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Plain Tales From The Embassy
October 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 6
April 22—New Delhi . At noon yesterday, we celebrated the Queen’s birthday at the British High Commission and in the afternoon I had a pleasant chat with Krishna Menon. Most people dislike him; I found him rather attractive on first acquaintance. He is much concerned with proving he is an intellectual and a socialist. Provisionally it is my conclusion that those who do not like him have never encountered this particular kind of public figure.…
April 27—New Delhi . This afternoon a message came in asking me to inform the Prime Minister that the President had marked him down for a billion dollars for the next two years of the Five-Year Plan. I went over to his Parliament office to tell him. I could not be sure whether he was embarrassed or touched—he made almost no comment. But then, at the end, playing on some statement that I had made at the beginning, he said this was an occasion when an ambassador did not risk having his head chopped off. Nehru’s pride was closely engaged with that of India. He recognized the great role played by our help. But it also meant, I am certain, that he saw his country in some slight measure as a beneficiary of charity, and this he did not like at all.
On the aid program: “The Indians can be a bit exacting in the requirements we must meet if we are to be allowed to help them.”
New Delhi, India April 37, 1961
Dear Mr. President:
… I am engaged, these days, in making my calls on the other ambassadors. This is an incredible waste of time. As you can imagine New Delhi is not the place where (say) Peru A tactful reference, for Peru does not accredit an ambassador to India sends its best man or the best man wants to come. Paris suits the Latin and Levantine temperament better and so does New York. One Levantine, who is accredited to a half dozen Asian governments, I suspect of being in the black market and possibly in the white slave trade. As a result he does seem rather more affluent than the common run. Many of the other diplomats obviously get along on a shoestring. They live in hideous houses decorated by some expressionist of the rural Nepal school. I do note one redeeming feature: the more underdeveloped the country the more overdeveloped the women.… Nehru suggested that I call on the big countries because of their vanity, the small ones because of their sensibility, and omit those in between. However, I shall struggle nobly on—for a while. Fulbright should know, incidentally, that the Soviet ambassador next door, though he understands, does not speak English. Senator Fulbright had long insisted that American ambassadors be competent in the language of the country to which they were going. He has given me five jars of caviar, and I have given him a copy of one of my books. I hope you do as well trading with Khrushchev.…
Faithfully, JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH
May 6—New Delhi-Srinagar . I took [Averell] Harriman to see the Prime Minister at the latter’s Parliament office. Not much transpired. Harriman described his visit and his impressions of the King of Laos and various other Laotian notables. We discussed the forthcoming Geneva conference. This Nehru will attend only if it seems to be running into trouble. He thinks even the Laotian Communists may be a trifle suspicious of the Chinese. He told that Ho Chi Minh, on a visit to India, asked him, “How many Chinese do you have in India?” He replied, guessing, “Oh, about fifty thousand.” Said H. C. M., “You are lucky.” I commented that Laos provided the special problem of Communism superimposed on a combination of feudalism and anarchy.
May 9—New Delhi . The day’s diplomatic business included plans for the arrival next week of Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson in two planes with a party of about fifty, including a special signals unit for talking to Washington. Then we had a session on steel with the Minister for Steel, Mines, and Fuel, Swaran Singh. Sardar Swaran Singh, for a period after Nehru’s death Minister of External Affairs, was the only Sikh in a cabinet office and, in beard and high turban, a highly visible figure. He would like us to finance the fourth steel mill under public ownership with no interference by us with construction or operation, although we would have an opportunity to advise. The Indians can be a bit exacting in the requirements we must meet if we are to be allowed to help them.
In the evening we visited the Saudi Arabian embassy. The S. A. ambassador is a vast man, exceeding in diameter even the late J. Falstaff (whom he resembles), and looks just fine in Arabian robes. He was not built for the desert, and the camels should be grateful that he took up diplomacy.
The party proceeded on devilled eggs, cashew nuts, and Coca-Cola in the lobby of the Hotel Ambassador, where the Ambassador lives. From time to time some rather furtive characters slunk in and out, eyeing each other with what seemed to be well-justified suspicion. Attendance by the more commonplace members of the diplomatic corps was poor. However, the Chinese ambassador was there, and in a touching gesture by one popular democracy to another, my wife, who disdains questions of recognition and nonrecognition among the great powers, was soon chatting happily with his wife. I had a pleasant talk with the papal internuncio, an agreeable, well-spoken Australian named Father Knox. I asked him if his name was not a handicap in his line of work. He said it was far from ideal but perhaps better than either Calvin or Luther.