When we were in India (1952-54) one of my dad’s jobs was to meet important people at the airport and take them to thier hotel or to the embassy.. He often allowed me to go along. He had to meet Richard Nixon when he was vice president, and take him to the embassy. I will never forget it.
Whatever you might think of Nixon, he was nice to little girls. My dad introduced me to him, and he stooped down to my level and lifted me up on his knee and said, “I have a little girl at home just your age. Her name is Tricia.” I never forgot that.
Another time we went to the airport to meet Danny Kaye, who was there on a Unicef tour. I had loved him in the movie Hans Christian Anderson. He sang Thumelina from the movie for me and another child, Paula. The press was there and took a photo of Paula and me with him.
Another time, we went to meet Dave Garroway and the Chimpanzee, J. Fred Muggs, who was on the Today Show every day back in the early fifties. He was a very rambunctious chimpanzee who was all over the place.
My mother had an Indian Aya (nanny) who took care of me when mother was gone to luncheons, teas, and cocktail parties. She taught me how to knit. She could not speak but a few words of English, and I only knew a few words in Hindi, but we did manage to communicate.
There was no DODDS school in India, so I went to a private school where the kids from all the different embassies went to school. We had classes outdoors, and during monsoon season there was no school. I loved Monsoon season for that reason.
I was able to see the Taj Mahal while I was in India. It is a beautiful shrine that a Maharaja built for his wife when she died, made of marble, with all kinds of jewels embedded in the marble walls. It is Agra, India.
India was a real eye opener for me. The poverty was so pervasive. The caste system was going strong when we were there. If you were born an untouchable, you had no chance whatever of pulling yourself out of that situation. The kids would go out and beg. Leprosy was rampant, and you would see Lepers out begging for food and money. They were disfigured from the disease, and I found it most distressing as a 6 to 8 year old girl.
It was common for Indians to kidnap western children and put them out to beg. My dad ran across such a child in Bangalore. The kidnappers had driven a steel spike through her tongue so that people would feel sorry for her and give her money. My dad was horrified. Most Americans have no idea how blessed we really are.
When I lived in India a lot of people would sleep on the streets and sidewalks. They would take a bed and set it up. The beds were four legs and a rope “mattress”, not a matress at all—just knotted rope. The next morning a wagon would come around and pick up all the bodies of people who had died during the night.
I often heard jackals howling at night—they sound very much like coyotes. It was a very lonely sound. My dad was TDY a lot on missions with the embassy plane and it was quite scary for my mom and me to be alone in a strange country like that with dad away.
The other women in the compound were alone, too, because everyone who lived in that compound were crew on the embassy plane, so often there were no men on the compound. My mother kept a baseball bat next to her bed—just in case. We did have a guard for the compound, which I talked about in my first blog on childhood experiences in India.
There was a tribe of wild monkeys that we would always see on the way to Pallam Airport. They were just running around, swinging in the trees. There were elephants, too. Sacred cows would just wander around in the streets, while people were starving, but because they were sacred, they could not be slaughhtered and eaten.
My mother never had to say to me when I wouldn’t eat my dinner, “You know there are starving children in India.” I saw it up close and personal.