- Historic Sites
Plain Tales From The Embassy
October 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 6
After lunch, I learned about security. The chief security officer is an agreeable man who speaks in a professionally hushed and conspiratorial voice. He suspects much in the way of microphones, other listening devices, and assorted bugs, but nothing, I learned on pressing this point, has ever been discovered on our premises in India. Later I talked with the head of the U.S. Information Service, a diligent but not especially imaginative man who is leaving. I made it clear that henceforth I would be setting policy. Finally, I had a chat with the service attachés. All are mature and pleasant men.
I took home to read, casually, a new bulletin on protocol about to be issued to newcomers. It is an appalling document, full of invidious references to diplomatic rank, ungrammatical and, where not insulting, stupid. Nothing could be better designed to frighten or demoralize the shy newcomer. Employees are told to consort with Hungarians only to a “limited extent” as distinct from Chinese to whom they are only to be polite. On being invited by the Iron Curtain embassies, they are to consult “classified” instructions—this is in an unclassified document. Women are told they may on certain occasions forego stockings “if legs permit.”A much more civilized version eventually appeared.
April 12—New Delhi . At five I called on the Prime Minister. I presented myself as the most amateur of diplomats. He proclaimed himself an amateur prime minister. I think that truth will not be a barrier to our association—both of us were professing a modesty no one else would find creditable. We then chatted about our respective books, Cambridge University in our respective days there, and the improvement in India, which I told him I measured by the number of bicycles. He agreed on the value of this index. He said that he had heard that the new administration was dominated by Rhodes Scholars. I said that the key positions in the world were still held by Cambridge men.…
April 14—New Delhi . At precisely ten this morning I went to the Ministry of External Affairs and began calls—at the rate of ten or fifteen minutes a man—on all the principal officers: the Secretary-General, the Foreign Secretary, the Commonwealth Secretary, the Joint Secretary, and the head of the Western Division, a unit which includes Russia, Western Europe, and the Americas. The Secretary-General, R. K. Nehru, a cousin of the Prime Minister, was the ranking officer in the Ministry of External Affairs. M. J. Desai, the Foreign Secretary, carried the major burden of day-to-day responsibility. Y. D. Gundevia, the Commonwealth Secretary, dealt extensively with Pakistan affairs. From here, the West looks smaller and more homogeneous than from Washington. Mostly the discussion was social; all had read with great approval J. F. K.’s letter on my behalf. A friendly letter of introduction and good wishes sent by the President to Nehru on my behalf which was, I may now confess, a modest tribute to my own drafting skill
Kitty is gradually or not so gradually assuming control of the household. We have not yet discovered how many people work for us. New faces appear each day, some with functions, some without. A vast throng of people pass our door, sign the book, and leave their cards. Disguised unemployment in India extends to all levels of society.
New Delhi, India April 17, 1961
Dear Mr. President:
As I once told you, I think, I propose to revive the ancient and admirable custom of an occasional letter from the envoy if not to his sovereign at least to his sovereign source of authority. Since, however, this practice could easily bitch up modern procedure (to borrow from the stately language of Metternich), I will avoid matters where I am in need of advice or action. These I will put in channels or, in high-level emergency, in a special letter. The present communications will be modestly informative and conceivably entertaining, and you can read them (or not read them) in the secure knowledge that you will neither encounter (nor miss) any crisis. If I have anything in mind it will be simply to let you see something of India and Asia and of its leaders and its problems through the eyes of your ambassador.
We have been here now for a week. I have lunched or dined with all of my senior officers, had lengthy sessions on the various embassy enterprises—politics, economics, aid, U.S.I.S., labor, science, and other—spoken to the staff, seen Nehru for a lengthy talk, called on the senior Foreign Office officials, and encountered a few of my Indian friends. Some of this is legally a bit premature, for I do not present my credentials for another day or two.