Ambassador Bliss was born in Michigan and educated at Dartmouth College. He entered the Foreign Service in 1923, specializing primarily in the Commercial and Economic fields. During his long and distinguished career, the Ambassador served in Tokyo, Bombay, Batavia, Alexandria, Singapore, Prague, Bangkok, Athens, Cairo, Paris, Calcutta, London, Ottawa and Addis Ababa, where he was U.S. Ambassador from 1957 to 1960.BLISS: When you arrived at a new post fifty years ago, this time in January of 1925, this time in Bombay, you took a room in the best hotel, this time in the Taj Mahal, and then asked everyone you met how and where to settle in for the duration. The hotel wasn’t bad if you liked Victorian mahogany, chintz and rattan, pink gins and chota pegs, Mulligatawny soup and lamb curry, but it was rather expensive for a junior officer and I kept on asking.
In due course I put the question to a couple of young Americans who shared a flat on the Cooperage, only ten minutes on foot from the hotel, twenty or so from the office, and very soon they invited me to dinner. It was a matter of mutual inspection as we sat on the verandah in the cool of the evening, and next day John took the plunge. Would I like to join them in a three-man bachelor mess, share and share alike? I would indeed, and promptly checked out of the Taj.
My two mess-mates, I soon learned, were juniors in the Bombay office of American Express, that combination of travel agent and banker which was busily seducing American and other tourists away from Thos. Cook. John was of Irish extraction, quiet-spoken for one of his race but far from humorless. He was not a big man physically but our senior by some years and consequently our leader in most things. (He ended up a Vice President of the company.) His mess-mate was a tall, sallow, rather colorless Virginian christened F. Glasgow Clark. He was so proud of his middle name and his relationship to novelist Ellen Glasgow that we perversely called him “Oscar” for no other reason than that. Oscar kept the books and managed the household, his only weakness being a passion for banana ice-cream produced in the kitchen. Almost every night, it seemed, we had banana ice-cream for dessert, but when John or I protested, suggesting mango ice-cream for a change, Oscar would instantly put us out of countenance. If anyone didn’t like banana ice-cream he could manage the house himself; Oscar would be happy to turn over his stewardship.
In those days every household maintained in India by the master race was awash with servants. Each of us had a “bearer” to tidy his room, shine his shoes, keep his clothes in order, draw his bath, hold his shirt for him, help him into his pants and shoes, accompany him on his travels. My bearer was a sturdy dark-skinned man from Goa, recruited by asking the others to find one for me and hired because his chits (references) were good. He had been trained by British officers who found him invaluable at home and on hunting trips. His name was George, he said.
At least one of the three bearers was always available to wait at table, bring drinks, dump ashtrays, run errands, or do anything else required of him at any time of day or night. They slept somewhere, perhaps on the kitchen floor like the servants who guarded master or mistress in the hotel by sleeping across the door-still on a mat in the corridor. The cook did the marketing in the bazaar, returning home in a loaded rickshaw, a cake of ice slung from the axle. He furnished Oscar with a weirdly spelled account of his expenditures, by immemorial custom withholding is traditional commission of one anna in the rupee. (There are 16 annas in the rupee.) He was assisted by an apprentice who paid him for the privilege and would be a cook himself one day. A sweeper and a mali (gardener) were also on the roster, although only Oscar ever saw them. The sweeper scrubbed, swept and polished during the day and the mali kept us supplied with fresh flowers, never mind where he got them. Finally the dhobi came to take away a mountain of soiled white drill suits, personal linen and household linen, all returned in a day or two clean, bleached in the sun, and carefully ironed.
It was a simply but adequately furnished two-bedroom flat, the dining-room converted into a third bedroom for me, and we ate in the drawing-room. Double doors opened on a deep verandah and that was where we spent most of our time at home. The place was quite airy with fresh breezes off the sea and we didn’t suffer too much from the heat. We slept under mosquito-nets, of course, and in the evening a spiral of green Japanese punk burning under one’s chair also discouraged mosquitoes, but not completely. In the end we all got malaria, mosquito-born from the street. We never got dysentery, however; Oscar insisted that all ray fruits and vegetables be soaked for fifteen minutes in the “red water” of mercurochrome tablet. If any of us got dysentery the cook would be fired.
