British diplomat Andrew Fleming on raising awareness about neuro-diversity and his love for Hyderabad
Close on the heels of completing four years in his current position, he spoke to us about his love for city folks and how things changed during the pandemic
United Kingdom’s deputy high commissioner to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Andrew Fleming, is a
household name in the city. Now, that isn’t quite common with diplomats here. However, Andrew isn’t a run-of-the-mill diplomat. In his past four years here, he has managed to connect with several people from the city — from Tollywood stars to college students. His interests are vast — from championing the causes of neuro-diverse individuals to conservation and climate change, and even maintaining a robust following on Twitter. Close on the heels of completing four years in his current position, he spoke to us about his love for city folks, what he wishes would change, and what he loves about the food and heritage of the City of Nizams.
Making a change
From his early life in Wallington, South London to his life here in Hyderabad, his journey has been impactful. However, it wasn’t an easy one. “As a perpetual victim of bullying I never liked school and
left at 17 when I joined the UK Civil Service at the lowest level. After 28 years of hard work and focus, a window opened for me to sit for entry to the diplomatic service and as part of that selection process I was diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia.” He adds that he had some amazing help that enabled him to make a success of his career. “Dyspraxic people often have very strong people-to-people skills and bring a lot of innovation to solving problems. Luckily all these skills are useful in the world of diplomacy... I realise I am probably not classed as a conventional diplomat but I believe I have had an impact,” says Andrew, adding that he hopes to raise awareness against the stigma faced by those on the neuro-diversity spectrum.
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New world order
His days were full of activities before, however, he had to start working differently, when lockdown was announced. We ask him how it changed the course of his plans, to which he shares, “I found myself working in a live crisis situation and leading a team in this environment. We were occupied with repatriating British nationals, putting well-being and welfare much further up the agenda.” But, he says that he misses human interactions, especially with his chosen groups — such as non-governmental organisation Rubaroo, Voice 4 Girls in Hyderabad and Yes We Can in Andhra Pradesh.
Apart from his ability to connect with all and sundry, what sets him apart is his willingness to travel to the nooks and corners of the two states. We learnt that he has travelled to about 115 countries in a span of three decades, after starting at 17! And he has travelled far and wide in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, at least until the pandemic began. “At the first party I hosted for the Queen’s birthday in 2018, I made a public pledge to visit every district in both states during my tenure. Since then many more districts have been created but at last count I had visited 10 of the original 13 districts in Andhra Pradesh and 28 of the districts in Telangana,” he shares. He states that he has experienced several moments of magic while travelling in both states. “I love my trips to Visakhapatnam. It reminds me of Rio de Janeiro, San Sabastian and Freetown all merged into one. However, he says that for him the two most magical moments were the early morning visit to Warangal Fort (just after sunrise) and sitting on the ghats in Rajahmundry at dusk.
On a gastranomical affair
Andrew is fond of discovering the new-age dining outlets as much as he likes Hyderabad’s Irani chai and Osmania biscuits. “I have dined everywhere from the world record-breaking 101 seat table at Taj Falaknuma to a simple dosa stall in the Old City that always draws a huge crowd,” he elaborates, adding that outlets like Roastery Coffee House and Haiku are some of his favourites as well. But he says it does not compare to culinary discoveries at the houses of friends. “I am grateful to a number of politicians who hosted me for delicious home-cooked breakfasts. It is home-cooked meals that always stand out over dining out.” What also keeps him busy during his leisure hours, is his keen interest in the culture, cinema, poetry, historical monuments and handlooms of Hyderabad. He adds, “I am afraid I have failed to learn much Urdu but listening to poems in this language is wonderful.” Handlooms are something that he wishes to explore as well and leaves no stone unturned in doing so. “I have visited several places where handloom is made and find the work stunning. I have my own small collection, and my wife (Van Fleming) has a rather larger and colourful one,” shares Andrew. What also pleasantly surprises him is the diversity in heritage architecture in the city. “The influences from so many different periods of history and parts of the world are just incredible. That the city is not much more prominent on the global map for its treasures is such a missed opportunity.”
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For the sake of history
He often marvels at the historical structures in the city and says he always brings his visitors to take a look at Charminar first.“It is not just the monument, it is the entire district that has to be seen to experience the essence of Hyderabad. And I have witnessed some progress in rejuvenating the area since 2017. I hope we will see that work continue with remaining palaces and havelis. It will be a worthwhile long-term investment.” He mentions that he has a special place in his heart for the Golkonda Fort and Qutb Shahi Tombs as well. “Also, the British Residency! I am so pleased that it has been subject to a restoration programme. It was in the Durbar Hall there, where I made my first public speech and it was an unforgettable moment,” shares Andrew, signing off.
— Paulami Sen