During my Junior year at West Virginia University, I felt a strong need to do something useful. A psych-soc major, I wanted real experience, not more lectures. And I wanted the challenge of trying this somewhere else in the world. I was president of the student YWCA at the time and asked the director, Harriet Shetler, to help me identify some summer programs with those opportunities. She came up with three: one in Russia, one in Finland and one in Asia, focusing on India. Well, I reasoned, I can always go to Europe when I’m old, so maybe I should go to India while I’m young. It was that silly and that simple. I applied and was selected as one of 18 students nationwide to participate in Asian Seminar 1964. The program consisted of a series of seminars at the East-West Center in Honolulu, followed by more in Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand and India. Along the way, we’d visit projects aimed at helping those in need and see some of the usual tourist spots. In India, we’d have a chance to practice what we’d learned, each teamed with an Indian student and participating in an on-going development project. It sounded like just what the West Virginia gal had ordered.
When I reviewed the journal I kept from that summer, I found that, with the exception of my response to Hawaii, the first half was filled solely with lecture notes. It was only after I got to Calcutta that I began to record additional reactions to what was happening.
June 10 Honolulu
Yeeow! It’s WONDERFUL. Went wading at Waikiki at 10 pm. Saw all the sights of the beach. Love Hawaii. Must live here someday…just for a little while. First part of day spent in Seminar Sessions: dull. Walked barefoot down the main drag with Hawaiians in muu-muus. It is so wonderful here.
July 2 Calcutta
Have decided to start a diary in desperation for something to do. The whole trip so far has been disappointing. The calibre of the programming is much below what I had expected. I’m most discouraged and hanging on with my teeth. Perhaps India will be better than Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand.
Ate dinner last night with an educated, middle class, [Indian] family. Two things impressed me: their living standard which was far below my middle class American world and their lack of trust in [the new Prime Minister Lal Bahadur] Shastri as a capable leader. Is the latter true of all Indians?
July 5 En route to Agra
This flight is unbelievable. The plane seats 48, we’re drowning in our own sweat, and I expect the pilot to announce any minute that we’ll have to start peddling.
[New Indian friend] Andi is already very westernized. I wonder if she will have problems on returning to India after grad school in the States. She’s a perfectly delightful person — an extrovert and very emphatic about the fact that she wears sleeveless tops. I do hope she can come for Xmas at our house.
The Fourth of July was horrible. Terribly homesick, not for home and family, but just for life in the States and a chance to really talk to someone. Anyway, the day cleared up (after a good crying session) when I met and had tea with some foggy Dane. He was a trade-unionist and much worn out with failure to organize the Indians, but entertaining.
The students at Calcutta were so kind, even if we couldn’t really communicate. Common possession of English is not enough. When leaving, they gave all the girls necklaces, and Andi gave me a red scarf — her favorite color and mine also. If we get many more gifts, I’ll have to throw my clothes away and go nude just to get ’em all home.
I’m afraid I’m getting awfully hardened to the conditions of India. Beggars, maimed people, filth — nothing bothers me. I see it but don’t feel it anymore. Is this for good or evil? You lose some of your humanity here. (That’s what the Dane said too.) Somehow, I know I’ll be changed after this summer. It’s been pretty hellish so far. What will the next 2 months bring?
July 6 Agra
Have just come out of a long siege of depression which lasted all through Thailand and Calcutta — all tied up with expectations of the Seminar, group morale and cooperation, a million things. Resolved it last night in the midst of a hot, muggy sleeplessness. The answer lies in love and acceptance of others, regardless of expectations. The whole concept is still hazy, but something is growing there. If we’re going to live and not merely exist, we must make of life and of the explicit situation something meaningful and lasting. Life is not a lovely fruitcake served on a silver platter by liveried servants, but a chapatti on a pottery plate to be garnished by the consumer. [In retrospect, I think I must have been referring to how food was presented to us in an upper-class home and in a poor village.] Another thought struck me today as I listened to the government guide on the bus. India’s problems, I think, will not and cannot be solved in this generation, for the adults are anachronisms in their own time. They can never fit into the India that [first Prime Minister Jawaharlal] Nehru planned and wove. They do not speak the language, they do not have the demeanor, they do not know the customs of the new India. My generation, the students, are more suited to this “experiment in democracy,” but it will require their children — or perhaps their children’s children — for success. India cannot rise from the Middle Ages in one generation, no matter how hard the leaders and the people wish it so.