Our verandah faced the west, overlooking the dusty park known as the Cooperage. Dotted with coconut palms and clumps of shrubbery, the park boasted a bandstand where crowds of natives gathered for weekly concerts provided by the Municipality, and beyond a line of palms Malabar Hill rose above the waters of the Back Bay. From a distance Malabar was a mass of foliage through which peeped the white facades and red tile roofs of Lord Brabourne’s Government House and the spacious villas of native potentates and wealthy merchants. Just perceptible were the Towers of Silence where the Parsees, unwilling to defile earth or water or fire, exposed their dead to the vultures perched on the encircling wall, waiting for the next litter-borne corpse followed to the door by silent white-clad mourners. Inside, priests split skulls and broke arm and leg bones to facilitate the cleansing process; any bits of bone the vultures left were cast down a deep well.
Malabar Hill was also the scene of a crime which caused a great scandal and provided the Times of India with material for many a column as the story unfolded. To begin with, a Bombay businessman had been waylaid and murdered as he drove along the broad highway slanting up the hill. The attackers sought to escape in a motorcar but were soon apprehended by the police; there were eye-witnesses and the fate of the criminals was sealed. There was more to it than that, however. The murderers were identified as retainers of the Maharajah of Indore and it soon became clear that their lord and master had sent them to mete out princely justice on a man who had abducted a girl from the royal harem and was living with her in Bombay City. Under British law the Maharajah was just as guilty of murder as his henchmen, but the police couldn’t touch him, the hereditary ruler of a princely state, completely independent of the British Raj and even entitled to a 19-gun salute from the armed forces. In Indore his power was absolute; he was above any law but his own whim. A crime committed on territory subject to British law and British notions of justice was, however, something else again. Punishment was clearly due, but how to enforce it was the problem, and controversy raged for weeks. The issue was finally resolved when Indore was summoned, before the Council of Princes, tried and found guilty by his peers and required by them to abdicate.
It was unthinkable that a young man living in Bombay didn’t belong to at least one club. The stuffy old Bombay Club was out of the question but an American junior officer could belong to the Gymkhana; it welcomed all young white males except “counter-jumpers” employed in retail establishments. The Gymkhana occupied an open space of green turf in the heart of the European section; one leg of the all-India cricket tournament was staged there, as well as an annual “gymkhana” of tent-pegging, jousting at the ring and other equestrian sporting events. Its shady verandah was a good place to meet for tiffin (lunch or light meal) or to congregate with friends in the evening before going on to dinner.
The Bombay Yacht Club was more select, a haven for sailors and oarsmen, and its terrace looking out over the waters of the harbor was a delightful place on which to linger with a gimlet, that pleasing concoction of gin and Rose’s lime juice. Once upon a time, according to wellestablished legend, the Viceroy of India, down from New Delhi, repaired to the Yacht Club with a local maharajah to sit on that terrace and was promptly accosted by the club secretary. It was a strict rule, the secretary said, that no person of color could enter the club’s premises except in the capacity of servant. As a result Lord Willingdon recruited a group of wealthy Parsees, Hindus and Moslems to organize the Willingdon Club, a dream of a country club on the edge of town, complete with golf course, tennis courts, swimming pool., and what have you, centered on a marble pavilion where the best food and drink in all India were to be had. Completely free of racial prejudice, the Club even admitted white members who could afford it. For us it was a treat to be invited to the Willingdon Club for a dinner-dance.
We were by no means wholly dependent on clubs for our social life, however. As is often the case with foreigners in a large community we tended to clot into a social group, ours being mostly but not exclusively American, and the Cooperage mess was part of it. Twenty-five or thirty of us were constantly in each other’s company in a shifting pattern of dinners for eight and two tables of bridge, picnics at Juhu Beach, tea-dances at the Taj Mahal, Saturday afternoons at the magnificent Bombay race course. We were all in our twenties, bachelors and young married couples, not a single girl in the lot.
