In 1955 I was told that my father would be going on an extended visit to Europe and the US. In those days very few people from India traveled abroad . Getting into the US was particularly tough, as it was at the height of the McCarthy era.
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I remember practically crowing about his impending trip to my class-teacher, a Ms. Barry, who I think appeared suitably impressed.
On the morning of his departure, my mother and I got him a very distinctive looking shaving set ,and he was extremely thrilled with it.We saw him off at the airport . In those days visitors could go right upto the tarmac.I still have vivid memories of the Viking aircraft- a little plane with a huge underslung belly - he was traveling in, revving up just before it taxied off. I remember looking very hard and believing I could see my father through one of the Perspex covered windows of the aircraft.
At London Airport ,an old colleague of my mother’s, at that time doing her PhD at the London School of Economics ,met him. While they were waiting for his connecting flight to the US, several flights from India landed, disgorging streams of immigrants – most looked like desperately poor peasants mainly from Punjab.
Then ,as always, the Western establishment was extremely chary about taking in Indian intellectual elite – infinitely preferring to lap up , in droves , all the dross this country had to offer –as well as those smart- or fortunate- enough to inveigle their way past barriers that even an India –born microbe could never hope to penetrate.
Certainly a bizarre attitude – I suppose best summed up by the what seems to be the West’ s guiding principle in this regard : ‘…..give me your unwashed , and your unlettered multitudes …and I shall welcome them with open arms …. offer them sustenance and succour….and nurture these and their descendents ….from this time forth and forevermore..”
Father flew onto the US ,in style, by PanAm Clipper ,complete with sleeping berths. Since the aircraft lacked the range to fly all the way to New York the route included refueling stopovers at Shannon and Gander. In the US he spent time at Oakridge and Brookhaven- both of which were top secret nuclear installations. From the US he flew to Sweden and spent some time there , and was particularly impressed with all that he saw in that country. – to the point that Sweden became a word frequently heard around the house . I remember my little sister couldn’t get the word right ,and she would end up mispronouncing it.
Three months later Father suddenly returned . He brought us so many wonderful presents and clothes. I remember I got a marvelous set of Blendwell colour pencils . Both my sister and I got sets of Red Indian outfits ., which my father had bought, inspired at having seen Chief Tom Two Arrows. Thereafter ,for the next few months we had a constant stream of visitors all eager to know the details of Dad’s trip. He seemed to be in his element ,holding forth , recounting the minutest details of his trip.