February 27, 2016

From the Ganges to the Snake River: Talk given at Friends for learning October 15, 2014

From the Ganges to the Snake River: Talk given at Friends for learning October 15, 2014
I am very humbled that so many have come to a discussion of my creative non-fiction book “From the Ganges to the Snake River.” Thank you sincerely for coming. It’s truly one of the great pleasures of a writer to have a conversation about his writings.

We all have experience of living in this area and some of you may have even traveled to India. I’d like to make this an interactive discussion so we can share our experiences together. This dialogue is not to change anything, criticize anything or make things correct – just for sharing our observations and thoughts. That is what literature is – an expression of ourselves, our observations, and our thoughts. We grow through journeys with books.

First, I’d like to reflect on two Forewords written by two Idaho State University English Department professors because this will help us increase the depth of our conversation.

Prof. Dante Cantrill wrote the Foreword of the printed book. He writes, “The practice of viewing ourselves through the eyes of others has a tradition in American letters that is almost as old as the country itself. …the image we form of ourselves is influenced by the ways other people describe us. … These literary mirrors help us measure ourselves against the ideals we think we project through our actions. If we find shortcomings in the comparison, we can usually rationalize by saying that the observer just didn’t understand the way things really work from the inside;”.

He quotes the example of Bill Bryson [The Lost Continent] who is an insider from Des Moines, Iowa and wrote “with the understanding of a local and the fascination of a foreigner.” So Prof. Cantrill asks us to examine if either of these are evident in my writing: an understanding of the local and the fascination of a foreigner.

A second point he makes is more interesting. During the 20th century, “accounts of other places, other cultures are among the most popular literary works today. From Nepal to Tuscany, virtually no region in the world is now free from such scrutiny for exotica that might interest us. Ultimately, what is behind this is the fundamental drive to satisfy our curiosity, to find interesting differences, to know more about the world. And, by the way of that, to know more about ourselves. When Margaret Mead published her landmark book, Coming of Age in Samoa, in 1928, she pointed out that we can benefit in our struggle to create a better society by learning how other societies do things in comparable situations.”

“A great irony about Mead’s study is that although the cultures she visited were long-settled and well-developed, they served her need for a “primitive” culture: one that she thought would demonstrate a simpler, more basic lifestyle than hers. It was a sort of return to “nature” to provide an alternative to our technologically customized “civilization.” In fact, as we look into it, we will find that this search for a more natural place by which to measure one’s more civilized culture has very often been the underlying attitude – even the conscious driving force, for literature about others.”

With reference to my writing, he then says, “And so it is amusing and not inappropriate to find ourselves inspected in just the same way by someone from the outside.”

I add a comment here: We all know India is ancient; its civilization has developed over several thousand years. But the depth of this knowledge often escapes us – both the Indians and the western world – that they could have a well-tested style and meaning of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, which is different from here, but could be quite valid. If it weren’t for trade and globalization, I have a feeling India would have ticked along happily without interference from the West. India’s problems had been the invasion by outsiders – by the Mughols and then by the British. When I think of Idaho from this perspective, I am not sure what Idaho has to offer – perhaps a rugged and independent spirit – that of the cowboys – and a self-drive resembling the characteristics of gold hunters. Is that what defines Idaho? In my view, the INL did not make eastern Idaho, neither did the Mormons. Eastern Idaho culture is really born out of a crossroad to somewhere else. The INL brought people from other places, but they made little dent on its culture, rather the INL outsiders adapted the culture of this area; and the Mormons did not make Idaho as they did Utah. They only extended their unquestioning lifestyle up north a little.

Eastern Idaho, only a little over a century old, may sneer at other, ancient civilizations and lifestyles as primitive, but deep down it may just be the opposite.

The second Foreword was written by Prof. Sharon Sieber for the eBook version. My wife thinks that the eBook is a better version because she edited it by taking out the Indian English in the printed version, which Prof. Cantrill had kept deliberately. Prof. Sieber is a Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature and Editor of a book published by Idaho State University Rendezvous: Forty years of History, Politics and Literature of the West. She included four chapters from the original publication in Rendevouz magazine in this collection. They are:

  • Idaho Trout Debu Majumdar (Vol.33, No.1, Fall, 1998)
  • Hunting Debu Majumdar (Vol.33, No.1, Fall, 1998)
  • Mountain River Ranch Debu Majumdar (Vol.33, No.1, Fall, 1998)
  • The Missionaries Debu Majumdar (Vol.33, No.1, Fall, 1998)

Prof. Sieber wrote her comments 12 years after Prof. Cantrill’s writing. So it is a new look at its contents. She also makes several searching and bold statements. She writes, “Sometimes it takes the perspective and point-of-view of an outsider to truly see and understand your own situation . . . to see our everyday actions as alien and our conventions as ridiculous, and ourselves as outsiders in the face of time-honored, conforming so-called tradition.”

This one is hard to grasp. I think she is asking: Can we really “see our everyday actions as alien and our conventions as ridiculous”? I can relate an incident to make Prof. Sieber’s point more apparent. My wife had a Catholic upbringing, including schooling by Catholic nuns, but our sons had no such experience. During his high school time, my wife took our oldest son to a Catholic service as part of his religious education. Looking at the prominent display of, and reverence for, the Cross, my son commented, “Why would they worship an instrument of torture?”

Think about it: a spontaneous reaction of an outsider, ” Why would they worship an instrument of torture?” Similarly, when Westerners visit a Shiva temple in India, they ask, “Why are they worshipping a stone penis?”

I will give you another example. If aliens come to the earth, destroy us and then examine our world, they will discover in each house a small room, say 6′ x 6′ or so with a 6′ x 2′ tub and a potty. Would we be very surprised or insulted if they conclude that those were our sacred places of worship and our God must have looked like a commode?

Indeed in our busy life, the bathroom is the only place of solace, a place where you are not encumbered with stress, a peaceful place to yourself for a few minutes! And you will admit that when someone calls you for something while you are there, in your quiet moments of worship, you are really annoyed!

Prof. Sieber has made a bold statement concerning an outsider’s view and we should examine the stories in my book as to what image of ourselves they bring home to us.

Then Prof. Sieber writes, “Sometimes the Idahoans’ naïve questions reveal more about themselves and their own backgrounds than they realize, such as their lack of culture, education and experience.” Ooooooh, this is a little over the top, but she quotes an example from the book to make her point. I shall read this to you. From p149 “A Place to hang your hat”:

“Everyone has a handicap of one kind or another, I have mine and they have theirs. There are so few blacks in Idaho Falls, I wondered if they felt they lived in a foreign country. My black friend, Dr. Donna Johnston, the anesthesiologist, told me she was often asked in supermarkets and department stores how she liked this country. People were always surprised she didn’t have an accent. How could she? Her family history went back 200 years in America, while the families of those who asked her these questions came only in the early 1900s.