Most of the men in our self-centered little social group were the Bombay representatives of American companies, responsible for developing business in western India, and they were often away on trips of some duration. This left footloose young wives, several of them at any given time, ready and willing to be amused. In the course of human events each such abandoned wife was often seen with a particular bachelor at dances or dinner parties and this kind of pairing-off was an understood thing. The husbands seemed reconciled, perhaps out of necessity, and for the most part there was no great harm in it; when her man returned the wife would usually be telling him all.
But not necessarily. There was a story around that young Terry dropped in for a drink with Doris and in the drawing-room was surprised to find her husband unexpectedly back in town; on the table beside him lay the automatic he usually carried with him on his trips upcountry. Terry turned and fled incontinent. Guilty conscience, the tongue-waggers concluded. And there was the time when John and his boss’s wife strolled into the dark from a dance at the Willingdon Club. The lady did not return and when John came into the light it was seen that the knees of his white trousers bore fresh green grass stains. This phenomenon was studiously ignored by all, including John, but he sat down rather quickly and soon went home. Nothing was ever said about this, in the mess or anywhere else.
Soon thereafter, perhaps because of this, the Cooperage mess joined the sartorial revolution which was developing. We in Bombay had scorned for some time the long-established Calcutta fashion in evening dress, slavishly copied in other cities, which combined white drill trousers with a black alpaca jacket. We thought it unattractive and impractical, especially because white drill trousers are instantly wrinkled and soon soiled, while alpaca jackets seemed more appropriate for office than evening wear. We therefore reversed the order, topping our black tropical-weight trousers with white sharkskin jackets. This was such an improvement that the new fashion caught on quickly and soon spread even to Calcutta.
The Cooperage cavaliers also developed for themselves what we called the “chit system” to mitigate the shortage of feminine society. We were particularly well equipped for this, I with colleagues at posts along the China Coast and in the Indies, the American Express boys with a far-flung network for trapping tourists. When an attractive young lady entered the system anywhere she would be picked up by one of the lads, suitably entertained, and assured that she would be well looked after at her next port of call. Thus a chit would arrive in Bombay giving the necessary particulars and we would reciprocate with similar chits covering eastbound travelers. It worked like a charm and helped to keep everyone happy.
Then came a bonanza to put all this in the shade. The Denishawn dance company arrived from California for an engagement in Bombay; they ended by touring India for three months. Until then we hadn’t realized how starved for theater we were. An Italian opera company toured India annually, a magician in Chinese dress came to put on a one-man show, the Amateur Dramatic Society struggled through an occasional polite comedy, and that was literally all the theater we had, other than the aptly named “flicks” peddled by Hollywood. Now there was something we Americans could be proud of, and we were all stage-struck in varying degrees.
Ruth St. Denis, we came to understand, was an Irish girl from Hoboken who had become one of the pioneers of modern dance, breaking new ground as dancer and choreographer. Some years before she had teamed up with Ted Shawn – they were now married – to organize a: dance group in California. Martha Graham had joined them after her early experience as a Spanish dancer in the “Follies” but soon left to embark on her own dazzling career. There was no lack of talent still in the company, however; Charles Weidman and Doris Humphrey were there and would later become stars in their own right, while Ted would end up with his young men at Jacob’s Pillow after path retired. For us just then the important thing was the arrival in our midst of a dozen lovely, talented, well-mannered young things. One and all they adored “Miss Ruth,” they were dedicated to their art, and they worked very, very hard. Not too much time for play, therefore, and anyway June Rhodes, the little blonde dynamo who functioned as general manager, kept a careful eye on the girls. She fended off prowlers, but for some reason had a soft spot for By Wrigley and me; we were privileged to go backstage at will and we watched many a performance from the wings. It was also acceptable to take a girl to a tea-dance if there were no rehearsals, organize a swim and picnic at Juhu Beach, see her to the hotel after the show without too much loitering on the way. We were assiduous with flowers and even more practical help, as on the occasion in New Delhi when the company arrived late from Madras after a hot and. dusty train journey. Only an hour to curtain-time and the show must go on. So By and I dashed to the Cecil Hotel to commandeer two waiters with cold drinks and enormous trays of sandwiches; the girls were near to tears with gratitude.
