As a widow supporting two children from infancy, Mother earned every penny we lived on. Her spending priorities were education and travel.
For years I resisted traveling abroad, preferring to work summers as a camp counselor in Maine. But then Mother asked me to accompany her to India. At age 20, my resistance crumbled.
We arrived at our bungalow in New Delhi on a hot summer day. There we were welcomed by Multoni, the head servant; his assistant, the sweeper; Christopher the cook; James the driver, and the gardener.
In back of the house was a large garden. One day while walking there I came upon a village, or so it seemed to me. The inhabitants turned out to be the families of the household staff.
Mother had been asked by the Ford Foundation to give a course on United States foreign policy to doctoral students in New Delhi. She taught in the morning. I attended her classes. We then returned to the house for lunch and a siesta during the hottest part of the day.
In the late afternoon, I enjoyed exploring New Delhi and Old Delhi: the Red Fort, government buildings, and markets, where I munched on delicious mangoes. I would return from these excursions by tonga - a horse-drawn cart - or by motorcycle, clinging for my life to the waist of a turbaned Sikh driver.
After dinner, in the relative coolness of the evening, we sat in the garden or walked to the Claridge Hotel.
Part of each week, mother and I traveled to other parts of India. James drove us to Agra and Jaipur. We took longer trips, flying to Kashmir to stay on a houseboat on Dal Lake across from the Shalimar Gardens in the shadow of the Himalayan mountains, and to Bombay to see Mother's friends. In Bombay I gazed in awe on the monumental Gateway of India, built to commemorate the 1911 visit of King George V and Queen Mary. The monsoon season was under way. Day and night, the waters of the Arabian Sea lashed the seawall.
I enjoy railroad stations. At Victoria Terminus in Bombay I jotted down in my notebook the exotic names of departing and arriving trains: the Hyderabad Express; the Firzepur Punjab Mail; the Madras Mail; the Bangalore Post; the Deccan Queen, bound for Poona.
Of her earliest trip to India, my Russian-born mother had written, "From the first moment, I felt entirely at home. For what I relived in India was my childhood experience of Russia." In India she "rediscovered those contrasts of extreme poverty and great wealth, of exciting intellectual controversy about the basic issues of existence, of the interweaving of great ideals and their as-yet-limited fulfillment, which nurtured my thinking in Russia during the fateful period 1903-1919." To Mother, it seemed only natural that Tolstoy and Gandhi shared common ideals and goals.
From my first moment, I, too, felt entirely at home in India, partial as I am to large countries, like my own, bursting with energy.
India and my city of New York share much in common. Populations differing in race, religion, language, and ways of life. Extremes of poverty and wealth. The challenge of achieving reconciliation among diverse peoples.
Bombay, like New York, has an active street life. In Bombay I have seen a wart hog walk down the center of the street with a crow sitting on its back. Even in New York, this would be an event! Children in sparkling-clean uniforms pass on their way to school. A banana seller carries large stalks of green bananas on his head. Oxen pull painted wooden carts. A boy introduces me to his pet monkey. There are sellers of spices, birds, and live fish. On these streets are spoken Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, English, Arabic, and Chinese. Outside a Hindu temple two cows are tethered. Worshippers emerging from the temple purchase a handful of grass, which they feed to the grateful cows.
Boswell wrote of Johnson that "He talked with uncommon animation of traveling into distant countries; that the mind was enlarged by it...."
India was my introduction to traveling to distant countries. The journey opened my mind to a wider world. Not once since then have I spurned the opportunity to travel. Travel is one of the great joys of my life.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society