‘Weren’t you insulted?’ I asked her.

‘No. It was their ignorance, not mine.’ She smiled warmly at me.

‘Foreigner’ is really a concept, I thought, of how you feel and how you are viewed. These two are somewhat connected, but the connection can be severed. The more self-esteem one has, like Donna, the easier it is to overcome how you look or are viewed by others. I was certain Donna would fit in any part of the world. She was truly a global citizen.”

Dr. Donna Johnston, who really was Dr. Debra Jenkins, did not know that I was mentioning her in the book. Some of you may know her. She worked at the EIRMC for several years. I can reveal her identity now because she told me that I could have used her real name.

Prof. Sieber has endorsed an idea I expressed in the book – the idea of “Global Citizens.” She writes on “the need for individual value fulfillment and education within the context of work so that we might take up our position as global citizens of the world, in which we have the knowledge and wisdom to pick and choose our histories, our interests and our loves, and not the ones given to us by blood, nationality or ancestry. . . our heritage is a legacy for everyone, as our cultures co-exist simultaneously and exist as an invitation to a greater understanding of humanity within a greater context of knowledge integration.”

This is a complex idea she is espousing. Only way I can relate to what she is talking about is by reading a relevant page from my book. Page 157, “A Place to Hang your Hat”:

“Everyone feels foreign sometimes; it may not be due to the language, physical appearance, or the accent, but to estranged circumstances, situations where one feels unaccepted, contact with old friends who have grown in different ways, or the deaths of beloved ones. Sometimes, I feel that way too.

My consolation is that a new class is emerging in the world-an educated class-which has gone beyond regional boundaries, and finds more commonality among themselves than among their closer neighbors. They are well read and have common visions and aspirations. This is global citizenship. They may never leave their home countries, but they would feel more at ease with each other than with their own countrymen. I wish I belonged to this global village, to the new generations of boundary-less, knowledge-hungry men and women growing up in all parts of the world.”

Finally, Prof. Sieber found something hidden in my writings that bio-diversity and cultural diversity “may be vital for the long-term survival of humanity; and that the conservation of indigenous cultures may be as important to humankind as the conservation of species and ecosystems is to life in general”.

I leave this up to you to ponder over: how important is bio and cultural diversity.

Those are the comments of English professors.

Now my turn: Let truth be told! I did not write these essays with any deep objective in mind. I simply wrote what I found or felt. That’s all. I had no thoughts of subtle observations, societal implications, and contributions to literature. I only wanted to write what I saw as well as record the thoughts that came to my mind. One thing I did though as best as I could: I let the narrator remain an innocent foreigner, and I didn’t hold back, thinking what my friends and neighbors would think of me if I write what is in my mind. I was writing something that would be literarily worth while, but whether these writings became literature or not are for the readers to judge.

I shall address some questions that most of my readers ask. Then we will have our dialogue on the subjects covered in the book. If we have time left, I’d like to talk about the current situation in India.

1. My life is a little bit of a fairy tale. I am not the one who loved words from age one and started writing stories from childhood. If a person grew up in India, especially in the late 50s and early 60s – post partition of India and consequent Hindu-Muslim riots, that would not normally happen. You couldn’t afford to nourish your right brain. Adults would tell us, “Do you want to starve when you grow up?” Starving stories of painters and writers are romantic but not appreciated in India if a family has any brains. You would like to read about those famous people’s lives only when the artists are dead.

And, especially, if you find yourself liking math and you can solve geometry problems, you quickly suppress your right brain. You go to science. If you are one of the best, you go to physics. Then whatever artistic inclination you had, you obliterate those impulses and study only science – nothing else. That’s what I did.

But life is stranger than fiction. When I came to Philadelphia for graduate studies in physics, 50 years ago, those suppressed desires showed up. The fight between the right brain and left brain became prominent and my right brain started to get the upper hand. I started writing short stories. The first story I wrote was about an old, lonely woman in a retirement home. A foreign student gave her some company and she died in peace. I guess this was a reflection of my discovery of sadness in affluent America.

I stopped writing again because of the nagging concern of finding my professional place. I had more important things to do: I must get degrees, and strive for the most respectable job possible! Where was the time for nurturing expressions of sensibility? Art? That can wait.

I went on to become a physicist.

Then came the realities of getting a job and settling down. And I got married. So there go again the artistic feelings. Twenty more years passed by! I didn’t touch a dictionary during these years. I didn’t have to – scientific writing didn’t need one.

But somehow, somewhere within me, the idea was alive – that non-rational thought and a contradiction to science. There must have been a constant fight within me between the emotional part and the logical part. Unconsciously, the struggle between my left-brain and my right brain had continued for several decades. I put my outside energy to studying science, writing scientific papers, but my inside kept on brewing.

Until I came to Idaho. Then I decided to be a writer and thought that I had studied for two decades to become a physicist, I must devote at least a decade to be a writer. I started to take literature courses and read classic novels.

Beginning writing is usually – autobiographical. Mine is no exception. I love reading travelogues and wanted to write about a journey we made to the glacial source of the Ganges River in India.

Then I discovered an amazing truth about writing. I thought I’d write about the tribulations of the journey and what the group found. I even wove a romantic story through the journey. I wrote a couple of hundred pages. Then I realized I was writing about other people – their thoughts and emotions, but I was not willing to reveal anything about me. I suppressed what was going thru my mind. Why should I tell the world my inner thoughts? I wanted to be an observer with a telescope in my hand piercing into the heart and mind of others. I was hiding myself in this sacred journey. So guess what happened? The writing was no good. I recognized that myself. The reader could certainly feel it. The lesson I learned is that a writer, actually all artists, must make him or herself free. If you think, ‘I shouldn’t write this because of what my neighbor or my mother or my daughter would think of me,’ then you can never be a good writer. Like one cannot be a good psychologist if one is not willing first to spill one’s own guts. One must have the boldness to write what is within one – without reservation, without inhibition, and to see things as one finds them, not as they should be.

Then I started to write about my experience in Idaho. That became the book “From the Ganges to the Snake River,” from a river in India to a river in Idaho, from one culture to another culture. This allowed me to discover Idaho and interweave Indian culture with Idaho reality, and shuttle between the past and the present.