July 13 Delhi
I am so tired of knowing that every bite I eat will make me sick in a few hours. I am tired of inefficiency, lack of coordination, no sense of time or schedule. I am tired of Indians saying theirs is the best country and assuming that naturally I want to become a citizen. I am tired of milky sauces, and I am tired of curry. These are petty things, but I’m tired of them all. 37 days to go.
Furthermore, I am tired of Coca Cola and tea [drinks we’d been told were safe]. I am tired of being useless. I am tired of thinking, “The next place will be better.” I am tired of superficiality and false gaiety. I am tired of stupid questions, boring visits, lack of “exchange.” Oh, I want to go home…….
July 14, 1964 Delhi
The depression comes and goes. Today is much better, perhaps thanks to another Dane who took [fellow seminar participants] Sue, Babs and me under his wing for a couple of beers. Awfully sick this morning, better this afternoon, so we’re planning to go out to dinner this evening. If they handed me a ticket, I wouldn’t go home now, but I do wish the whole thing was over. Babs and Sue feel the same way, so at least I’m not the maladjusted freak I thought might be the case. One thing is very peculiar about the whole situation. All the Europeans and Americans I’ve talked to are very much disillusioned with “the new India” but yet hopeful too. What is bad is that I find myself seeking Westerners in preference to Indians and beginning not to listen to all the grandiose plans which seem to lack practicability. In short, I’m being a small-size Ugly American, but there is something here that grabs hold of your sanity, so you think you can’t bear it another second and try all sorts of escape routes. I’m told that all Westerners experience it and the lucky ones pass through it. May I please be one of the lucky ones?
What can I write to describe the empty — or better, half-filled — rice bowl of India? They have just enough to desperately want more, but they are so impractical. A university degree is prized simply in its possession, but an appalling number of university graduates are unemployed. They emulate the West, but it’s a mere shadow of that life. India today seems “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.”
July 23 Bombay
Here, we were finally matched with Indian students and started working on projects. Mine was in slums where villagers newly arrived to work in factories were crowded into chawls, high-rise tenements with minuscule apartments, often sleeping many to a room. Our goal was to conduct a survey of the women to discover what assistance might enhance their lives. The result was a sewing project so they could earn income while at home and a kindergarten with supplementary nutrition for their young children.
It’s odd how the horses’ hooves in the street, the uplifted beggar’s hand, the darkness of the chawls are no longer strangenesses to be noticed. I’m becoming accustomed to India so that I find myself elated tonight at the prospect of the next few days. I still yearn for Aug. 20th and home, but no longer do I feel distraught and desperate that I can’t go home now. It’s taken 23 days, but at last I feel somewhat at ease in India, not quite so alien as before. How horrible to feel alien to the food, the smells, the rains — all that’s around you — every day, every night, every hour. It’s melodramatic when written, but it was truly a horror to live. I hope I never forget that feeling, though. A part of me has grown up in India, and I know my prophecy has come true. “I cannot help but be changed by this summer,” I said in May, and in July it’s true. A week ago, I said with venom, “I will never come back to India,” but now I feel perhaps I might. That short distance was a long way to come. Perhaps it’s because here we are making friends, here we are useful, here we are living. Perhaps it’s because I’m becoming accustomed to culture shock. Perhaps it’s 1000 minute things. I only know that, whatever the reason, I can now bear the 27 days until I go home, when before I was practically praying for illness as an excuse to fly back early. The food, the smells, the rains — all are the same. It must be me who’s changed.
August 5 Bangalore
Have you been to India? Yes. Have you seen India? Perhaps. What is, or who is, India? Maimed beggars, a hand burned as punishment, crowded streets, lack of social consciousness, naiveté, 1000 things, 1 thing. India is circles of problems. “The noble experiment in democracy” is failing because the people aren’t educated. They aren’t educated because there are too many to receive proper education. There are too many because of the difficulty of training the uneducated to use birth control. Beggars crawl through the streets, and children are born on sidewalks. The educated cry, “We need leaders,” not realizing that they are the leaders.
The middle-class youth of India attends classes sporadically, is indisciplined and rowdy. Why? He enters college at 16 and doesn’t know what to study. It’s not in the Hindu social structure for him to work beneath his station. His education does not develop initiative, independence, creativity, leadership. He will, of course, work in his father’s firm.