The Denishawn repertoire was eclectic, including such contrasting numbers as a lively country dance in which the youngsters pranced joyously, or Ruth alone on the stage floating to the melody of the Liebestraum waltz, or Ted displaying his muscles as a living statue or creating the illusion of a gold-crowned, many-armed Siva. For this tour Ruth had devised a number of Indian dances and a knowledgeable Indian woman told us that every movement, every pose, every gesture was an accurate rendition of a fragment borrowed from the sacred dances presented in South Indian temples. The most famous of these for us was the “Dance of the Black and Gold Sari” in which Ruth came on the stage to a tinkling little tune, bearing on her arms a rolled-up black and gold sari; kneeling front center she bowed to the audience in a deep salaam, then rose and with graceful little dance steps unrolled the sari, twisting it around her hips and tucking in the folds with clever fingers, exactly as an Indian woman does when dressing. When she reached the climax and brought the end of the sari over her head the Indian audience burst into spontaneous applause and the galleries shrieked and whistled, demanding an encore. She never did that little dance without being compelled to repeat it three times.
When the company came back to Bombay for its last repeat engagement we gave them all a party, presenting parodies of their program to the extent feasible. Wrigley, in black-face and union suit dyed black, posed on a box as a living statue while Peggy Wills played soulful music on the piano. But when she broke into an Irish jig he hopped down and did a creditable soft-shoe dance as the youngsters giggled and Ted applauded with a strained smile. It was John who brought the house down with the “Dance of the Red and White Sari.” Dressed in his underwear he came on our improvised stage clasping a roll of cheap bazaar cottons stitched end to end and made a spectacular entrance when, being a little drunk, he tripped and fell flat on his face. He picked himself up, and with Peggy vamping the little tune John proceeded with his dance, winding yards and yards of cloth around himself, getting thoroughly entangled, and finally collapsing in a heap amid shrieks of laughter from the whole company, not least from Ruth herself.
Life for bachelors in Bombay was not all fun and games, of course. Most of our days we labored in offices to earn our modest salaries in a manner no better and no worse than anywhere else. For many of us, however, this was not all and from time to time we had to go on the road to the cities of western India regarded as Bombay territory, to great cities like Cawnpore, Lucknow, Lahore, Delhi and Agra, or to smaller centers in between. For a young man this was often exciting; after his business was done he could visit all the wonderful places described in tourist guides. There was a price to pay, however. Distances were vast, travel was necessarily by rail, and that meant acute discomfort.
The British were justifiably proud of the extensive railway network they had constructed in the nineteenth century, and indeed it had contributed greatly to the economic development of India, but in 1925 its rolling-stock, apparently designed in the days of a young Queen Victoria, was not only obsolescent, it was worn out. Locomotives belched soft-coal smoke and cinders, the third-class carriages jam-packed with natives were still much as described by Kipling, while the sleeping-cars for the elite were divided into compartments accessible only from a station platform. To get a meal passengers had to climb out during a stop at a way-station, push through the milling crowd on the platform, and climb aboard the dining-car, returning at the next stop by the same route in reverse. Fortunately the stops were long, twenty minutes or so, and there was no need to hurry.
Arrayed for travel in khaki shirt and shorts topped by the khaki pith helmet characteristic of Bombay (in Calcutta they were white) I would arrive at Central Station with George shepherding the baggage coolies to a four-berth compartment. The baggage included a bedding-roll hired from American Express containing a thin mattress, a blanket, dingy sheets and a limp pillow, a cotton towel or two. George would make up my bed on one of the berths and then withdraw with his own little bundle to a cramped cubicle for servants at one end of the car, whence he would emerge whenever the train stopped, to loiter within call on the station platform. He was there to fetch from the dining-car cold drinks or hot water for my ablutions, to pack and unpack the bedding-roll, to guard my possessions when I was away in the dining-car. No one travelled without a bearer.
The so-called berths were really hard benches upholstered in a kind of black imitation leather, one above another on each side of the compartment, and the uppers could be hauled up out of the way. A small tap yielded tepid drinking water next to a door leading to a minuscule wash-room and toilet. Open windows were screened, shades could be pulled down on the sunny side, and electric fans in the corners of the ceiling could be turned on to stir the air. They also stirred the dust and cinders that leaked through rattling doors and windows and swirled across the linoleum floor. In hot weather, it was said, one could close the windows, place a cake of ice in a tin tub on the floor and direct the fans on it. That was the theory anyway; something to think about.