2. I will first read from the Acknowledgment page of the book. “In a non-fiction class, English 324, we were reading essays by E. B. White. White had lived in New York City for many years and had written a wonderful essay about the city. I wondered what he would have written about Idaho Falls and about the locals if he lived here. I wrote up a short article about my first experience of an Idaho winter and gave it to the professor. I had no ulterior motive. He said, ‘It’s nice,’ and I gave him another. He said, ‘Write what comes from your soul.’ So I kept on writing.”

Three other thoughts were in my mind when I was writing these articles.

When I left Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, NY where I had a tenured position, my friends thought that I had given up on contributing to science research and had accepted defeat in life, and went away to Idaho where I could just be a recluse. None of my friends could imagine going to Idaho. The place did not exist in their mind and in their vocabulary. Indeed some of my friends in the East and the West Coast wondered why I settled in Idaho. My wife truly thought that we would only be here for a couple of years. But the ease and convenience of living here and the beauty of the place lull you. After staying in Idaho for a few years, I thought that I’d like to tell my friends who were far away from of Idaho about this place. Idaho is different, very different from New York and California; Idaho has a different rhythm, a soul of its own. But outsiders don’t know this. This is one reason why I wanted to write, to express what Idaho is, how the Idahoans are. In my mind it really was and, still is, that this book is “in appreciation of Idaho.”

Secondly, I always thought that my writings were meant to be read in a reflective mode; the purpose was not to keep you entertained with a funny tale. They are to take you back to your own memories, to your past, and to reflect along with me: you remember how hard the winter was, but life went on the same; what fishing is all about, how we celebrate 4th of July, how people live in Idaho. And if you haven’t seen a Pinewood Derby competition, read what grownup men do in the name of their sons. Then you will find how outsiders are treated in Idaho, how an East Indian girl wants to assimilate in the community, and learns to appreciate her heritage only when she grows up. Years later, I hope, people will look back to this book and remember how life in Idaho was in the 1980s.

That was the other thought in my mind that someday, many years from now, when someone might do sociological research on eastern Idaho, he or she would read this book and find information about how this area was, especially about the people here during the late 1980 to early 1990s. So in a sense I was recording the culture of this area during this time.

3. When I was writing these essays, I used to get up early in the morning like in the movie of Doctor Zhivago, turn on the music and write. Ideas will flow into my mind. I had no dearth of ideas to write about. Everything was interesting whether it was a hike or a float trip. During this writing I realized that each life is a story. Everyone has many stories to tell. The stories are all around me. However, being a beginning writer, the ideas came from my own experience, my own life. Then I found that to be complete, I had to address some topics even though people avoid those, namely the sad state of affairs of the Native Americans and the business of the Mormon Missionaries. Otherwise I would not be an objective writer. I have only one regret – that I could not write an article about Potatoes because I did not have any acquaintance with a potato farmer and hence no real experience. My experience was all from the outside.

There are three primary categories of observations in this book:

A. simple portraits of ordinary daily lives

Idaho Winter, Trout Fishing, 4th of July, Hunting

B. Southeast Idaho culture, trying to understand the people

Mountain River Ranch, The Missionaries, Be Crazy about, Pollywog Pond

C. Reflections of and comparison of life in Idaho and India (and about myself)

An excursion on the River, A Place to Hang your Hat, Oh Calcutta

4. As I have already said, I didn’t consciously think of developing a picture of Eastern Idaho. I simply wrote my observations. Now reading these articles, I see that there are seven themes expressed in the book: A. Scenic place; B. Independent-minded people; C. Outdoor-loving people; D. Risk-taking behavior of Idahoans; E. Immense love for horses; F. Happy in their own life style and lack of interest in expanding knowledge base; and G. A wish to remain unencumbered by outsiders.

I shall read some from my writings to see this. (I have included more excerpts from the book than what I read at the Talk.)

A. Idaho is a scenic place

I did not discuss this during the Talk. But I quote here some from the book:

First Idaho Winter, Page 1: The book opens with an encounter with a mundane snow storm in east Idaho, which I thought an extra-ordinary event.

“Along the road to South Boulevard there were no people. Snow-covered pickup trucks in driveways stood as symbols of the stand-still town. The smell of burning wood filled the air. Black-gray smoke rose almost straight up from the tops of chimneys, and the neighborhood looked stationary and as picturesque as a painting by Grandma Moses.

A man, without gloves, was shoveling his driveway, and I wondered how he was going to drive on the road even if he did clear his driveway.” …

“I looked toward the southeast and saw the most wondrous sight in Idaho Falls-a row of sparkling white mountains against the sky. They rose like the Himalayan ranges one sees from far away. I remembered my first experience of the Himalayas from my aunt’s house in the planes of Siliguri, below Darjeeling. I stood and gazed at them for a long time: ‘What a beautiful place, and we are going to live here.'” …

“When I reached our office parking lot there were piles of snow on it, but there were also cars parked there. Some of these seemed to have a ton of snow on top of them. I was surprised to see so many cars in the parking lot. Since I worked for the federal government, I knew the security people would be there, and I thought I’d go inside and say hello to them.

As I entered the building I saw the guards in the lobby, chatting as usual. The building was warm, and I saw my coworker, Armando, coming down the stairs.

‘Hey! What are you doing here today?’ I shouted at him.

He looked at me puzzled. ‘Why? Aren’t you at work?’

‘What? Isn’t it a snow day today?’

‘Heavens,’ he said. ‘This is nothing! Wait till January, then you’ll see snow.’

Flabbergasted, I went upstairs and found everyone at their desks-a most normal day at the office.”

And that was my first discovery of Idaho!

Hunting, Page 58:

“I have taken many of my friends and family members to Yellowstone National Park, Jackson Hole, Craters of the Moon, and many other places, and have impressed them with many wonders of nature, but I was certain there was nothing that could surpass what Dwight and I experienced during the hunting trip.

Mountain River Ranch, Page 61:

“As we stepped outside, perfect late September weather greeted us. A silent, clear blue sky. Michael and Sherry gazed at the World War II airplane hanging over the few cars in the parking lot. Their eyes then shifted to the horizon. The mountain ranges shone in the distance, crisply reflected by the noon rays of the sun.

“What scenery!” Sherry exclaimed. “Haven’t we come to the right place for our vacation?”

B. Idahoans are independent-minded people

They have the Pioneer spirit. This is evident from the style of the old houses all around us – they made those houses without concern of other houses in the neighborhood, but what they liked or could afford to build. They are tough and show that in their living: work out in the snows without gloves or heavy coats on; children go around in T-shirts even if it is below freezing weather, go on skiing in a severe weather, and they would certainly go alone far away to a remote place for fishing, hunting or backpacking where if an animal jumps on them or anything happens to them, no one could easily know.

