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Verve People
April 14, 2013

Diplomatic Artistry

Text by Shirin Mehta. Photographs by Vishal Kullarwar.

Ceylan Ozen Erisen, Consul General of the Republic of Turkey, speaks to Shirin Mehta at her official Mumbai residence, over Turkish delight and tea….

On her, the LBD is a Long Black Dress and she is elegant, as ever, in it. The turquoise-and-coral neckpiece looks Turkish but, she says with candour that she got it in Cochin, India. It goes well with her antique Ottoman ring, a favourite accessory. Ceylan Ozen Erisen, the Turkish Consul General in Mumbai, straddles cultures with elan, proving that the world is indeed flat and very stylish. Especially so, perhaps, when you are in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Barely a year in the city, she has made her presence felt on the social scene; the daily press loves her vibrant curls and wide smile for she certainly brightens up dreary city pages…. Mumbai is her fifth posting following Belgrade, Vienna, Almaty and Tel Aviv and she is only the second consul general from the Republic of Turkey, to be here, in India. It is important for her to mention that 2013, this year, marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Cultural Cooperation Agreement between India and Turkey. It is important for her that Indians learn about Turkish culture through events that she has organised, for she feels that they really do get it – the East-West combine that is in essence, her country.

Chatting with the vibrant diplomat in the environs of her well-appointed home which she shares with her businessman husband Ender Erisen and Persian cat Osman, in one of the city’s finest addresses, makes the meeting personal and almost cozy. She discusses her love of art, the fact that she is an artist when she has the time, the social whirl that is life in Mumbai, her attempts at making known the intricacies of Turkish culture and her forays into sari-wearing….

“WHAT SHOULD I BE?”
I was born in Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. My mother comes from the European side of Turkey, from a town west of IIstanbul. All my mother’s side is settled in Istanbul now. My father is from the Black Sea region. I lived in Ankara because of my father’s job; he is a bureaucrat. We were constantly travelling to see family so I decided that life had to be more than the city I was born in and I started to develop this interest in the world. I was always very curious. My mother’s side is completely artistic; my mother herself is an interior designer, my aunt is a fashion designer and also a very good painter. I have an artistic side as well but I was very indecisive. I asked my maternal grandmother who is also a very good painter, ‘What should I be?’ I was 13 or 14 years old then. Should I become a diplomat or an artist? She said, ‘Go and pick another job, there are too many artists in the family!’

When I was in the 9th grade, a novel by Orhan Pamuk, The Silent House, whose heroine had the same name as mine, won ‘that’ prize in Europe. It was the first time that a Turkish novelist was getting a prize. I felt so proud that I wanted to talk about this to people all over the world. Curiosity for the world and love for my country made me end up being a diplomat.

“EVERY COUNTRY IS NOT A JOURNEY…. IT IS ALSO A JOURNEY YOU TAKE WITHIN.”
Every experience that you have in life makes you know yourself a little more. India is a country of contrasts and dilemmas. There is extreme poverty and extreme wealth. This is such a colourful country; on the one hand people are easygoing and on the other, they are passionate.

India is at a turning point. It is obviously very dominant in this new changing world. So it is a different experience to witness this transformation firsthand. Indian people are so warm and they almost jump onto you when you are a foreigner!

“THIS IS A BLUE HOUSE, LIKE TURKEY, WHICH IS A VERY BLUE COUNTRY BECAUSE IT IS SURROUNDED BY THE SEA.”
This is the official residence of the Turkish consul general. I am the second Turkish consul general in India. My colleague who was here before me and his wife, did a great job of collecting old or antique furniture. We are by the sea and our house is mostly blue-ish. Most of the accessories I brought from Turkey and I have a couple of little things I bought in India.

I have a large collection of books, mainly on art. I try to collect paintings as well but so far I mostly own Turkish painters. This graphic design on the wall by Hayati Misman is already in the Turkish art books. I bought it before my first posting and it was the first expensive thing I bought with my own money, 20 years ago. I am trying to learn about Indian painters; Jitish Kallat is very good and he is very aware of the Turkish art scene. I have one painting from Belgrade. This Om on the wall, I think it is very beautiful. Even before coming to India I used it in my jewellery though I had no idea what it meant then.

As for my own paintings that I did when I had the time, they are in Turkey; my mother is taking care of them in her own house….

“I UNDERSTOOD THAT INDIAN PEOPLE ARE VERY PROUD AND APPRECIATIVE OF THE SARI.”
I like Indian clothes because they are so rich and colourful and comfortable. I have an outfit by Lina Tipnis that I like very much. For Independence Day, I wore a sari. It was my first time and the positive reaction from everyone was overwhelming. I draped it myself too… learnt it from YouTube.

Every day there is more than one party…. I don’t know how to keep up with Indian women in terms of clothing. I have no idea how they can wear fabulous outfits, every time. It is hard to maintain the pace. Also, there is media around so you don’t want to be seen with the same clothes. Everybody is suffering from the same phenomena. Indian women are very strong. Whenever I socialise, I see women interacting with each other. They have different layers. I like it.

I am not a classic dresser…. I like futuristic and modern clothing but India is not the right place to experiment with that. I like combining past and future. If I wear a dress which is very minimalistic then I would wear my mother’s ornamental bracelets, for example.

“IT WAS LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT!”
I met my husband in Istanbul through common friends in November 2011. I saw him from a distance and I said this is the guy I am going to marry; I just knew it. Then we met and it was love at first sight and we decided to get married. It is destiny because I was in between postings. I was supposed to come to Mumbai in November but for some reasons, it got prolonged. We had our honeymoon in Agra – it was too crowded and rainy but the Taj Mahal is a complete wonder.

“WE WATCH HINDI FILMS ALL THE TIME, WITH SUBTITLES.”
There was this one that was entirely shot in Turkey (John Abraham and Deepika Padukone’s Race 2 and Salman Khan block-buster, Ek Tha Tiger). I can say a few words in Hindi. I have almost no free time but sometimes, to relax, I sit at home and watch a movie and read a book. Travelling, exercising, jogging, these are a part of my daily routine. I try to exercise every day since Indian dinners are served at 11 o’clock; I would become unrecognisable, otherwise.

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