India

On the evening of October 30, I attended an outdoor reception at the residence of the local UNICEF representative. As I was schmoozing in the garden, the host called me over to introduce me to the person he was talking to. I didn’t catch the person’s name, but we chatted for a few minutes after stumbling on the fact that he was of Russian descent and that I had served in Moscow. I excused myself and moved on. Another colleague standing nearby asked me, “Do you know whom you were talking to?” “No,” I said, “I missed the name.” “Well,” he replied, “that was Peter Ustinov!”

The next morning, Ustinov was sitting in an office in the compound at No. 1 Safdarjung Road, where he was to interview Prime Minister Gandhi for Irish television. As Mrs. Gandhi was making her way to the interview, she was suddenly gunned down by her Sikh bodyguards. She died shortly thereafter in the National Hospital. (…)

The cremation took place at dusk in the beautiful park on the banks of the Yamuna River near the same Raj Ghat where the funeral rites of Mahatma Gandhi had years before been held. Foreign dignitaries were mobilised at a designated spot and transported by bus to the cremation site. In true Indian fashion, we were all packed rather chaotically into the transport, with more people standing than sitting. I found myself with the Japanese Prime Minister on one side, and a tiny lady on the other who couldn’t reach a strap to hold onto, and so relied on me to keep her on her feet. It was Mother Teresa.