- Historic Sites
Plain Tales From The Embassy
October 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 6
We were, of course, given an amiable welcome, and the radio carried in full my remarks on arrival which, faithful to the fraud of modern communications, I recorded in Beirut and never gave at all. Some fifteen or twenty pounds of garlands were laid on in a manner that must have rejoiced the local florists. Our physical arrangements are enchanting. The Residence, a onetime bungalow of the British raj, is small—only three bedrooms—and the principal wall decorations are some large gilt mirrors left behind possibly by Lord Curzon. Some of the furniture was discarded from the White House by Mrs. Warren G. Harding. But basically it is a charming house with a large loggia and a reach of thick green lawn, floral borders in violent color, and great trees that are a constant delight. The staff is of alarming size but considerable competence, and the cook, while in no danger of being stolen by you, is anxious to please. Your new man may be better on sauces but cannot touch mine in reproducing the Taj Mahal in macaroons. The new Ed Stone Chancery is even more of a delight. Some complain that it is highly unfunctional—water fountains, water gardens, and even a few ducks, but no office space. You certainly can’t please everyone.
The new chancery is located in an uninviting stretch of terrain on the edge of town which has been set aside for embassies. It is flat, dusty, and barren. The junior Americans and their Indian staff live in adjacent quarters with slight protection from sun, dust, and heat. At this time of the year it is around 90 at midday but before long it will get warm. The Russian embassy and quarters are on one side; on the other side are the British. In both compounds the youngsters splash happily in swimming pools; one was once contemplated for ours but abandoned lest it seem un-American. I have asked for the development of plans.…
The size of the total staff—300 Americans, 726 Indians—came to me rather as a shock. My preliminary impression is of well-mannered, competent, and hard-working people of good morale. From my deputy, Edward Maffitt, I have had firm and courteous guidance and good judgment in the tradition of a true professional. Past experience of the staff with ambassadors has been favorable, so it is favorably disposed toward us. We are, to be sure, expected to combine the best qualities of the Bowleses, the Coopers, and the Bunkers, but that ought to be easy. I am not quite sure where the line falls in this business between dignity and stuffiness. I shall try to combine decorum and discipline with a reasonably relaxed attitude toward rank but, of course, without descending to the raffish informality of the White House.…
Yours faithfully, JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH
April 19—New Delhi . I am finally officially an ambassador. At 8:50 yesterday morning, the chief of protocol from the Ministry of External Affairs called at the Residence, where my principal colleagues had already assembled—the military men in an exceptionally high state of polish. We rode in an open procession—motorcycle and patrol car—to the President’s palace (Rashtrapati Bhavan) at the gates of which we were met by a detachment of mounted lancers on beautifully matched bay horses. They escorted us to an open courtyard where an honor guard of Sikhs was drawn up in two ranks—perhaps the best-turned-out soldiers in the world. I mounted the reviewing block while the national anthems were played. Then I inspected the guard; nothing seemed seriously wrong. I drew heavily on old newsreels for my protocol, but the commanding officer was there to nudge me if I needed it.
After congratulating the O.C., we went into the palace and rehearsed the ceremony. Then we had the ceremony. A slow approach to the President Dr. Rajendra Prasad; my speech; his reply; presentation of credentials; then down to his study for a private chat; and finally on to a state room for a public reception for all present. It was exceedingly well done; the Indians approach ceremony as though they meant it rather than, as in the United States, in a kind of abashed reluctance.
April 21—New Delhi .… My wife and I went to an exceedingly interesting lunch at the Prime Minister’s house. Excepting for us, it was a family party. The Prime Minister, B. K. Nehru A cousin of the Prime Minister, then in charge of Indian economic interests in Washington and shortly to become, for a long time, Indian ambassador in Washington and wife, R. K. Nehru and wife, Indira, Indira Gandhi, daughter of the Prime Minister, to become, of course, Prime Minister herself in 1966 and, I believe, a daughter of Mrs. Pandit. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, sister of the Prime Minister, former ambassador in Moscow and Washington, later to become governor of Maharashtra and an influential member of Parliament The house is large with furniture a trifle on the heavy side—the British left a tradition of Victorian overstuffed tropical—but the gardens are charming and wall decorations include interesting old maps and various Indian memorabilia.… Mostly the conversation was light and general—whether the arms race might be turning into a scientific contest in space, the possibilities of M.I.T. as an educational institution (B. K. Nehru has two sons there, and Indira contemplates sending her son), and similar matters. We have obviously been taken into the fold in a most agreeable way.