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  • Writer's pictureAayushi Sharma

Adventures of an ambassador

The Australian ambassador to India Barry O'Farrell went on a never-before road trip to discover the country of he so loves. Here's what happened during his adventures.

Ambassador Barry O'Farrell being welcomed at Jiwarpur village in Bihar, home to many award-winning artisans, during his travels.

Australia’s High Commissioner (Ambassador) to India, Barry O’Farrell has been on a short week-long tour of the eastern Indian states after concluding his visit to Bhutan. He travelled through eastern India via road and commenced the trip with a 329 km drive from Bhutan to Jaigaon, a town in West Bengal that shares its borders with Bhutan.

The second day of his tour marked his arrival in Sikkim through a 215 km journey from Jaigaon to Sikkim. The High Commissioner met with the Governor of Sikkim in the Raj Bhavan to jointly explore the possible areas of deeper linkages with the state. Over the years, previous Australian High Commissioners to India have been involved in various developmental projects in Sikkim related to water supply, waste management and sanitation. This visit of the high commissioner is another step forward in enhancing cultural proximity between Australia and the state of Sikkim.

Ambassador Barry O'Farrell with Governor Ganga Prasad of Sikkim.

Day three of the trip was marked by a magnificent journey through the hills along the way to Darjeeling from Sikkim. The trip was about 97 km long and Ambassador O’Farrell was greeted by the spectacular view of the Himalayas along the way. The trip to Darjeeling led to another 360 km journey towards Bihar in the north forming the last leg of the ambassador’s tour along the eastern India stretch.

The Madhubani artists

The highlight of Ambassador O’Farrell’s visit in Bihar was the interaction with artists from the state and being introduced to age-old art forms of Madhubani paintings and Sujani embroidery. On the fifth day of his trip, he visited the Jitwarpur village and received a warm welcome by hundreds of women from the village. The women of Jitwarpur are known for their Madhubani art and have been awarded various accolades over the years. Over his Twitter handle, the High Commissioner expressed great delight in being acquainted with the Madhubani artists, “home to hundreds of award-winning artisans, including seven Padma Shri awardees and we were lucky to have met one – Baua Devi ji. Their Madhubani art is treasured across India and worldwide,” he tweeted.

Upon entering the village, he was also greeted by the Madhubani District Magistrate Arvind Kumar Verma. The High Commissioner gifted Verma with a cricket ball signifying the importance that cricket holds in strengthening the relationship between the two countries. Pictures of Ambassador O'Farrell, engaging with the Madhubani artisans and appreciating the brilliance of one of the oldest artforms in the country, goes on to show the importance of cultural engagement in building strong people to people relations. This distinct style of painting has received attention worldwide and is primarily renowned for its sustainable painting methods. The use of local plants for preparing colours and bamboo sticks for brushing the paints along the surface are the defining characteristics of this artform.

Embroidery of Sujini

The next stop on his visit to Bihar was the village of Sujini in Muzaffarpur. The textile embroidery in Sujini is famous across the world for its exquisite and unique designs. Accorded the UNESCO Seal of Excellence 2019, the Sujini Art is a globally recognized fabric art form . Ambassador O’Farrell had the chance to interact with the prominent women artisans of Muzaffarpur during his latest visit. Over his Twitter handle, he remarked “India’s rich cultural heritage never ceases to amaze me”.

Originating in the 1920s, the Sujini embroidery is an ancient art form that has its origins across Bihar and Rajasthan. The women of Bihar, especially Muzaffarpur have been keeping this artform alive for generations. In order for these indigenous art forms to survive and flourish, it is very important to amplify and acknowledge the work of these artisans. Ambassador O’Farrell’s visit not only brought focus on these arts but also marked an important point in Australia’s recognition of India’s cultural heritage and its role in bringing the two countries closer.

Slice of history in Patna

Ambassador O’Farrell concluded his six day road trip in Patna where he visited the Bihar Museum. He showcased great interest in the historical figurines in the museum such as Didarganj Yakshi from the ancient history of Patliputra. To sum up his visit to the Bihar Museum, Ambassador O’Farrell noted on Twitter, “Arrived at our final destination in Patna to conclude the 1,000 km road trip! Thanks to Shri Anjani Kumar Singh for the vision & tour of the impressive Bihar Museum, showcasing wonders of history, including the beautiful statue of Didarganj Yakshi from ancient Pataliputra”.

In the last leg of his six-day trip , he met with the Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar, Tejashwi Yadav. The meeting was significant to bring an official end to his the 1,000 km long road trip through the interiors of India. The official meeting was marked by high level discussions on possible areas of Australian cooperation in developmental projects in Bihar as well as improving bilateral relations and partnerships across different sectors.

In order to build stronger and deeper ties between India and Australia, it is important to engage with grassroot communities on both sides. Not only did his trip mark regions and routes less travelled but brought much needed attention to ancient regional art forms. Ambassador Barry O’Farrell’s grassroot diplomacy will go a long way in creating a strong base for cooperation and engagement between India and Australia in time to come.

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