In the 1950’s, the world was not a global village like it is today. There was no internet, no mobile phone, no social media, no nothing. One had to wait three years to get a landline phone connection. The bulky instrument was garlanded!
In the international arena, India practised neutrality. Nehru joined Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia, and Gamal Abdal Nasser of Egypt to make a third front in order to cock a snook at America and Russia, the two biggos.
Attempts were made by the west to reach out to India. A people exchange programme went under the name Experiment in International Living. The concept was simple: your family member would stay for three months with a family in say New York, while one member of that New York family would stay in your house in India.
My friend’s wife, whom we called Soumya Bhabhi, had gone to a Texas family and had initiated them into having a vegetarian in their house. When they first heard of that dietary preference, they were intrigued. Even their salads had chicken. What’s more, she’d eat with her fingers, was a Hindu but did not sleep on a bed of nails!
Saying Soumya Bhabhi was a mouthful for them. They called her Sam. She was also Bhabhi, so she was called Bobby. Over the weeks, she was introduced around this, “This is Bobby Sam, from Bomm– bay.’
In her lectures, she had to be very basic: “We don’t find snakes in our shoes in the morning in India,” and “our school buses are not elephants but regular motorized four-wheelers”. Sometimes tongue in cheek she’d say, "We live in trees – and how do we get up there? - we get up there by using elevators.”
In the neighbourhood, in another family, Mahesh Patel from Bombay was an ‘Experimenter’. Patel had become Pat, and then Pat had expanded to Patrick… and eventually, he was called Patrick MacPatel.
At an outdoor barbecue cookout, vegetarian Patrick McPatel ate only the hamburger bun, i.e. without the meat patty. The guests would shake their heads in disbelief and say, ”Just a straight bun with mustard, eh? No meat patty for Pat.” All this was before the Beatles’ Jai Guru Deva days. Now, orange-clad Hare Krishna Americans drum and dance on their streets.
At call centres in India, Satyendranath has become Stan, Bharath is now Bert, and Megha is Megan …and being urged to go vegan. Have we progressed or regressed or come a full circle?