The Independence Day celebration is an example of their independent spirit. The 4th of July parade has not changed at all in the last 30 years! Coming from New York, the 4th of July celebration in 1981 was hilarious to me. I wanted to see some floats, not horses, politicians seating in borrowed cars and trucks with religious signs. I finally realized the feelings and happiness expressed through the simple things they do.

Fourth of July, Page 26:

I wrote, “Willis was so cheerful. I wondered with some sadness if I could ever experience the true feelings of the day as these people did; perhaps they couldn’t be generated unless one was born here.”

Fourth of July, Page 36-37:

“Far away from the two coasts and the big cities, I had a serene feeling, not felt in past celebrations. What struck me was the simplicity of life here. The celebration was not to prove a point or outdo others, but to let go and celebrate the freedom we have. Like the parade at Bernie’s house. A commemoration of their own – a simple celebration away from the tense, busy lives that rule urban dwellers.

Coming here was a break, a breadth of fresh air.”

Hunting, P 47:

Independence and the hunting spirit goes into your blood if you are born here. Even for some women.

“I was out scouting with my nephew last weekend,” my fifty-seven-year-old secretary, Gladys, told me.

“You go hunting?” I was so surprised. She was on the heavy side with silver streaks in her hair. She wore fancy glasses and I could not imagine her hunting. I knew she liked fishing, but hunting?

“Sure. I’ve done it all my life. I love to get out in the dark, predawn hours. By the time we reach our hunting area, the sun is up. It’s wonderful.”

She smiled. The impression of the last weekend’s expedition was clearly reflected in her expression.

“Did you kill any?” I asked.

“No. We didn’t find any. But I had a great time.”

“Gladys, do you own a gun?”

“I don’t shoot animals. I just go for fun. If my nephew kills one, I help clean it and carry it to the car.”

Her round face beamed, and I could see the pleasure she had in hunting. Gladys never married and I wondered if this was her way of remaining active and in touch with family members. This was remarkable. Often older people are left out or left at home to watch TV. How marvelous it was that she did not yield to the typical, mundane pattern of life. Is this possible only in this area where the pioneering spirit still exists?

C. Outdoor loving people

It is all about the great outdoors here. Backpacking, hunting and fishing are traditions. They are active people and learn early to depend on themselves. Enjoy life by actions, by doing things – not staying home and looking internally. Idahoans particularly love: fishing and hunting.

I wrote Idaho Trout for two reasons: I truly wanted to write what fishing is all about it and wanted to depict the true but humorous side of the fishermen. They all love fishing, but their fishing places are secrets. And they only talk about the great fish they caught, not about the days they just spent drinking beer and getting no bite.

Idaho Trout, Page 13:

If anyone takes you fishing, don’t be surprised if you are told, “You have to promise that you won’t tell anyone about my fishing place. It’s a secret. I’ll kill you if you tell anyone.”

Idaho Trout, Page 18:

“I wonder if one becomes a fisherman only by letting go of the ego; that’s when one starts to appreciate the beauty of fishing; it’s not the catching, but time spent. It is meditation. When we learn this meditation, fish come automatically. The fish curry would have to be a by-product, not the reason for fishing.”

Hunting, Page 44:

“Once I naively believed that some go away with good food and wine to spend time in the wilderness. But I was such a fool. When a man I knew brought back a mule deer, I was so surprised, I spontaneously and innocently said, ‘I thought you go away in the mountains for tranquility.’

‘This deer just strolled into our camp.’

I even believed that until all the other hunting party members all laughed.”

Hunting, Page 58 – 59: You have not heard of Jim Corbett, a very well known hunter born in India and an Indian national forest is named after him. Water comes to my eyes when I read his life – his love for fellow humans and animals. Let me read the last two paragraphs:

“Perhaps there is an element of luck in hunting. Sometimes hunters do the right things unknowingly, which are later considered luck. If one reads Jim Corbett’s books, one would find that he left very little to luck; it is all in the understanding of the animal and its world, including the animal tracks and their habits, the geography, and understanding the movement and sounds of birds and other animals in the forest, and then, it is the hunter’s determination and perseverance that bring the game home. At one point, however, Corbett expressed a belief in fate or in the right time for an animal to die. If it was not its time, it couldn’t be killed. No matter how hard a hunter tried. I wonder if this philosophy had anything to do with him being born, brought up, and living in India.

Why is hunting so important for many in Idaho even though it has become so difficult? My friends tell me it is more than machismo. Its roots go way back in history, to the time when the Indians depended on game for their food, and then to the trappers and the hunters. When white men came to settle, they came with guns and their hunting instincts. It has remained a tradition. Truly, many hunt because they hunted with their fathers when they were young. Living the first seventeen years of their lives over again. “My grandfather hunted, my father hunted, and now I hunt.” It is a father-son bonding phenomenon. But we have moved away from being hunters and farmers to a computer generation, where we prefer to sit behind the bluish glare of a screen and exercise our brains. Hunting is too difficult a game for this cerebral generation. Remnant hunters exist only in these areas; they are bound to wither away as a group. Only those few will survive who have taken it as an outing to be away from the humdrum of their daily lives, for male bonding, or simply as an excuse to be with nature.”

D. Risk-taking behavior of Idahoans

This can be seen in almost every sphere of activity – in backpacking, mountain climbing, white water rafting, skiing, in almost everything and who knows what – perhaps in feeding a bear or a bison. You never know what inspiration an Idahoan may get in the wilderness. Every year we know someone will get into trouble but they love that challenge.

Idaho Trout, Page 13:

“We went by many hills; soon I was totally lost. We passed by an isolated, dilapidated outhouse. Finally he pulled the truck over at the top of a hill and parked. He pointed down below and stated, “That’s Willow Creek.” I saw with horror that if he hadn’t put on the brakes just when he did, it could have been a disaster – a steep drop below us, only boulders scattered everywhere.”

E. Immense love for horses

Idahoans Love pets in extraordinary ways, but they don’t think of animals in the forests the same way. Their love of horses is no different from love of their children:

Be Crazy About, Page 85:

“‘I stayed up last night because Max was sick,’ Lorna told me with a sad face. She put her elbows down on the desk and held her head. Her eyes didn’t have their usual shine. The bluish glare of the computer monitor and the cluttered pile of papers on her desk told me nothing would be done today.

‘I’m worried,’ she looked up with the pensive look of an apprehensive mother. ‘Max is behaving very strangely. I haven’t seen this before. Not even with Angela when she was sick, my first daughter.’

I looked out the window. The potato field behind her office was all hard and brown. Acres and acres of fields seemed to extend to the distant mountain, cut only by log-poles for electric lines. The rows of the last planting were still visible by the lines of slightly raised soil. The land looked barren.