If a man had a compartment to himself he was lucky, or perhaps he had bribed, the guard to ticket it as full. Otherwise the discomfort increased in geometric ratio as additional passengers intruded with their baggage and sleep might be disturbed in the middle of the night when a passenger sought to board the train at an upcountry station and the guard and he raced along the cars, banging on doors and demanding entrance. A generous man would open up; a selfish one would keep quiet behind his locked door and wait for them to go away.
With all this in mind I was not looking forward to my next trip to Delhi when an exciting alternative presented itself. Sitting at table in the Gymkhana we were listening to Larry Kent’s exuberant account of his plans for a publicity stunt to put his Graham-Paige automobiles on the map in India. He was going to stage a non-stop run from Bombay to Delhi, a thousand miles away, something no one had ever done before. The roads would be primitive, of course, but passable in dry weather and the rains were months away; most of the rivers to be crossed were unbridged but there were ferries; he knew where he could get petrol and oil; he had mapped the most practicable route. To make the trip non-stop, he said, would require three drivers to take it in turns, say in two-hour shifts, since the going might be rough, and two men would be functioning while the third could sleep. How about it? Would any of us like to make the trip with him? The big redhead’s enthusiasm was contagious and two of us volunteered forthwith. Pres Wills was manager of Dupont’s office in Bombay and could do as he liked. As an American official I was in a more vulnerable position. What would Washington say? What would the local firms representing Ford or General Motors have to say about any activity on my part for the benefit of a competitor? It was agreed, therefore, that my participation would be strictly anonymous and above all that my name would not be used in any publicity.
The sun was setting in a cloudless sky beyond Malabar Hill as we assembled on the Cooperage for this venture into the unknown. We were all in khaki traveling kit and everything else was in the baggage sent ahead by rail with George and the other bearers to wait for us in the Cecil Hotel. We had grease to protect our faces from windburn and goggles to protect our eyes from the glare of the sun. There was food and drink, for we would not be stopping for meals; if the car came to a standstill for any reason the motor would still be ticking over and we could claim that this run was non-stop. Larry was at the wheel for take-off, with Pres beside him to operate the spotlight. He noted the time, raced the engine, and we were off!
Memories of the next day and a half are blurred. Pres and I never knew where we were, since Larry did the navigating, and for us, whether driving or operating the spotlight or trying to sleep in the back seat, our every faculty was concentrated on the road, and only the road, as we hurtled through a pitch-black night or under a blazing sun. We swept through towns and were scarcely aware of them; although we were in open country most of the time we have recollection of the fields, the trees, the hills that must have been there. What we do remember is the road, narrow, twisting, pot-holed, sometimes rocky, surfaced only by a layer of fine white dust. Glancing back we could mark our trail by the continuous band of white thrown up by flying wheels, a cloud of dust so fine that it hung in the air for minutes before drifting away. Fortunately there was almost no motor traffic – it would have been impossible to overtake another vehicle and tunnel past in an atmosphere more impenetrable than the densest fog. Twice we met motorcars coming the other way; then it was necessary to slow down, guess at the way ahead, and plunge blindly into a blank whiteness.
There were breaks when the road ended abruptly on the bank of a river and we had to stop while the motor idled. A steep earthen ramp would lead down to the water’s edge and to the ferry, hastily assembled for this exceptional burden by laying planks across two boats. With the Graham-Paige precariously aboard, this contraption would be poled and paddled to the farther bank and another earthen ramp. Here we also could refuel and roar away with a loss of no more than half an hour in running time.
Concentration on the road of course encompassed everything on it. During the first night there was little traffic other than an occasional bullock-cart plodding through the darkness, its driver asleep on a pile of grain sacks or bales of cotton. The spotlight picked it up in good season and then it was up to the driver to slip by as quickly as possible before a panic-stricken bullock could veer across the road. Come dawn the traffic between villages came to life and the driver had to be constantly alert to avoid disaster as the car wove its way in a plume of dust between bullockcarts, handcarts, loose cattle and groups of pedestrians, or waded through an occasional flock of sheep. Special care was needed when passing a string of camels because camels can kick sideways. And so all day under the blazing sun we followed the relentless road.
