AN UNSENTIMENTAL LOOK AT INDIA2

"It looks different from New Delhi" is the standard comment with which Prime Minister Pandit Nehru greets Western visitors. Indeed it does. The gap between India and America is growing fast--and nearly all Indians, plus a good many sentimental Americans, put the blame entirely on the United States. They accuse us of failure to "understand the Eastern mind"; and they often talk a good deal about the "spiritual qualities" of the Orient and the noble character of Nehru. Rarely is there any hint that Indians might fail to understand America, or to appreciate the spiritual qualities of the West.

When I returned recently from ten strenuous weeks in India, I was convinced that misunderstanding is by no means a oneway street. As I visited universities, research institutions, and government agencies, I found myself under the constant provocation of challenging argument, misinformation, inverted racism--and a searching curiosity about America. Since I was a private visitor, with no official responsibilities, I could afford to give frank answers, which often collided head on with the established stereotypes of Indian thought.

For example, the audiences at my lectures were always startled when I reminded them that America had been drawn into World War II because an Asiatic power had attacked us. They have swallowed so much anti-colonial propaganda, which invariably casts "Europeans" in the role of aggressors, that they could hardly credit the fact of Pearl Harbor. (A minor, but curious, item of misunderstanding is the way in which Indians normally use the term "European" for all Westerners, including Americans; but it does not seem to include the Russians.) Moreover, when I pointed out the reason for Japan's attack-- the fact that America was the only consistent defender of China against Japanese aggression--my listeners often seemed to feel that I was inventing a debater's argument. The historical truth simply did not fit their preconceptions.

The remark that "it looks different from New Delhi" often is accompanied by a rather smug assumption that India has a

____________________
2
From article by Harry D. Gideonse, president of Brooklyn College. Harper's Magazine. 208: 78-9. 83. June 1954. Reprinted by permission.

-42-

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