The Indian boy does not know how to treat girls. Tradition dictates no contact [outside the family]. Women, however, are being educated with men. They are ever-present and demanding (some of them) equality. And then there are those romantic foreign, slashed and censored films. The result? Frustration. Their education lacks social instruction. There are myriad circles of problems, but each is rooted in education. As long as education remains the mere instruction of subjects with an eye toward passing exams, India will remain full of beggars, street-sleepers, frustrated youth, and too many people — the noble experiment which failed.
Have you been to India. Yes. Have you seen India? Perhaps.
August 6 Bangalore
Our entire group was to have met the first Prime Minister of India, but he died in May before we arrived in July. Many Indians remarked on the coincidence of the deaths of Kennedy and Nehru only months apart and asked our views of JFK.
Who was John F. Kennedy? He was a man. He was President. He was an international figure of a stature never known before. But was he more? Perhaps. Was he less? Also perhaps. Was he a mere image, a mirage created by a clever P.R. man? Was he a charismatic leader sent to a nation grown weary of average men? He was youth, wit, culture, intelligence, hope. A speaker unmatched in appeal: “Ask not…”, “Ich bin ein Berliner…”, “the New Frontier”… He spoke and was heard by the world. And in the end, he was a flag-draped coffin carried down the Capitol steps, as “Hail to the Chief” sounded the last time — for him. He was a nation’s tears, running down shocked faces. Was he a product of the times, a curious mutation? Was he something more? Who was John F. Kennedy?
August 14 Aurangabad
So it’s a week ’til New York, and the summer is behind us. Where have I been? To Japan, Hong Kong, Bangkok, India. Exotic names….but I’ve also been through depression, defeat, discovery and hope. What do I remember? A soft-spoken boy in Tokyo, a shy girl in Kyoto who aspires to write. An Indian tailor in Hong Kong who wants out of his own personal rat race. A sophisticated young lady of 17 in Bangkok who’s matter-of-factly going to Radcliffe. Andi in Calcutta, a neurotic in India, a perfect fit in America, except for the fact that she is, and can never escape being, an Indian. A pushy hotel manager in Delhi who can’t understand why I wouldn’t want to become a citizen. Anjali in Bombay, intelligent, sensitive, eager for experience, locked in India. Suneeti, Hindu traditionalist who’s just learning of a larger world. Indian-Christian Mary, with her quiet strength and perception. Nilofer, the modern Moslem, but somehow disturbed. Pushpa, shy, quiet, a lovely smile, her family backward and naive to the point of ignorance. The Khumbattas, sophisticated, urbane, travelled Parsis. Miss Anchees and Mrs. Raj, members of the older generation who have tried, have traveled and only halfway succeeded. Rajni, joyous little plump bride to-be. Sharlini, hidden behind walls of her own building. Mr. Khan, travelled, entertaining, frustrated. The friends of the Mukerjis, refreshing surprise that makes one hope India will change to fit them. Bangalore brings the “Trojans” and their fast Anglo-Indian friends — Indian youths’ conflict personified. Madras and the young Liz Taylor on the bus — a beautiful child. Agra: our live TV show with the clever magician, skinny little man with the birds and the happy bartender.
Over Lake Geneva: Dear God, the world is sane after all.
From my Big Apple hotel room: Today I left Bombay, breakfasted in Lebanon, toured Rome in the morning, lunched over Switzerland, stopped in Paris, dined over the Atlantic and arrived in New York
August 23, 1964 Flight to Morgantown, WV
Pittsburgh…Chicago…San Francisco…Honolulu…Tokyo…Osaka…Kyoto…Hong Kong… Bangkok…Calcutta…Agra…Delhi…Bombay…Bangalore…Madras…Aurangabad…Bombay…Beirut…Rome…Paris…New York…Washington…Morgantown.
Well, it’s all over. I’ve been around the world and don’t feel much different. I know I’ve changed, but right now I don’t feel much — not even excitement to be home, just contentment.
Despite that jet-lagged first impression, I found that once I came back to WVU, I was very much changed. Having been very active on campus, I trekked through fallen leaves feeling I no longer belonged there. I resolved to develop usable skills and return to the developing world. So I picked up extra communication credits my senior year with an eye toward studying for a master’s degree in that subject and then applying to Peace Corps for field experience.
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