During our second night we were traversing wild country through one or another of the native states in the Central Provinces. The way was particularly rough and tortuous and the spotlight was picking up the glowing eyes of wild animals on or beside the road. Most of them – jackals, antelopes, rabbits, civet cats – skipped nimbly out of the way, but at one moment I was confronted by the bulk of an enormous boar planted in the road, his white tusks gleaming, his little red eyes glaring. To hit him would have been catastrophe for us, even if he paid with his life; fortunately he lumbered just enough to one side as the car swerved past and we all gasped in relief.
Well into the small hours of that second night my eyes suddenly gave out. At one moment I was peering ahead along a beam of light, at the next there was complete blackness. Blindly I stopped the car in the middle of the road. “Sorry,” I said, “I can’t see. Somebody else will have to drive for a while.” Larry took me by the arm. “Into the back with you,” he ordered, “and stay quiet until you have had a rest.” He took the wheel and we started off again while I lay there in a semistupor. (The trouble was that I had been unable to accommodate the glasses I normally wore behind the goggles that were so essential during the day and the result was severe eye-strain.) When I came to I could see again and the morning light revealed the trees and fields of the tidy countryside surrounding Delhi. Larry was driving; he insisted on being the man at the wheel for the triumphant climax to our adventure.
As we climbed wearily up the steps into the Cecil Hotel our servants were there to greet us, all broad grins, but the Anglo-Indian clerk at the desk was not impressed. “Sorry, sir,” he said to Larry while Pres and I drooped against the wall, “all space in the hotel has been booked and we can’t give you rooms. We have pitched some tents on the grounds, however, and we can take care of you there.” Larry expostulated; we had made reservations from Bombay, we had motored all the way and just arrived, we desperately needed food and baths and sleep. The clerk was adamant; tents or nothing.
Then my old friend Miss Anna arrived on the scene like an angel from Heaven. She was manager of the family-owned Cecil Hotel, that comfortable old-fashioned hostelry which had ministered to travelers since the turn of the century. She was also a warm-hearted and perceptive woman; she took one look at me leaning against the wall, did a double-take, and issued brisk orders. We were to have rooms immediately, no matter who had to be bumped into a tent; this was an emergency and it had to be dealt with.
George promptly disappeared with the baggage and I was led upstairs to a comfortable room. In a mirror I caught sight of my face and realized what had prompted Miss Anna’s reaction. Layers of dust and grease formed a mask pierced by two bright scarlet holes, a truly horrendous sight. Now George arrived through the back door, herding a gaggle of hotel servants with a tin tub and pails of hot water, and I was in his hands again. Bathed and fed, I was dropping off to sleep almost before I could reach the bed. George woke me at noon and I went down for lunch, only to fall into bed again and sleep until dinner-time.
Drinking their pink gins in the bar the three adventurers glowed with self-satisfaction. Larry was ebullient; he had been busy with reporters and photographers and was getting all the publicity he could want. The Graham-Paige, according to the press, had travelled non-stop from Bombay, its engine ticking over as sweetly in Delhi as when it had started; the air in its tires was sea-air; that marvelous American vehicle had covered a thousand miles cross-country in a day and a half! In all India there had never been anything like it. (Not for long, of course; records are made to be broken.)
Back home the Cooperage mess was soon in trouble as one after another we came down with malaria. In retrospect we know that it came from the massed listeners around the bandstand, a short hop away for a mosquito when the wind was in the west. In such a crowd there was bound to be a sizeable number of natives carrying the malaria parasite in their blood; they had no protection at all from insect bites and even our defenses were sketchy at best. We had given no thought to this and boasted that we could ward off malaria with the help of enough Scotch and soda when we sat on the verandah before and. after dinner.
As it happened I was the first victim. Every Thursday at exactly four o’clock in the afternoon I would suffer a violent chill, shivering uncontrollably and obviously through with the office for the rest of the day. By the time I got home to a quinine tablet the fever was running high and when it broke I was pouring sweat, my bed so soaked that the sheets had to be changed. In the morning I was back to normal but drained of energy and barely able to stagger back to work.
