K. Shankar Bajpai
He deserves remembrance for services rendered, for the standards by which he lived and worked, perhaps most of all for being such a delight. In Tynan’s striking phrase for those remarkable character-actors who made otherwise unremarkable works lively and admirable, Tinoo Sen was one of those “forgotten irreplaceables” who never sought matinee-idol stardom (even refusing the foreign secretaryship) but who, in role after role, raised their stature and effect.
That he was “Tinoo” always, and to all, indicates the kind of person he was: immediately friendly — but never trying to be, attentive and earning attention, perceptive and responsive. I wish I could bring to life someone so full of it, wide in sympathies and interests, uncondescendingly understanding of human weaknesses and differences while also shrewdly alert to the evil that men do (especially those for whom, it might currently be said, one lie is not enough). He could not abide deviousness and intrigue, knew how to cope with them but when they tried to enmesh him he would rebel, as he did when, as head of Chancery in our London office, a serpentine Krishna Menon drove him to resign; yet even there he was so innately likeable, and so capable, that not only was the resignation rejected, but the same KM also stood in for his absent father-in-law at his marriage and later chose him to be chairman of one of the three international control commissions for Indo-China.
Few of the varied groups that make up our peoples have produced so many interesting characters, of endless variety of knowledge and stimulation, unconventional if not idiosyncratic, drawing you to them for the sheer pleasure of the company, as our Bengalis — and don’t they know it. Tinoo was an outstanding example, but without knowing it, a natural as well as an original. He was, in fact, hardly conscious of being of any particular region — though, incredibly for a man of his fluency, who was to excel in two of our positions most needing communication skills, his very Bengali accent could sometimes do with translation. Generously hospitable, a great bridge player, enjoying a glass (so to speak) with friends without ever showing it, he could be a lively companion till the early hours and yet first in office the next morning. But his was never an effusive, back-slapping amiability: that would repel him, for he was almost reserved, in a self-contained way. He never had any money, never drove much less owned a car, but enjoyed his circumstances with real cheerfulness. Only a woman with similar inner strength, originality of mind, range of interests and real charm could have been his wife, and he was to find an enviably happy life with Shiela Lall, who excelled even him in these respects, and happily still remains her own spritely, original self, with a delightful family of four children and their offspring.
Tinoo was also one of the hardest working and most able civil servants we have had. While training in law at London’s Inns of Court, he preferred to join the ICS, from which he was soon picked out for the Indian Political Service, that highly selective branch specializing in dealing with non-British India and our immediate, if smaller, neighbours. Evidently his potential for the skills associated with diplomacy were recognized early, and he was one of the handful of younger officers posted abroad even before Independence, surely the only one in such a major assignment as New York, where he was to return for a dramatic stint as head of our United Nations mission. In between, he ranged from Algeria to Australia, excelling in hard jobs, high commissioner in difficult times in both Pakistan and Bangladesh, with an outstanding performance in the UN security council projecting the latter’s cause against the former’s excesses in 1971. For this, Bangladesh honoured him posthumously. Surviving a failed hand-grenade attack on his Dacca residence, he could not escape a bullet in his shoulder, but carried on working, refusing Delhi’s special plane to fly him out.