Witness to History
assigned to establish the Point IV Technical Cooperation Mission. The problems surrounding the events of independence and the trauma of Partition were still very much in evidence in the capital city of New Delhi and the surrounding area.
We were met by Horace Holmes, an agricultural extension officer whose work in China and in India's Uttar Pradesh province had aroused U.S. government interest, resulting in his assignment as chief agricultural advisor to the Indian government. After taking afternoon tea at his house, we proceeded to the newly built Ambassador Hotel located in a fairly new section of New Delhi. On the way we encountered numerous small shacks -- perhaps three feet high -- made of straw, bamboo, and mud. These dotted empty lots and even sections of paved streets and housed refugees from the dreadful events of Partition, families not yet able to find housing.
That evening we went to the home of Ambassador Chester Bowles. We had been invited even though the he and his wife were hosting a major party that evening. Ambassador Bowles ushered us into a small study and drank old fashions with us, occasionally leaving us for a brief period to rejoin the main party. After the official guests had left, his wife, Stebbins, joined us for dinner.
|Amb. Chester Bowles|
My exposure to Chester Bowles that evening pointed up the kind of man he was -- extremely informal and always communicating a special interest or objective. Until the arrival of Bowles in India four months previously, this particular residence had been that of the deputy chief of mission; the ambassador's residence had been a mansion, Bhawahalpur House, located across the street from the Embassy. Bowles considered that residence too luxurious for the representative of the United States in the poor country of India. He had it converted into an apartment house for Embassy staff and took over the DCM's home as his own. The latter repaired to a bungalow on the Embassy grounds.
Other examples of the ambassador's informality were his presentation of official credentials in an ill-fitting morning coat borrowed from the Italian ambassador, demonstrating his lack of such a luxurious item, along with the enrollment of his children in an ordinary Indian school.
|Amb. Bowles addressing Indian troops|
The Indian government found ways to make us feel welcome. For our office it gave us Faridkhot House, a maharajah's former New Delhi palace. At a meeting an Indian official mentioned another maharajah's palace with a large separate guest house with small apartments which we could use for junior personnel housing, and an adjacent large swimming pool which our families could use for recreation if we maintained it. This gesture meant much to our families over the next several years. A number of us were also supplied Indian government apartments for a limited period until suitable private housing became available.
I myself never encountered anti-US feeling in my meetings with people in Delhi. However, such feelings existed, as mentioned in Bob Olson's story of Ambassador Grady in this issue of American Diplomacy. I got a small taste of this when Ambassador Bowles asked me to respond for him to an invitation to address university students at Hissar in the Punjab, about 100 miles west of Delhi. The students were convinced that a large powerful nation such as the United States was not helping India from the goodness of its heart. It must, therefore, have some ulterior motive, they contended, and they sought to elicit from me what such a motive might be. A heated debate went on for some time before the principal finally rescued me and thanked me for the knowledge I had imparted.
Two important national holidays in India were Republic Day and Independence Day. The former was celebrated on January 25 by a large military parade stretching a couple of miles along a vista between the former Viceroy's Palace, now the Presidential Palace, and India Gate, the latter arching over the road just before the traffic pattern bends around a large circle. We official Americans, along with our families, were given a section of bleachers along the the parade route. Bands played. There were military units of all kinds and floats from every Indian state. Before the parade came to an end, an air force formation flew overhead.
Afterward, a reception was held at the Presidential Palace. Sometimes I attended and mingled, mainly in the palace gardens, with diplomats from various countries. On the first occasion, I managed to get very close to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who seemed to have a big smile for everyone. At one point I found myself in a small room. Mr. Nehru entered, noted that I was alone, bestowed his broad smile on me, and then backed out with a gracious bow.
