of development in pharma sector that is now more important due to the health crisis and possibility of an Indian vaccine that can save many lives. I am grateful to god to serve here. I feel it is Karma that I spent time here so long because as diplomats we are used to going to a different challenge every four or five years. I think the unique opportunity was to become the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps that really helped me grow professionally.
Q. Any personal transformation you experienced during this period?
A. I learnt a lot from India, gained inner spiritual patience, a different way to approach life. I used to be a person when things did not go my way. Now I learnt things go the way they should and you have to learn to accept that. I also tell new people who come here to embrace India as it is. To learn how Indians are and not to try to change them, India will not change but on the contrary you will be changed. I tell them to embrace the adventure for when you don’t have it you will miss.
I know many diplomats who when they were here they were complaining about everything and when they are gone, they are missing India. It is something that impacts their lives. Many diplomats said that after India they find other postings boring because you have so many activities, so many things to do. Even in big cities like Washington DC, Brussels or London the daily life becomes boring.
Q Can you describe the strength of bilateral relations, its growth path and how do you feel now that India decided to open its Embassy in Dominic Republic?
A. We had expectations of opportunities with India since both trade and interaction were limited. Today, New Delhi is Santo Domingo’s fourth largest trading partner. After formal agreement in 1999, we started the Embassy in 2006. One of the first high level visits was from our Foreign Minister and since then there have been several. In 2010, our president came to India.
We are very happy India announced the opening of its Embassy in Santo Domingo. This will help increase the trade partnership, people to people and scientific exchanges. I think the new embassy of India will take the relations to another level, I am grateful to External Affairs Minister Dr.S. Jaishankar announced this before I finished my tenure, For the last eight years, I was working for it. I hope India does not stop here and opens Missions in other countries in Latin America where it does not have an Embassy.
Q. What are the areas the bilateral relations can grow?
A. Now with the decision of opening its Embassy in Santo Domingo, I think India can develop it as a hub for trade with other countries in the Caribbean as we are bang in the middle of the Hemisphere. Also we would like India to learn from our experience in tourism while we hope more people from India travel to our country.
In order to popularise destinations the Latin American embassies in New Delhi has been organising competition for tourists to recall their experience in our countries. In 2018 the first prize went to a person (Hemant Puri) for a picture in a ‘Tuk-Tuk’ (auto-rickshaw) which now is a pride of our collection at the Embassy here..
Q. You have been the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, a position reserved for the senior most serving diplomat in the country. Can you share some experiences of the past four years?
A.As the Dean you become an interlocutor between the diplomatic community, the Government of India and the Ministry of External Affairs. The MEA has a great Chief of Protocol and a fine Division. We have to share some concerns of diplomats or ideas they may have to do their job better. As the Dean, I tried to organise ideas of all Heads of Missions when it came to issues like Demonetisation, Goods and Services Tax, Pollution, Lockdown and Vaccines. Besides being the one who summarises all the queries and needs of other Missions, I also tried to be a guide to new Heads of Mission, how to work with Indians, its business community, who are the players and how to approach India in a more effective way. I have taken some initiatives like meeting new Ambassadors at airports and this is my personal decision. Having worked in airport and airlines before becoming a diplomat, I have aviation fuel as part of my blood and enjoy going there. I like to be the person who calms the new person. When I arrived I had these worries and a lot of questions. I tried to give back.
Q. Understand you are also sensitive and at times attended funeral service for staff members of other Missions?
Q.When you are here for such a long time, you get to know the staff, the drivers and serving staff in other Missions. I came to know that the driver of the Tunisian Ambassador had died and attended a service in his memory. The then Tunisian Ambassador was touched by this.
Q. On a personal note, understand one of your son’s favourites is Lord Ganesha?
A.One of my son’s is fascinated by Ganesha .We told when people needed assistance, they prayed to Ganesha and he opened ways for them. When he was young and asked for a specific toy that we thought was expensive, he decided to do Pooja offering flowers to Ganesha for the toy. And the Secretary would put some money…he has a lot of idols of Ganesha in his room. Both my kids have India in their heart. One of them loves Indian food and the other loves Yoga.
Q. Understand, that during your early years, a Pandit predicted your stay in India would be long? Can you share the anecdote?
A. I met an Indian Guru or Pandit in Pushkar, where some people from my country do social work. During conversation, I told him the posting is normally for four years and he said I will stay in India for more than 12 years. I asked if he meant month, he kept saying more than 12 years and now I have spent 15 years.
He also told me I came to India to find my family. Soon after I came here, my wife joined me and we had our first born. Both my sons are Made in India. India will remain part of our family forever.