Eye on Sweden
Eye on Sweden
President Pranab Mukherjee and the Stockholm syndrome
When Pranab Mukherjee landed at Stockholm's Arlanda airport, the immigration officer studied his Indian passport, ignored his Schengen visa and wondered whether to admit the visitor.
"Why are you here?" he asked after consulting a colleague.
"For the presidential visit."
Some more consulting and then: "Have you got a return ticket?"
While other passengers were held up, the harassed Indian rummaged through his hand luggage and produced his return ticket.
"OK," relented the immigration officer finally, letting in the President.
Actually, I made all this up. It didn't happen to the President. It happened to me.
Getting out was even harder and took 40 minutes.
If Sweden is going to do more business with India, which is a thoroughly good idea which I completely support, a useful start would be for its immigration officers to show slightly more respect for Indian passports.
Since the President made a point of announcing India was extending e-visas to Swedish nationals (to much applause at the business seminar held at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm), some reciprocal gesture wouldn't go amiss.
Maybe members of the royal family - King Carl XVI Gustaf, Queen Silvia, Crown Princess Victoria and her husband, Prince Daniel - as well as Cabinet ministers, who were all so hospitable to the Indian President, will ensure that the needful is done.
In the years to come, thousands of Indians will be going in and out of Stockholm as a nation of 9.6m sets out to transfer its very impressive technology to India. And Sweden's technology is world-class - right from the Arlanda Express, which gets you the 40km from the airport to the centre of town in 20 minutes in a train which hits speeds of up to 205km per hour.
I am not being flippant but the attention to detail is commendable. The marble floor in the hotel bathroom had heating underneath. And in the shower, the floor was so sloped that the water drained away literally in seconds - I have never encountered a shower, certainly not in India, where the water did not collect in a pool. It's actually in small things you can tell that Sweden could help transform India.
It has to be said that Pranabda knows his stuff, whether speaking authoritatively on the economy or lyrically on the legacy of Gandhi and Tagore, as he did at Uppsala University. And what a welcome change after Pratibha Patil. And as far as I could tell, Pranab babu came without any relatives.
Banashri Bose Harrison has been the Indian ambassador in Sweden for three years. She would like another 12 months to ensure that India Unlimited becomes "self-sustaining" in a country with an Indian population of 18,000.
India Unlimited has been created with "like-minded souls", notably Sanjoo Malhotra, its chief executive, basically to promote Sweden-India bonding in everything from business to culture.
Sanjoo, 44, who came as a student nearly 20 years ago and now speaks fluent Swedish, told me: "I am Punjabi, born in Calcutta."
I can assure his parents, Vinod and Mina Malhotra, who still live in Jodhpur Park, that their boy is a star.
He and Banashri helped design a silk scarf which blended the colours of the Indian and Swedish flags. It has been such a hit that the Queen and the Crown Princess bent down and requested one each.
It was Banashri who got three dancers - Avikk Parkour, Wahida Zennath and Lavina De - to perform to Tagore's Ekla chalo re. And Charlotta Huldt, a distinguished opera singer, joined two Indian women in a rendering of Vande Mataram.
Banashri, a jolly Miranda House product, has seen the light - literally. She is a fan of Kurt Wallander, the fictional Swedish detective, who is based in northern Sweden, where she is "struck by the quality of the light - there is a certain brightness to it."
All the big boys (and girls) of Swedish industry, including heads of Saab, Ericsson and Volvo, attended the business seminar.
Also present was Anders Grundströmer, who is managing director of Scania India as well as senior vice-president of the Scania group. The company makes heavy trucks, buses and engines, employs 40,000 people in 100 countries, and established a facility in Bangalore in 2011.
Grundströmer would certainly benefit from direct flights between India and Sweden since "I live in Bangalore so I am three weeks in Bangalore and one week in Sweden. So for two-and-a-half years I have been commuting between India and Stockholm."
He strongly believes that "for creating bilateral relations between India and Sweden, having the President here, is absolutely crucial. The (six) MoUs signed are a door opener for many companies."
"What the President said is true," he went on. "India has the market and Sweden the technology."
He is a great supporter and sponsor of India Unlimited and warm in his praise for the Indian ambassador: "Mrs Banashri (Bose) Harrison has done a fantastic job - she has really created bridges between the business side of Sweden and India."
Women on top
When she walked in, I thought the handsome woman wearing red was the Queen. She had that something.
Ylva Berg laughed.
She is the president and CEO of Business Sweden, which promotes the country's trade and business with other nations and employs 30 staff in offices in Delhi and Bangalore. In all, Swedish companies employ 7,50,000 people in India.
Berg stressed the importance of the President's visit. "We have not had this kind of visit. It is a very big affair."
When I asked about women in the workplace, she summed up: "Sweden is one of the most equal countries in the world. Earning your own salary is the first step towards equality."
Sweden is the land of beau-tiful blonde women and reclu-sive actresses like Greta Garbo (to whom Suchitra Sen was compared).
Such stereotypes are based on myths, I am told.
Swedish legend Ingrid Bergman was on my mind because she was on the Cannes poster this year and her daughter, Isabella Rossellini, chairman of the Un Certain Regard jury.
No one could tell me about how the tale evolved for the late Sonali Dasgupta (née Sen Roy), the 26-year-old Bengali mother of two who dumped her husband and left India with Isabella's father, the Italian director Roberto Rossellini, then 51, in 1957.
Filmmakers in Sweden, Italy and India should get a script done - and cast someone new to play Sonali.