This went on for some weeks until Kitty Bossi heard about it and insisted that I see a doctor, an Italian specialist on malaria. Doctor Vicente came, listened to my story, and, fingered my belly. Sure enough my spleen was enlarged and I had malaria, he said, but I wasn’t really coping with it. When an attack was checked by quinine, he explained, the organisms feeding on the blood simply turned into spores which lodged in the spleen. Hence the enlargement of that organ, a sure sign of malaria. (And that was why British soldiers and policemen were warned not to hit natives in the belly, since the result was often a fatally ruptured spleen.) In due course the spores would erupt into another generation of parasites in an endless cycle. To get rid of my malaria, he insisted, I would have to eliminate every last spore, including those that remained in hiding, and that meant fifteen grains of quinine every day for sixty days. For the next two months, therefore, I went about with ringing ears, partly deaf and a bit fuzzy in the head, but it worked. In the end I was grateful to the good doctor, who later died of malaria himself.
Oscar was next, but he couldn’t face the music and fled the country. Then John began to complain of stubborn constipation and turned to me for help. In view of my experience with malaria I was now regarded in the mess as a medical authority and for some time I had been dispensing home remedies with some success and only one near-catastrophe. That was the time Harry Russell said he couldn’t sleep and I got some veronal tablets from the chemist. Uninformed as to veronal’s potency I was nevertheless cautious enough to give him only half a tablet; when he fell sound asleep in the middle of dinner and had to be carried to bed. I was really scared and flushed the rest of those tablets down the drain. In John’s case he responded to none of our treatments, not even to a glycerin enema, and he finally went to the company doctor, who thought to take a blood test. And there it was! Malaria. There are several types of malaria, we were told, including my weekly bouts, the “quartan agues” of medieval Europe (an attack every four days), and John’s mysterious paralysis. So American Express transferred him to Ceylon and a convalescence at Nuwara Eliya, where he enjoyed cool mountain air and boasted of fresh strawberries for breakfast.
The departure of our leader was the end of the line for the Cooperage mess, and as we went our several ways I moved in with a young American couple as star boarder, complete with the wardrobe trunk and George. At the same time my way of life changed completely; reversing biological processes the butterfly became a grub immured in its cocoon. Instead of flitting about town I spent my evenings and my weekends hard at work on a project which absorbed my energies and commanded all my attention seven days a week for months on end.
It all started over lunch with George Shantz, who had been trading in gold and silver on the Bombay bullion market on behalf of Irvine Trust. The bank had finally tired of this, George said, and he was going home, but he thought I might be interested in one of his activities. For some time he had been inconspicuously helping one of the leading firms in the market to prepare its weekly published reports and by doing so he had gained invaluable insights into the operations of the native traders whose activities created an important, complex and highly speculative market. He knew that one of my duties was to prepare reports for Washington on financial activities in Bombay (he was one of my sources) and he felt that if I took on this job it would day off handsomely for me.
In due course, therefore, George took me to meet Maneklal Premchand, senior partner in Premchand, Roychand & Sons, in his solidly paneled office in Apollo Street, not far from the new building of the Bombay Bullion Exchange. From the beginning Maneklal impressed me favorably. Medium in height and weight he had no outstanding physical characteristics, but his Indian dress or London suitings were equally impeccable, his eyes intelligently alert under a brush of graying hair, his facial expression assured but calm and amiable, his speech educated, direct and always to the point. We became friends on the spot and eventually he would even eat his lunch in my presence, although as a Jain, the strictest of Hindu sects, he should have turned his back lest my shadow pollute his food. That food, incidentally, consisted of a saucer of parched grain.
After not too much palaver we came to a clear understanding. What Maneklal wanted was someone to prepare every week the text of the printed market reports he distributed, the statistical work to be done by his clerks, the text to be written in lucid English by someone with a background in economics. He soon recognized that this new young man would do just as well as Shantz had done. He also recognized that such an arrangement presented problems for me as an American official and that the Washington bureaucracy might take a dim view of it, whether or not it became public knowledge.