Independence Day was held August 15 of each year. A large crowd congregated on chairs in the spacious grounds outside the Red Fort in Old Delhi, while the prime minister and his cabinet and other prominent officers sat above us on the ramparts. On one such occasion, as the prime minister rose to speak he was visibly overwhelmed by his anger at one of the ministers seated behind him. He turned and shook his fingers quite vigorously in the minister's face for a couple of minutes. Then, recovering, he sprinted to the dais and gave his audience a most engaging smile before proceeding with his speech. One thing I recall about Mr. Nehru's speech is that he didn't speak pure Hindi as taught in school. He spoke Hindustani, the dialect common to the United Provinces, his home.
Did the prime minister really have a temper? I'll say he did. I again witnessed it when Martha Graham brought her dance troupe to New Delhi. I sat in the first row of the theater's balcony where I could see the whole main floor spread out before me. Halfway back from the stage was a large open space between seats. In the first row behind the gap sat Jawaharlal Nehru and Lady Mountbatten, along with what I assumed were aides and security guards.
Before intermission, a loud public announcement was made to the effect that the prime minister wished to go back stage to pay his respects to Martha Graham. This was meant to caution everyone to stand while the Prime Minister made his way to the stage. But Mr. Nehru immediately -- and unexpectedly -- flew into a violent rage. He jumped up, twisted in the air, and shouted at the top of his lungs that he hadn't wanted this attention! Lady Mountbatten pulled on his coattails in a vain attempt to get him to sit down. His aides tried to speak to him. It took quite a while before he calmed down.
A young American man making a valiant effort to get around the world on $80 stayed at my house for a few days and managed somehow to secure an appointment to meet Nehru in his office. Upon meeting the prime minister, the young American remarked to him that, while Mr. Nehru had met many diplomats and other people of importance, he (the American visitor) thought the prime minister might enjoy meeting an ordinary man from the street. My guest reported to me later that Mr. Nehru responded by letting out a loud exclamation in the nature of a "harrumph," following which he picked up his brief case and stalked out the door. My erstwhile guest asked me, "What do you think made him do that?"
During my first year or so in New Delhi, I continued to see everywhere those same small huts I noted when first arriving. After some time, however, one could see tall smoke stacks dotting the landscape outside the city. Driving in a jeep around the countryside I learned that these were brick factories. Gradually the bricks from these factories became houses and apartment buildings -- and the city expanded outward by many miles. Those of us who had been living in Indian government housing now were able to find new housing on the open market.
Wherever I lived, I made many Indian friends and found all Indians to be friendly and hospitable. They invited us to their homes and fed us. My second trip to Hissar was taken in a car owned by friends I had met in a restaurant who wanted to show me an Indian wedding of a family member. One of these friends was the navigator of Nehru's official plane. These same people brought Christmas presents to the house every year. When traveling around the country, in my experience I found that Indians would spend much time in helping one find his way, even though they were considerably inconvenienced to do so.
I received great hospitality not only from unofficial contacts, but also from colleagues in the Indian government ministries and from our own Technical Cooperation Mission employees, either at their own homes or at places such as the Moti Mahal restaurant, a favorite place of mine. Among these latter was Tilak Malhotra, my secretary, whom we had hired when he was just eighteen years old. During Partition he had come from Pakistan as a fourteen-year-old boy atop the roof of a train. He not only was a hard worker -- I promoted him to program assistant -- but he also went to night school to get a college diploma. Many years late when I happened to be discussing him with a group of Indians, one of them interrupted to inform me that I was speaking of his boss, who had been UN Representative in Yemen.
Another friend, C.V. Narasimhan, a neighbor of mine when I was living in Indian government housing who provided me with hospitality at his house, was another example of Indians who progressed. I first knew him as the chairman of the Central Tractor Organization, later as joint secretary in the Ministry of Finance, still later as the Head of the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE), and finally as assistant secretary-general of the UN in New York during the 1960s.
This last point on the upward professional progression of Indians I had known illustrates a basic point about the times: India as a newly independent nation was going through a period of rapid change, and so assuredly were its citizens!