July 2, 1961 – more on arrival/first impressions (Gene)

Dear Herb:

We lit into Delhi on schedule at 9 pm on Sunday, the 18th of June. Although temperatures here have, on the whole, been below average as much as ten degrees, that Sunday night was furnace-like. The kids had been asleep and we’d awakened them to get off the plane and into the stickiest imaginable weather and customs procedures.

What with argumentative turbaned Sikhs with lengthy questions and forms, an officious and over-riding sari-ed woman who pushed everybody around verbally, two plane-loads of fatigued passengers, multiple stamping of passports and visas, misunderstandings, etc., the scene was out of a Grade B movie. People under U.S. contract, as I am, are not subject to duty on anything brought into the country. (Duty is payable at 75% of the original value if one sells any item in India or fails to take it out with him when he leaves.) But the joker who had me entangled insisted I had to pay duty on my camera, typewriter and record player. The fellow who met me at the airport explained the regulation on non-payment of duty and this went up and down the company street for half an hour. The upshot was that my camera was impounded, along with the other items, for non-payment of duty until I could provide a certificate of exemption from such. The fact that this was legally unnecessary to begin with didn’t hurry things up a bit. Twelve days later, and just two days ago, I finally got my stuff back, complete with voluminous documents and my four papers with my personal signature that I reluctantly had to leave with the official. For all I knew that night they were going to use those blank signed papers for murder confessions. We have to go through this again with air-freight, which is now overdue, and with sea freight which will come in a couple of months. We’re more attuned to life here now, though, and things should go more smoothly. I brought three rolls of film in with me; the rest is in air freight…I hope there’ll be no major hassle.

Delhi is an incredible collision of primitive and modern cultures. Monkeys roaming the outskirt streets, bullocks and men pulling wooden wheeled carts loaded with everything from dung chips to steel girders. Skeletal men in loincloths padding along with cars and busses dodging them. Women with asbestos capes and gloves carrying hot asphalt in carriers on their heads in 100-degree heat, and dumping it on hand-broken rocks to make new streets. In time, now that I have my camera back, there ought to be some fine shots.

Birds are in great abundance but the only field manual of worth, by Shalim Ali, has been out of print since 1956. I have seen a copy but haven’t been able to get a copy het. Have learned a few, including the Red-vented Bulbul (Kingbird-like), Red-Circled Parakeet (the other night there were more than a thousand in the garden of the apartment-hotel which is our temporary residence!), the Large Green Barbet, the Common Babbler, the common Myna (reminiscent of our starling but with wing-white like our mockingbird.)

My work is firming up and with the staggering educational task to be done there should be no dull moments in Delhi. Anita and the kids have taken everything in full stride and it looks to be a great year.

Our best to Betty and my thanks to you. Will write again later.


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