Wife of Indian Ambassador to Egypt
By Francesca Sullivan
The residence of the Indian ambassador dates back to 1948, it was one of the first properties acquired by the Indian government following India’s Independence. Its elegant panelled drawing rooms that overlook the flowing Nile are tastefully punctuated by personal artefacts. Some are reminders of India: paintings, wall hangings and a decorative swing in the entrance hall; bowls of flower petals, and sculptures by none other than the lady of the house. Then, somewhat unexpectedly, a boisterous shaggy-haired puppy bounds in, lending the otherwise formal residence a relaxed aura of family normality. Mrs Mani Suri, dressed for a lunch appointment in an elegant sari, sends the reluctant dog away before sitting down to answer questions. The life of an ambassador’s wife does not, it seems, always follow a typical pattern. Mrs. Suri told Cairo West Magazine what makes hers just that little bit different.
How long have you been here in Cairo?
It will be two years this summer. But this is actually not our first time in Cairo. Back in 1984 we were here on our very first posting. My husband was in the Foreign Service and had studied at the American University here as a language student. We were just married. We stayed three years.
Which other postings have you enjoyed the most?
Actually I have no favourites. I enjoy each place for what it offers; that is part of living this kind of life successfully. From Cairo we went to Damascus, then to the USA, Tanzania, London and South Africa, with spells in Delhi in between. But Cairo certainly occupies a special place in our hearts because we have come back to it, and have friends here from before. Of course there have been many changes since the first time we were here, just as there have been in India. More traffic, and a lot of building over land that was once just fields. But despite what the Egyptian people have gone through in recent years they remain the same: friendly, warm and hospitable. They love life and know how to enjoy it.
What is your typical daily schedule?
Like any other diplomatic spouse I attend a certain amount of coffee mornings, lunches and so on. But I also have another job; since 2007 I’ve been employed as a graphic designer by a company in Delhi. When we were stationed in the US I did a degree in communication design at the George Mason University in Virginia. I also paint and do pottery and sculpture. I have a studio here in the residence, and most of my mornings I spend in there working. Back in Delhi they say that I have the best of both worlds!
There is a certain amount of entertaining. It’s always good to meet people, but although I probably shouldn’t say this, entertaining just for the sake of it becomes boring. Initially when you are in a new place you invite people and out of that you make connections and form new friendships. Evenings I keep for diplomatic duties, to support my husband.
What do you miss most about India?
When you’ve been doing this job for thirty years you tend not to miss home; it becomes a lifestyle. Of course there are some friends and work colleagues that I miss – and some of the shopping opportunities in Delhi – but in general you concentrate on the positives in each place you are posted to.
Recently there has been a Festival of Indian Culture in Cairo. Were you involved in that?
Very much so, in fact I did all the design for it, producing the graphics for the posters and publicity. I also got involved in the programme itself – and even went on stage in a musical production playing a small role as a mother. I always enjoyed acting on stage when I was a student.
What is your favourite destination to travel to in Egypt?
We’ve been lucky enough to travel around the country a lot, and seen most of the historic sites – even had some of the closed tombs in the Valley of the Kings opened especially for us, and that was amazing. I was fascinated by the energy inside those places. I also loved the White Desert and camping out under the stars. I remember walking outside the tent in the middle of the night and just being in awe of the place and looking at the stars. But perhaps my favourite destination of all is the Red Sea, the beaches and the sheer beauty of the marine life. Gorgeous!
What is your favourite kind of music?
That totally depends on my mood. When I’m working in my studio I tend to listen to classical Indian music. When I go out at night I can enjoy many kinds of music, including jazz, and anything I can dance to.
Your preferred mode of dress?
Comfortable cotton-wear that’s cool in hot weather. That’s how I am dressed around the house and in my studio – with Crocs on! I’m probably too casual on the whole, and I get accused of that sometimes. On the other hand I love my saris, and getting dressed in them in the evenings.
What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
I am not really a movie person. I remember when we were here the first time Indian cinema was popular in Egypt, and recently my husband has been instrumental in promoting it here again. So the last film I actually saw at the movie theatre was Jinna Express, an Indian movie shown here in Cairo about six months ago.
The last book you read?
When I do read I like fiction and I am a fan of the novelist Amitab Ghosh. His books are very well researched, in historical settings.
Do you have time for hobbies?
My pottery is the thing I love doing when I have free time. For me it is like a kind of meditation, my way to connect with myself. I always begin by just being still with my eyes closed and the clay in my hands, waiting to see what comes.
Do you have a pet peeve?
One thing that really annoys me is when people try to be what they are not.
I don’t really have one. Anything that smells nice! I am a simple person, and not at all into brands.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
I’ll never forget when I was about eight years-old, a person came to our school whose job was to take care of elderly and homeless people. He told us, “All of you are receiving a proper education, but remember that the best lesson you can learn is to treat a poor person like a rich one; never change yourself according to who you are talking to.” Also my father, who was a warm hearted person, used to say, “Welcome everyone into your home with open arms, that way you will always be given more.”
What is your best habit?
When people work for me I always give them full liberty to do their job, without interference.
Your worst habit?
I worry too much about small things, and I can be obsessive, especially about cleanliness and tidiness.
I’m fond of WhatsApp and Messenger, but actually I’m addicted to games – in fact maybe that is really my worst habit! It can be Candy Crush, or Sudoku, I get easily hooked.
What can’t you live without?
My husband. We have always complemented each other in everything we do.
What is the secret of happiness for you?
Being connected to your inner self. Having the freedom to do things the way you want to. To live and let live.