July 23, 1961 – Indian currency, house, servants, caste system (Anita)

July 23, 1961

Dear Naomi, Sam, Dad and whoever else reads this:

I don’t think I wrote you APO last week so I’ll sandwich this air-letter in. These forms are a good thing. They go as fast as regular mail but cost only 75 naya paise, or ¾ of a rupee – and a rupee is 21 cents, so you can figure it out from there. I’m pretty hopeless still on currency because they have two systems in use – one old and one new. The new one is very simple because it works like our dollar system. One rupee equals 100 naya paise (cents to you). But the old system – which all the shopkeepers and cab drivers hang on to even though it was supposed to have been abolished over a year ago – is based on annas. Sixteen annas equal one rupee, so when your bill is one rupee eight annas (and all the anna coins are now out of circulation), you can see what kind of mental arithmetic has to be done. Actually, one rupee eight annas is easy enough to figure out – even for a dope like me – but when it comes to three annas or seven, I’m lost.

We are finally negotiating through our agent on a house and if the lease can be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction, we’ll be moving shortly. Ugh. We picked a ground floor flat with front and back garden so that the kids could move in and out of the house without someone leading them up and down long flights of steps constantly. Ceilings here are so high that a second floor is more like a third or fourth at home in terms of how high up in the air you are. The place we’re negotiating on has a living room, dining room, three bedrooms, kitchen and pantry (one is as large as the other) and front and back verandas. The back one is screened in and will make a nice place to eat in proper weather. it’s right off the kitchen and pantry, too. It’s a pretty old place – anything here over two years old looks ancient … but after some painting and other repairs should be as nice as what anyone else around here has. All homes here are surrounded by compound walls and the only entrance is through a gate which is usually kept locked, so the children will be safe when they’re out playing. In addition, the flat is on a maidon (mall) and there would be virtually no traffic – actually on the cars of those few people who own cars in that particular mall.

Cecelia will live right on the premises in the servant quarters to the rear of the property. And before I get settled and can move in, I have to select a cook-bearer and sweeper. The former will manipulate the kerosene stove and do our cooking and light-housework. The latter will wash the floors with disinfectant twice a day – all the floors – and do all the other housework. Oh, I forgot, the cook-bearer has to do all the marketing (on his bicycle) and the sweeper will have as part of his duties the carrying of messages since we’ll be without a phone for a while after we move in. I’m used to that by now since the one at the hotel here works only about 1/3 of the time. The cook-bearer, because of his caste, will do no heavy housework; and the sweeper (originally all the sweepers were untouchables – I still cant distinguish them from other Indians) is not supposed to touch any food. It’s a might crazy system, I can tell you, but without someone to do your food shopping for you, you’d go pretty hungry. By the way, bread has to be baked daily, too, since none is sold here. We’ll be making our own ice cream, too, with one of those hand-crank jobs.

The landlord will be living in the flat above us. He’s had other American families before and seems quite tolerant of our strange customs. He’s retired and lives there with his wife alone, supposedly; but with Indians you never know how many brothers, sisters and other relatives may visit for an indefinite stay. He seems nice enough and is very proud of his banana and grapefruit trees which are growing in the back garden. He will not use this garden at all. According to some unwritten law here, the people on the ground floor have the exclusive rights to the garden; and the people upstairs have the roof. All flats have a roof which many people fix up with small flower-box gardens, patio furniture and all the rest. With our two active youngsters, we finally decided against an upper floor with roof garden.

Everyone is well as of the moment. Gene is still crushed by the news Val wrote about Sheila (his secretary) getting married and quitting before the summer is over – especially after she had promised that even if she did get married, she’d stay on the job until we got back. I hope they find a good replacement for her soon and that Val won’t have too much chaos on his hands when he takes over in September. I wonder now if she ever got out my two six-page letters to all of you. Have a feeling that they may have arrived while she was on vacation and that they’re still sitting in the Audio-Visual Center at Temple.

We heard from Val that Linda is doing a wonderful job at camp and that Richard is very happy. You must be enjoying the leisure this gives you. I hope you can make the most of it.

If I don’t write for a while, it will be because I’m up to my ears in moving, getting furnished via TCM and trying to work out a system whereby we get fed adequately and safely. This business of servants is a big joke. I never had so many complications to worry about before. Give our love to everyone.


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