‘What’s the problem?’ I asked her.

‘Max didn’t eat anything last night. Before I went to bed I felt he had a temperature. He wouldn’t look at me. He stared at the wall. That got me worried because he was fine during the day. I offered him a drink, but he wouldn’t take any. He acted worse and worse as the night went on.’

‘Did he eat anything unusual?’

‘He’s on a strict diet, you know. Unless he has picked up something from the garden.’

‘So many things to worry about. You look very tired. Why don’t you go home and take care of him?’

‘I have to make an appointment. He is sick but the symptoms aren’t clear yet. Jenny’s looking after him this morning. I’ll see.’

Lorna’s wheat blonde hair was not neatly combed today, and dark shadows curved beneath her eyes. She looked at the pile of mail on her desk, but her mind was not at work. How could it be? Max was only six months old.”

I purposely wrote in a way that you don’t know if she is talking about a horse or her son!

Be Crazy About, Page 87:

“There is an unspoken mystery of owning a horse. I have heard different reasons. Mostly, I heard, ‘We enjoy riding the trails you can’t hike to.’ But I saw them going only a few days during the year at best! ‘Do they do all this work just for a few days of riding in the woods?’ I had asked myself.

Some said they loved the graceful shape of the animal, especially when they run: ‘I can watch for hours when my horse runs along the fence. What powerful muscles! How smoothly it moves through the air.’

Some would say, ‘It’s for my daughter,’ and would not explain any further.

Some would give me a blank stare and say no more, implying, ‘How could you be so stupid to ask this?'”

F. People are happy in their own life styles

A different character of some Idaho men come through the Pinewood Derby, an activity, really a competition, made to develop and bond between fathers and sons.

Pollywog Pond, Page 124:

“This was our first experience with the event. There were so many cars on the table, and many of those looked truly marvelous, like miniature models of real cars. The dads hovered in groups and discussed finer details of building these cars. The weight must be in the front, but in a balanced way so that it does not topple, and the shape was very important for aerodynamics reasons. The most important of all were the wheels. I gathered that some of them had turned the wheels on a lathe machine to make them perfectly smooth. Any little friction would take away its speed. I was overwhelmed with the knowledge they had and felt very inadequate. I wondered if it was really a project for the dads, and the boys were only an excuse.

The competition started and the dads became silent. One by one the cars were brought, the name of the boy who made it was announced, and his car was run on the ramp. One official recorded the time each car took for the course. The dads watched intently.

The wheel of one car came off, just as it had happened to our car during the trial run. The father’s face became grim, and I could share his embarrassment. He took the broken pieces from his son and walked out of the room. I started to pray that it wouldn’t happen to Rajeev’s car. When Rajeev’s turn came and the car was placed on top of the ramp, I held my breath and Rajeev’s hand. We both watched as it nicely came down in one piece. Its timing was not great, but I was elated that it completed the run without breaking down. One official of the tournament looked at the car with much curiosity and placed it on a separate table.

Now that ours was done, I relaxed and watched the race. Some of the boys were playing outside in the corridor, and a few stood at the back of the bleachers. They were not concerned about the races. When Andy’s car from our troop came down the slope, it performed marvelously, the fastest car so far, and his dad raised his hands up in the air shouting, ‘Yes.’

I saw that Andy was not watching the race; he was on top of the bleachers looking out toward another boy. His dad and Larry shook hands with pride.

. . . The first prize went to a boy from another troop, whose father, I understood, was a machinist at the federal laboratory. They received a long ovation from everyone. The second prize went to a boy from Rexburg, and Andy won third prize. He came down from the bleachers, took the prize and gave it to his dad. His dad kissed the car and hugged him, ‘Didn’t we do great this year?’

‘Yes, Dad.’ He walked away to play with his buddies.”

There is a lack of deep-rooted desire for expanding their knowledge base, since so far they haven’t had to. Emphasis and appreciation of practical knowledge is more important than educational knowledge and quest for open-minded questions. I am perhaps commenting a little more than what is written in the book. In many cases educational knowledge is denigrated. Some did not want their kids to ‘get above them.’ Keep in mind there are more than just INL scientists and engineers out there. People often think their children’s education is ‘up to them’ and don’t think it is important for the family to push for this. The need for an education to get ahead is obvious to everyone that cared to look – but here – it is as if this is Shangrila and no one looks over the mountains to see what is out there – how the world is changing and how they may be affected.

G. Wish to remain unencumbered by outsiders

Foreigners and even Californians who bring different cultures are tolerated but not accepted with open arms.

I shall read a few pieces about the attitude and you decide what they show.

A Place to Hang your Hats, Page 144:

“I lingered in the backyard, thinking of an incident that had happened last month at the Safeway on 17th Street. I had been at the fish counter.

“Mama, Mama, look at the man,” I heard the young voice of a boy talking to his mother and pointing at me. “Is he Black, Mommy?”

My eyebrows came together for a second. The boy’s shiny, golden blond hair glistened in the intense, white light of the supermarket.

“No. He is a foreigner. Now be quiet.” The mother tried to pull him away, but he continued looking at me with wide eyes.

“Why is a foreigner here, Mommy?”

“I don’t know. You ask too many questions.”

When I passed by the boy, I smiled and said, “Hi.”

“Where are you from?” He asked me.

“I’m from India.”

“Oh. How long will you stay here?”

He was not smiling, and the clear blue eyes stared at me. The innocence of children can’t be beat. He knew well I didn’t belong here. The only question was how long would I be visiting this place, his country.

I had been in the U.S. for twenty-five years and was a citizen, but where was truly my home?

“I don’t know,” I told him.

A Place to Hang your Hats, Page 150:

“I thought of the program we had had at University Place. It was Black History Day and our office had invited several people to speak for a celebration of diversity. The Mayor of Idaho Falls was one of them, but he didn’t come and had sent a councilman in his place. The speakers sat on the stage, and I could see the councilman was bored and shifted his legs often. When his turn came, he jumped up and gave his speech. He said that it was good to have us in Idaho Falls. ‘Enjoy our town while you are here.’ In other words, ‘Don’t forget you are a visitor here, not a part of the community.’ During the question-and-answer dialogue he was not there. I had seen him sneaking away by the back door as soon as his speech was finished. He did his part, as required; why hang around any longer?”

A Place to Hang your Hats, Page 150:

“One day I was downtown and went to the bank there. I usually bank in the small branch near my office where everybody knew me. It was lunchtime and the line was long.

“I want to take $100 from my account,” I told the teller and gave her my account number. She looked at me-a young girl in her early twenties with beautiful blue eyes.

“Your Social Security number?”

I told her.

