July 16, 1961 – street scenes in Delhi and getting “work” done (Gene)

16 July, 1961

Dear Jake and Shirley,

Today makes a month’s residence for us in Delhi and it’s time for the hoary cliché about how fast the passage of time. We spent a full day in Tokyo and it’s amazing how much better we understand that city than we do Delhi. If we had passed through Delhi on similar schedule there’d have been no confusing elements here, either.

I have asked more questions than foreigners have answers for and now the job is to locate the books that deal with sociological and anthropological aspects of India and this area, in particular. Perhaps, later, I can offer some specific suggestions for work that might be undertaken here from your point-of-view. I can tell you now that there must, without question, be countless aspects to which you can apply your talents. The majority of studies on India which line the shelves of bookshops involve economics.

Delhi is certainly atypical, containing as it does some 64 embassies and a native population of 2½ million in a city planned (I am told) for half-a-million people. Scattered through the city, even in the middle of newer streets, are more than a hundred tombs of former residents. Many are lost in antiquity and remain unidentified. Others are, of course, well documented.

Still, now, we file individual vignettes, flash views of strangeness and fantasy. A hundred yards up the road from the National Institute of Audio-Visual Education, which is my primary headquarters, is a piped well that supports a thousand people who live in thatched hutments of straw and stolen brick. Men, women and children bathe, wash, drink and clean their buffalo here. Twenty yards away a teen-age girl squats on an extruding pile of excrement. Around the corner and past the Central Revenue Building 20 men are pulling a fifteen-foot high drum of industrial wire and cable. Two abreast, ten deep they are leaning into their double rope, chanting in rhythm. Other men are climbing the spokes of the drum to help move the wheels forward and as they succeed the men holding onto the giant handles in the rear are flung high in the air and slowly sink back to earth. The complex of action fuses into an incredible ballet as the drum creeps up the slight incline of the road. Past these people roll the Mercedes-Benz’s, the motor-rickshaws, the Plymouth’s, the bullock carts. At night the Rajasthani people who labor on the roads during the day just outside the apartment-hotel which is our temporary home, beat skin drums, strike bells and sing folk songs (I suppose) into the night. I haven’t yet found out if these have been recorded and translated; what is their content?

Of my work, I’ll probably write some later. There is a fundamental job of communication to be done and it would appear that whose who should be doing it would like, rather to play with crinkle-painted Americana. With power in short supply in the cities and non-existent in the rest of India (for practical purposes) education-wise, playing up TCM equipment at the NIAVE is akin to wearing falsies. The child will never draw natural nourishment. So, the job looks fascinating.

All but Ruthie have had bacillary dysentary, are well now. Anita and the kids are fine. Shirley, you’d have a ball here with paint and brush!


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