A Fond Farewell

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In an exclusive interview, India’s departing Consul General Ausaf Sayeed dwells on achievements, support from Chicagoans

When Ausaf Sayeed, Consul General of India in Chicago, left the city last week to take charge as India’s High Commissioner to Seychelles, the career diplomat from Hyderabad had many reasons to feel professionally satisfied at the end of his tenure in Chicago.

During his almost three-and-half years stay, he had helped India’s relations with the U.S. Midwest grow stronger, had been instrumental in turning the diaspora into a cohesive entity, and most importantly enjoyed the confidence and support of the community in almost everything that he did. “It has been a satisfying tenure here professionally,” he said in an interview on the eve of his departure.

But such satisfaction notwithstanding, Sayeed left with one regret perhaps – his inability to finish writing a few books related to India’s history and its relations with countries like Yemen, that he wanted to during his sojourn in Chicago. “That aspiration remained unfulfilled due to tremendous work pressure,” he said.

The idea for the books germinated much before he came to Chicago as Consul General in mid-2013.

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Sayeed, who has a Ph.D in Geology from the Osmania University, had earlier written books on Indian art and culture, and published articles on subjects like India’s long association with Aden in Yemen while he was India’s Ambassador there.

And it was in Aden that he toyed with the idea of tracing India’s long association with Yemen, from where soldiers, traders and Sufi saints had at one time come to India, to places like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Hyderabad. Even today, he notes, there is an area called Barkas in the old quarters of Hyderabad where people living are mostly descendents of Arabs, with different customs and food habits, although they are all Indians.

“This is something that caught my fancy and I wanted to trace the history of Yemen’s ties with India and started doing a lot of research,” Sayeed who is a Hadrami Arab by descent and has studied Arabic from the American University in Cairo, said.

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The ambition to dabble in writing is not too unusual for Sayeed, given that he belongs to a literary family of Hyderabad and that his father, late Awaz Sayeed ,was a renowned Urdu writer, playwright, essayist and humorist who has seven books to his credit.

“When I came to Chicago I sincerely hoped I would be able to finish writing the book along with two other books, one on Haj traditions of Muslims from India, which during the Mughal rule and after, were considered more as a punishment than a reward, and also a book on 100 most powerful Indian Muslim women in history from the Middle ages till date,” he said.

“But unfortunately, there was so much of professional work for me to do here in Chicago that I could not manage to find enough time to fulfill my ambition,” Sayeed said during the interview with Desi Talk.

But books or no books, Sayeed left Chicago a professionally complacent man who, by his own admission, tried to do his best to spur the region’s interest in India, and was successful by and large. Though his work and interaction with the diaspora, he also endeared himself to the community at large.

“The inherent strengths that are there in the Indian diaspora sometimes get dissipated by things like different groups, different languages, different religions, and things like that. One of my main aims was to reach out to people, not just in Chicago, but also in adjoining areas like Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Madison and Milwaukee, including to various religious communities. That way everybody became integrated and the consulate during my tenure emerged as a unifying factor,” Sayeed said.
But he gives credit for whatever he has been able to achieve in Chicago. “In all fairness to our diaspora, they have really done very well. Here in Chicago, I was only channelizing their positive energy for the good of both India and the U.S,” Sayeed said.

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