“Do you have any identification with you?”

No one asked me this at the branch office, but I showed her my driver’s license. She examined it carefully. She gave me the cash. I then asked her if she asked these questions to all.

“Yes. Our bank requires this.”

“I’m glad you are protecting our money,” I said in a serious tone, “but you didn’t do that for the people ahead of me.” Sometimes I get annoyed. “Next time if you do this to one, do it to all.”

She stared at me silently, and I left. This was nothing new for me and I didn’t blame her. When you are foreign-looking and settle in a place, you learn to accept certain local responses. I should blame the situation. But why did I have to face this so often while the others around me didn’t have to?

However, I knew it was a normal reaction to a foreign-looking person in any place, not just here. Outward appearances define us. I thought Stephen Spielberg and several other film directors were courageously breaking this barrier. They purposely made Yoda very short and ugly with big ears. E.T. looked hideous. Only children could see through their outer appearances and perceive their true identity. Just because they looked different they weren’t unintelligent, unethical, and uncivilized. I admired Spielberg’s vision. But changes are slow to come.

I’ll always be considered a foreigner in this country. I look different, I speak with an accent, and I have finally realized I also think differently. The first seventeen years of one’s upbringing can’t be thrown away easily! My younger son once told my wife, “Mommy, I don’t know why people say Daddy has an accent. I don’t hear it.”

Perhaps the trick is to get close enough, then the differences are not seen anymore. One can see the “inner you,” not the “external you.”

A Place to Hang your Hats, Page 151:

“Sometimes I see a similarity between us and physically handicapped people-they are soul-mates in a world that the ordinary, the normal wouldn’t understand. We know how people react to our presence. Perhaps a more poignant comparison is with a fat, young woman. She can do everything normally, but she must behave in a certain way to be accepted in society. She must be a little nicer, more humorous, and sympathetic to others. If she is sloppy, argumentative, and dresses badly, the response of other people is more negative. She is like a foreigner in her own country.

What really is a foreigner? No one is born a foreigner and no one feels like a foreigner inside. The first twenty-three years of my life, I was just like everyone around me, but circumstances led me to live in a different country. I know foreignness has nothing to do with where one is born. It is, as my friend Donna says, how at ease one feels in a place. Although the hankerings to go back to one’s childhood, to those familiar sights, sounds, and events, will always be there when one lives in a different place, I submit that it’s not the land which makes one feel foreign. It’s not a place but something within oneself, an inborn thing.”

Oh, Calcutta, Page 161:

“Then he gazed at me for a few seconds, almost absent-mindedly, and said, ‘It was okay for me as an adventure, but I can’t live there. It’s so different. I wonder how the few Indians I see here do. They have a decent living, economically secured, you know what I mean, but totally cut off from their social framework.’

Startled, I looked at his penetrating eyes.

. . .

The two cities are on opposite sides of the globe, the only obvious similarity being that a river runs through each city. The river, the mother of civilization, molds character, but how differently the two cities have evolved. The Snake River nurtures a fishing, hunting outdoor life, a love for nature and a spirit of freedom, and the Ganges nurtures a calm, spiritual life. One lies in the mountains at 4,700 feet above sea level and the other at an elevation of thirty feet. One is essentially land-locked, and the other connected by sea to the world. Idaho Falls didn’t exist when 300-year-old Calcutta was at the center of international trade. One is still a small town in the Old West, and the other is trying to catch up with the modern West. Globalization is imminent with satellites, television, and internet, but will they ever catch up with each other?

Two distinct cultures, histories, and living styles exist in the two locations. Could I truly reflect on the fur traders, miners, and the American Indians who made what Idaho is today, or describe adequately the aspirations of the people who live here now? Similarly, could I truly answer Mr. Anderson’s query? How does a first generation Eastern Indian feel about living in Idaho?”

Oh, Calcutta, Page 175:

“Once, after a few drinks in a party, I asked my East Coast friend, Jerry, what he missed most in Idaho Falls. Perhaps there was a melancholy tone in my voice, an expression of regret, a regret for leaving Calcutta, the place of my youth, forever.

His eyebrows came together for a moment as if I had asked a very wrong question. He glanced at the wall for a few seconds and then said quite seriously, “Most people I know are too busy living a good life. They aren’t interested in anything else.”

“You mean people here are not academically interested?” I perked up. “Show no curiosity beyond this region?”

“I think they are afraid to. It’s not that they lack the intellect, but there is something that stops them. So many blank faces I see. Anything different simply passes by without any concern. If I start a conversation of any substance, I get empty stares. I miss the diversity, you know the kind that exists in a college town.”

Jerry was serious, but I said light-heartedly, “I thought it’s that way by design. No confrontations allowed. A questioning mind? Big trouble here.”

“Perhaps a happy living is contradictory to an expanding horizon,” I said. “You know what happened to Gautama Buddha. He was kept within the palace, protected from the outside world. He was happy until he stepped out and saw the real world. He then had no other choice but to get out.”

“The outside world exists,” Jerry asserted, perhaps a little annoyed, “we cannot deny it even if many would like to in Idaho.”

I thought of the writers’ group that I went to occasionally, which Jerry didn’t know about. The first time I went there I went with a nervous heart, but they accepted me easily. The group consisted mostly of older men and women, who read each other’s writings, criticizing in a supportive way. I was excited because writers were the souls of a region, people who understood the society and still dared to think differently and question. After several sittings, I felt I must read something, otherwise I’d not be considered a member. So I read a few pages from my journey to the source of the Ganges River. There was silence during my reading. The first comment was, “I like it, I like its foreign flavor.” A lot of good comments came down how I should make it more tight. There were many queries about my travel. I was happy, they accepted my subject.

As I sat down, the woman next to me asked in a whisper, “Who is Brahma?”

I looked at her pleasant, round face, slightly wrinkled with age, and found her sincere. She was one of the leaders of this group. Should I tell her about the creative force of the universe, symbolized in Brahma, the creator? But I simply told her, “Brahma is the Indian word for God.”

“Oh.” She handed me back the few pages of my memoir, unmarked.

Jerry was perhaps right, as I pondered further that many writers in the group wouldn’t use any curse words, as if they didn’t exist. Even in the midst of stormy emotions, the characters keep their sanity with the language. When I asked, they simply said, “We don’t like those words.”

I understood what Jerry was talking about and said, “I know what you mean, Jerry. No foreign films. No alien thoughts. No controversies. And everything is beautiful.” My sarcasm came out from my heart.

“Life’s good here,” he replied. “Can’t complain. Good place to raise children.”

