The Consul General of India in Melbourne, Dr. Subhakanta Behera, is a man of many interests. An alumnus of the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, he is a learned and scholarly and has been published in a number of journals nationally and internationally.
He is also a creative writer and has he has six story collections, two poetry anthologies and three essay collections in Odia and an English novel (The Mahanadi Dream, Indialog, New Delhi).
In an interview with Tanu, we get to know the man who has innovative ideas and a clear strategy for his time here in Melbourne.
When did you first hear about Australia?
I have heard about Australia ever since I was in school. We read in our school textbooks, particularly in geography, about Australia which is an island country but is, at the same time, a separate continent.
What were your impressions on arriving here? What is it about Australia that you really like?
Melbourne is a beautiful place. It is comparable to any other great city in the western world and America. Though Melbourne itself is a metropolitan city, it has widespread greenery, broad roads and vast meadows outside the city limit. The people of Melbourne are friendly, generous and I find it a truly multicultural society. Whatever I find true about Melbourne is also true for Australia.
Have you had a chance to do some sight-seeing at all?
Yes. I have managed to do some sight-seeing tours in Penguin Island and some nearby places. I have also driven across the Great Ocean Road and was impressed by the 12 Apostles. I have been to Tasmania and visited that state extensively from North to South and East to West.
What was your posting before you arrived here?
Before I came here, I was Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi. Earlier I have done postings in Moscow, Tashkent, Washington DC, Sofia and studied in London and Oxford.
What do you hope to bring to this role in your time here?
As Consul General of India, I have to supervise whatever consular, trade, community and cultural work my office does. In addition, I am keen that during my time I strengthen cultural relations between India and Victoria and sensitise the mainstream Australian population here to the entire spectrum of Indian culture. I have also great responsibility towards the Indian diaspora in Victoria and Tasmania (which is under my jurisdiction) and I have to look after their interests and needs. Bilateral trade is another section to which I am paying special attention.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge for Indians in Australia?
To be very frank, I do not see much challenge for Indians in Australia. The only thing that I can tell about Indians living here is that they have to play their assigned role in Australia without fail so they contribute to the socio-economic development of this country. At the same time they have to also bring pride for India.
What is the future of India-Australia relationship on a national level?
India-Australia relationship is deepening and is getting multi-faceted. Both countries are increasingly realising the convergence of their interests in many strategic areas. Perhaps that is why the Labour Government recently decided to sell uranium to India. I am hopeful that in the near future our bilateral relations will reach new heights and we will have strategic relations in such core areas as trade and investment, security and defence.
What are your views on the Premiere’s trip to India?
Victoria’s Premier is leading the biggest ever trade delegation from Australia to India. More than 200 business/companies representing various sectors are accompanying him. It is the second mission to India from Victoria and the first such mission took place in last April. The last mission produced considerable amount of business and trade opportunities between India and Victoria, and I am hopeful that during this time also not only more business opportunities and volume will be created, but there will be many MOUs and agreements signed. The Premier’s leading such a big delegation attests to the fact that Victoria attaches utmost importance to India.
What can Indians contribute to the cultural melting pot?
First of all, I do not believe that Australia or Victoria is a cultural melting pot. Because if it is a melting pot, then no group could retain its individual identity. So in my opinion, this great country is more like a big bouquet where individual communities/groups retain their identities as individual flowers retain the same in a bouquet. Indians, by way of maintaining their distinct cultural identity, are adding to the rich tapestry of Australia’s culture.
Do you think that our culture is getting too watered down as it moves across continents?
No, I do not believe our culture is getting too watered down. On the other hand, it is being promoted, retained and getting universalised. As it moves across continents, it reaches every nook and corner of the world. Perhaps that is why nowadays you can find a yoga class or a Bollywood dance class anywhere in the world from Africa to Latin America.
How has your family adjusted to the move?
Yes, my family is with me. My son goes to Monash University where he is doing Software Engineering and my daughter is in Class 9 and goes to Melbourne Girls’ College. They have adjusted to life in Melbourne. My wife, who is a trained Classical Odissi dancer, is conducting classes and training sessions, and has started giving performances not only in Victoria but also in other states of Australia.
What do they like about Melbourne? What do you, as a family, miss about India?
You know Melbourne, as a western city, is different from Indian cities in a number of ways. My children especially, like everything about Melbourne. But when you are abroad, you miss your near and dear ones with whom you can only communicate on the phone or via e-mail. So as a family, though we have fully adapted to life here, we still miss home and our near and dear ones in India.