“PM is not going to Japan tomorrow.” On any other day, that statement wouldn’t have hit hard. But on Wednesday afternoon, when the spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs broke the news to a waiting group of journalists, each word weighed heavy and untrue.
How could the PM call off such an important visit just a day before his scheduled departure? While the MEA gave reasons -— fast-paced internal developments in Japan—- a journalist, who was part of the media delegation accompanying the PM, had a pointed question. “So, what happens to the trip starting November 15?” The MEA official’s reply was stern: “Like I said, the PM is not going to Japan at this point….” That was enough to silence all those present, with their suitcases packed with woolies to beat the Japanese chill.
One had sensed something was amiss with the way briefing was re-structured at the last minute. Four officials walked in late, indicating there were ‘developments’. Nobody uttered Japan till the first part of the briefing on the PM’s Asean trip to Phnom Penh was out of the way. Then came the bombshell -— both sides have decided to defer the Tokyo meeting due to internal developments in Japan. Elections may be announced there on Friday, the day the Indian PM and his Japanese counterpart would have discussed bilateral issues!!
The scheduled ‘bandobast meeting’, a regular usage before any such high-level visit, was not spoken about at all. With the PM’s visit shortened to three days, from six earlier, accompanying journos began busily changing their plans too. Attempting to hide their sorrow at Japan being dropped from the itinerary, some said it was good that the long flight was off their back, others were heard talking about more pressing assignments in India at this point. I too told my friends and colleagues that I was happy to sleep some extra hours in the morning than reach airport that early.
Three-day outing to Phnom Penh for the Asean summit is still on, one hopes…. But, there has been a rush of emails and calls, ever since Japan was removed from the plan. People who cared called to say they were sorry I was not going to go to the land of the rising Sun. What a missed opportunity, an email said. Even when I tried to remind them that I would get to see Cambodia at least, not many sounded excited. “Why didn’t they cancel Cambodia instead of Japan,” was the best I heard!
Now, what does one do with the shopping list for Tokyo, the most interesting being the hair pin that the local girls wear, that was handed over by friends and family? Some precious moments were also spent on what to eat and drink, of course sushi topping the list, once in Japan. A fat book on all things Japan was already in my travel kit, which must be altered fully now. The CDMA phone, that was rented for use in Japan, must be returned too.
I’m also worried about the lunch invite, that I may have to forego now, at a Japanese restaurant in Delhi. The deal was that I would narrate the Tokyo tales to a friend over a Japanese lunch once I was back from the trip. Should one look for a Cambodian joint in the city, instead?