Indeed there is enough space, unspoiled nature, and a simple, good life here-safe and protected-away from unwelcome, urban disturbances. There is no identity crisis here, no apparent individual drive to be an immortal. People’s identity comes from the community. The rugged individual, the mountain man, died long ago, but many have acquired that old style of the West, “I can do it myself, I don’t need help.” Soon the style grows on individuals, and they forget there is a big world outside.”

5. First, I will tell you a little about India that it is a diverse culture, everything is complex, any generalizations will be false, and there are no simple pictures or solutions for India.

My reflections in this book are by one individual from a big city, Calcutta, in the eastern part of India. My impressions are from my Hindu upbringing. If you ask me about village life – I have the impressions of an outsider – I am a city boy. Most of the people I grew up with are educated city people.

India may come across in my writing as an ideal, dreamy land where children are happy in spite of a non-affluent upbringing and life immersed in ancient religious ideals. I left India while I was still a student. Although I was 23 years old, I didn’t live an adult life in India. Indians are not adults until they are married and have their own children! And finally, the India I have experienced and describe is changing fast in the 21st century. Soon it will become an Americanized India with an undercurrent of ancient ideals which they will find no time to think about. No more meditation in the morning and evening as we have seen our fathers did or mothers worshiped at the altar in a corner of a room everyday.

What I wrote is something like this: life is carried away in India by the strong current of society which has been going on that way for a long, long time. You are only a fleck in that current. The influence of the philosophy of karma helps them to sustain life and carry it on. There is an undercurrent that life is suffering and you cannot take your material possessions to the next life. So although they want material things, the drive for those is less. In general, people are docile, less driven and less aggressive. People make do with what they have; children are in general happy even if they don’t have fancy toys like American children, and adults follow and find solace in the ancient stories and beliefs.

Knowledge is appreciated and hence education is appreciated in India. That is why the priests are regarded highly since the Vedic time. The zeal is for knowledge, not just to earn a good living. It has always been an essence of Indian upbringing.

Parents have a defined role, which is different from here. Parents do their best to guide their children for a better future, better marriage, even at the sacrifice of their own happiness. Extended family is much more important and much more supportive than in the U.S.

The non-violence upbringing is strong – even if there are lapses, the philosophy of ahimsa dominates much of life. In the early 70’s there was much political unrest in Calcutta and a politician was assassinated. A memorial was erected on the spot mentioning the killing and ending with the words “Pity the poor assassin” – because the killer has destroyed his karma and will surely suffer for it. This is a very different point of view than what one finds in the West.

There is no regular or systematic religious education for the Hindus, no Sunday school like here, but Indians learn their religion through living, pujas at home, participating in religious festivals and through stories. These stories are: the two classics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Panchatantra animals stories, which were invented to educate a prince, the Jataka stories of the Buddha and local folk stories. Hindu Indians know by heart and follow the ideals expressed in the two classics. That is their religious education and that makes the Indians spiritual, although they do not express it much outwardly. The Ganges River plays a very significant role – she is a goddess who came down from the heaven to the earth to save the souls of a hundred princes. She and her descent form the nexus for many of the spiritual stories that are passed down by parents from generation to generation. This story is the reason why the Hindus burn their dead and throw the ashes into her water.

Cows are considered very respectfully. They are more than pets as they provide milk and work in the fields. Some consider them sacred. Hindus do not eat cows as you do not eat cats or dogs. Indians cannot afford to appreciate pets as people do here, but they love animals; pets like here are for the wealthy.

Now, I will read a few passages from the book and discuss the questions you have.

A. Indian Childhood and family

Fourth of July, Page 34:

“My childhood was a happy one just like these kids in the park, but in a different way in a very different culture. I couldn’t imagine my mother sitting on a blanket in a park, doling out food and drinks, and father playing ball with us or lighting sparklers. That was not in the culture of my upbringing. Happiness was simply growing up in a pleasant, untroubled, care-free atmosphere. My memory of my father was primarily of a man confined in the house because of his heart-ailment. How could we even think of going out on picnics? He was the provider and the protector, and mother the feeder and keeper of our health. Everything else was hidden, implied, and never expressed.”

Pollywog Pond, Page 120:

“I thought of my own father. He never did any fun activity with me, nor with any of my brothers and sisters. That was not the style. India is the old country: the father is a formidable figure, he is the head of the household, to be listened to, to be obeyed, and certainly not have fun with. He decides what is good for the children and the family. Father was distant; the only interaction with him was studying, particularly math, English, and Sanskrit. Later, I realized how gentle he was, but at a tender young age, when fathers are playing companions here, teaching their young ones sports and scouting, in India they stayed away like a great sage. Like the set path of a flowing stream, I followed what our older brothers did, and played with our own age-group children, the same games they had played for generations.”

Oh, Calcutta, Page 168:

“In India as the sun sets and birds settle noisily in nearby trees, children come home from playing. This was the rule and it had happened this way through generations. We washed our hands, faces, and feet, and sat down with our books. No long telephone calls in the evening and no TV shows; we didn’t have those. The only sound that could be heard is the sound of children reading and that of their mother’s cooking on coal-fired stoves.”

B. Indian Religious education

The Missionaries, Page 80:

“While the two missionary boys were giving me their presentation, I examined the painting on the living room wall – young Shakuntala playing a lute-like instrument to a deer. It was the scene of a hermitage. Soon the grasses and trees took shape and I found myself at the edge of a forest. A lone cottage with a dirty yellow straw roof was before me, and I could hear the rhythmic chanting of young boys. It was a rishi’s ashram. I saw small spotted deer grazing and peacocks quietly sitting under the trees. It was so peaceful. The boys lived in the ashram with their guru, obeyed him, and served him with devotion. And he taught them about life, living, and death, and the spiritual wisdom which “enables one to hear the unheard, think the unthought, and know the unknown.”

This is how boys gained knowledge in ancient India. And it was not meant for all; only those who were seriously inclined to devote their lives to study religion or those who would become priests would follow this mission. They had to go away from civilization to the wilderness and stay there until they were satisfied with the depth of their knowledge. Sometimes it took many years. The serious ones would even go on to more learned rishis or meditate on their own in their search for the truth.

To me most important is the quest-and respect-for knowledge. One must question everything and accept answers only when one is convinced of its truth. Self-searching and self-experience are the basis of my life. I looked at the two Mormon missionaries in clean shirts, suits, and shiny shoes. They had no experience of their own, and they dared go on telling others what the true faith should be.”

Oh, Calcutta, Page 169:

“Thousands of years ago when the sage, Yagyavalka, wanted to retire from family life and spend the rest of his life as a monk, he divided his belongings for his two wives so they would live well. But his wife, Maitreyi, asked him, ‘Lord, what shall I do with the wealth if it does not lead me to the ultimate knowledge of life? Give me that instead.’ The zeal for knowledge, not just a good living, has always been an essence of Indian upbringing.”