My collaboration would therefore have to remain a dead secret. The question of compensation was not even mentioned, it being understood that the advantage for me, as it had been for George, would be the information I acquired about what went on behind the scenes in the financial markets in Bombay: the bullion market, the stock exchange, the money market, banking operations, and anything else relevant for my purposes. Every Friday just before noon I would therefore repair to Maneklal’s office and for an hour or so we would discuss the happenings of the past week, deciding what should go into the published market report, the text of which was delivered on Monday morning in shape for the printer. (Some developments would be discreetly ignored, as when His Exalted Highness the Nizam of Hyderabad dipped into his fabulous treasure and broke an imminent corner on the silver market by sending a freight car floored with silver bars over his Guaranteed State Railway for spot deliveries in Bombay.)
The financial reporting from Bombay soon displayed an unprecedented sophistication which readers in Washington, unaware of what lay behind it, either took for granted or, if they happened to notice it, doubtless attributed to the competence of the reporting officer. As for him, he soon became fascinated with the lore of the bullion market and went on to undertake extensive research into the whole subject, poring over official publications and bombarding Maneklal with questions. Bombay was then the center of Indian trade in precious metals and one of the great bullion markets of the world, a highly developed complex involving banks, brokers, importers, wholesalers and retailers, organized around the Bombay Bullion Exchange, an association of the principal native dealers.
India, this research soon revealed, was a country which traditionally enjoyed a favorable balance of merchandise trade as a heavy exporter of cotton, jute, rice, wheat, oilseeds, shellac, mica and other natural products, while it was unique among nations in settling that balance mostly by imports of silver ingots, gold ingots, sovereigns or eagles, as it had done for generations. In the immediate post-war years after 1918 India was absorbing annually some 6,000,000 ounces of gold and 90,000,000 ounces of silver, 40 percent of the world’s gold production and 30 percent of its silver. Unhappily for India, however, wealth in this form produced little of real value. The whole history and tradition of the people, the economic and social organization of the country and its primitive financial system induced a pervasive habit of hoarding gold and silver, whether as bullion stored unproductively in the strong rooms of princes or wealthy merchants or as ornaments adorning the wives and daughters of farmers after crops had been harvested, later to be sold at a loss when it came time to buy seed for the next crop.
All of this had many ramifications, and it took six months of hard labor to sort it all out and complete a massive report on ‘‘The Bombay Bullion Market” which was eventually published in Washington, but that is another story and here we are dealing only with matters which never reached the files.
Such a one is the story of Premchand Roychand’s annual report for 1925. Maneklal and I wanted it to be more than the usual routine summary and he agreed enthusiastically to include a discussion of what we called “the fundamental problem of India’s wasted resources.” That problem we identified as being “in spite of the fact that the wealth of the world for many decades has been poured into India’s lap in the form of gold and silver, the standard of living of the great mass of the population is distressingly low, the industrial development of the country is obviously backward, and a large proportion of its vast natural resources is as yet practically untouched. The root cause of these conditions,” we argued, “lies in the rudimentary character of the country’s credit system. The life-blood of Western civilization is credit and its genesis is the accumulation of capital. Without these India can never develop to the extent of which she is capable. With a pitiably inadequate banking system, with savings jealously hoarded in the form of unproductive metals, with no funds available for the development of industrial enterprise, India will always be a backward nation unless her people can be educated to see the folly of their present practices.” For obvious reasons the twin evils of cow worship and over-population were not mentioned in the report, which went on to say: “If India’s gold and silver holdings were invested .... we would be receiving from the rest of the world, not gold and silver, which experience has proved provide little in the way of comfort or improved standard of living to the Indian people, but rather the manufactured goods, the foodstuffs, the services of the other nations – in other words, real wealth.”
This line of thought provoked admiring editorials from Bombay’s Times of India and. Calcutta’s financial journal Capital. It also attracted attention in the Bombay financial community and British bankers, convinced that a “native” could never produce anything like that, besieged Maneklal with queries as to the authorship of the report. He could not honestly maintain that it was all his own work, but he kept faith with me and gave inquirers no satisfaction. One of the local bankers finally pronounced judgment: “Only an Englishman could have written such an economically sound résumé.