C. Role of the Ganges river

An Excursion on the River, Page 111:

“The Ganges River is sacred, but I don’t know of any story of a sacred origin for the Snake River. My Navajo friend tells me all rivers are sacred, not just the Ganges. I like that; the Snake River is as sacred as the Ganges. What would happen to South Idaho without its water? No agriculture, no cattle, just dust. The Ganges River is very sacred to the Indians because she is the free-spirited Goddess Ganga, Ma Ganga, who originated from Vishnu’s toes, and to whom all Hindus go for blessings and for salvation from this life.

Stories abound on the Ganges River. Not only a bath in her water is holy: if the bone of a dead man touches the waters of Ganga, that person will be assured of a place in heaven. And Mother Ganga accepts all with open arms, even the worst sinner, because there is good in every individual. When a Hindu dies, the most wonderful thing that can be done for him is not a great obituary column in the local paper or a funeral service with dignitaries and friends saying wonderful things about him, but taking the remains of his body to the Ganges River.

Cremation on the Ganga’s bank is so well ingrained in the Hindu religion that, when someone dies, the death announcement says the Goddess Ganga has received him – the word used is Ganga-Prapti (Ganga-received). No such religious reverence applies to the Snake River.

. . . I wondered if the Snake River is an external entity, while the Ganges is internal. The Snake River is serene, it’s beautiful, it has the youthful rhythm of a young maiden, and one can sit by it for hours and not be bored, but it does not let one go deep into one’s own soul as the Ganges does. A few free hours on the Ganges will connect you to the scenery beyond her banks, to the depth of your own life, to your ancestors, to the thousands-year-old stories, to the continuum of the human race before you; you cannot help but go to a spiritual world.”

D. Animals

Hunting, Page 46:

” I have no interest in hunting animals and never had. One grows up in India listening to, and reading stories that took place in hermitages or ashrams where deer roamed freely. Birds and animals provided harmony in these ashrams at the edge of serene forests, and the word “violence” didn’t exist. Most Indians grow up in an atmosphere of “ahinsa,” absence of malice and aversion to killing. I was no exception to this upbringing. The Jataka animal stories that children love are 2,500 years old. The famous fifth-century Sanskrit poet Kalidas’s classic novel, Sakuntala, uses animals as background to reveal the inner feelings of men and women. The docile animals serve as friends and listeners. When the sixteenth-century acclaimed singer Tansen sang, it is said that deer gathered around him to listen.

For an Indian child, animals are not just animals; they talk and provide wisdom. It is very similar to how an American child feels about his stuffed animals. The animal is his friend, and it becomes alive when no one else is around. How can one have the desire to hunt these down?

I have a hypothesis that the first seventeen years of life define (rather haunt) the rest of one’s life. How can I change suddenly just because I’m in Idaho now?

The sight of a deer reminds me of a little park in BodhGaya where Gautama Buddha achieved enlightenment, and where one can see the spotted sambar deer. They are so different from the dark brown deer we see in North America. They are beautiful yellow brown with white spots and white bellies. What long exquisite eyes they have. In the park you can see the deer grazing in the middle of resplendent, deep-blue peacocks, some with very large, green tails spread out like fans. How lovely they are and how peaceful the surroundings. I could easily go back 2,500 years and imagine these little animals crossing the knee-deep, wide Niranjana River a little behind Gautama Buddha and making their home around the Bodhi-tree where he sat and meditated. How can we shoot such gentle animals?”

E. Women’s role

Hunting, Page 47:

“This is unthinkable in India. Women do not hunt; an older woman’s role is seen more as a mother, helper, educator, and upholder of family rules and traditions. In India both boys and girls are raised with an emphasis on non-violence and an appreciation for all life-forms. It was doubly hard for women to be hunters because they were not encouraged to develop interests in outdoor or action-oriented activities. India had a female Prime Minister, which is a long way off for the U.S., but in some ways women are less free in India. I can safely say the passion for animal-hunting is not in Indian women. Since Vedic times women have been inspired to be equal to men in all areas, particularly in the mental and spiritual faculties, but not in physical efforts. Also, society dictates taking care of women, first by their fathers, and then by husbands and sons. They need not go out hunting for food. In India, where a vegetarian diet is more prevalent, game hunting is more a hobby for rich men than a necessity.”

End of Talk

About Native Americans (I didn’t talk about this, but include this here for a comparison of the two kinds of “Indians”)

Indians Across the Ocean, Page 237

“American Indians are destitute in their own land except for a little of the old pride left in them. Their final assimilation was expedited by a well-orchestrated plan by the government and the missionaries to civilize them into the Judeo-Christian culture. Perhaps there will be no American Indians left in America in 100 years. The word genocide is often used now-a-days. I wonder if “genocide” could include a situation where no blood is shed, no one is killed, but a group or a tribe is slowly wiped out. We call this “survival of the fittest.”

How different the fate of the East Indians and the American Indians has turned out to be. Both suffered in the hands of the West. The British captured India during a time when the Indian kingdoms were in disarray; the East India Company used better weaponry and more organized troops, but, more importantly, they used unethical tactics like violating treaties and double-dealing. However, the East Indians kicked the British out in the end. One reason for this is that they were very numerous and, in spite of their many different languages and customs, there was a feeling of one nation among all of them. And they weren’t as isolated as the American Indians were from diseases and the new germs from the West. The East Indians were also able to quickly learn the methods and means of the Western world. They resisted violently when their old culture was attacked. At the same time their leaders went to England to be educated. Now they have produced five Nobel Laureates, and India is a nuclear weapons country. The case is so different for the American Indians. And the reasons are many. Their fate is similar to the Aborigines of Australia. The American Indians were fewer in numbers, they were never one tribe, and they could not grasp the western methods and their modus operandi. They belonged to a truly different world.”

6. “Coming from Calcutta, where people bump heads over everything, especially over art and politics, I wonder if the arts and liberal thoughts couldn’t flourish a little more here?”

– Oh Calcutta, p 108

7. I came exactly 100 years after Senator DuBois came to Idaho in 1880 from the East coast? But am I considered an Idahoan? I don’t think so. Not at all. I will always remain a foreigner here with my different accent, different look, a different outlook and thinking pattern.

“I’ll always be considered a foreigner in this country. I look different, I speak with an accent, and I have finally realized that I also think differently. The first 17 years of one’s upbringing can’t be thrown away easily!”

– A Place to Hang your Hats, P 92

Debu Majumdar

October 15, 2014

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