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My passport was in order. My elder brother, who at that time was the palace engineer in the state of Kashmir, had furnished me passage money for the trip to the United States.
On a fine August day I sailed from Bombay on the S.S. Marcara, bound for Plymouth, England.
Most of the passengers were English army and government people returning to England on leave from India. One of them with whom I became acquainted was an engineer employed at the Tata steelworks. When I told him that I had majored in mathematics he began to tease me with mathematical problems. For example, he told me how high we were above the water and asked me to figure the distance to the horizon. My mathematics were still fresh in my mind so I had little difficulty in figuring out the formula and arriving at the correct answer. He complimented me and we soon became good friends. He was most helpful in his advice and information as to the conditions I would meet both in England and the United States.
After we reached Plymouth I immediately went to London where I found I would have to wait several weeks before I could get passage to the United States. Despite my impatience, I used the time to see as many of the sights as possible.
I noticed how reverently the British people passed by the tombs of Lord Nelson in Saint Paul's Cathedral and the Duke of Wellington in Westminster Abbey, those two great builders of the British Empire. While I could respect these men for themselves, their achievements in building the Empire did not have much appeal for me. I was not interested in empire builders. Abraham Lincoln's statue, however, evoked in me quite a different response.
I also visited Hyde Park, where one could go any time of the day and listen to fiery and partisan speeches on all subjects. In those days the favorite topics were socialism, communism, Irish freedom, and Indian independence. Some of the speeches were for, some against; some of the speakers praised the government, others damned it. It was most exciting to me, as it was my first experience with the meaning of freedom of speech. In India, certainly no such thing as open criticism of the British Empire was tolerated.
While I was in Great Britain I discovered that the Englishmen who lived in England were an altogether different type from those I had known or heard of in India in respect to their attitudes toward India's right to self-government. They were very decent and kind to me and many were devoted admirers of Mahatma Gandhi, who sympathized sincerely with India's desire to be free.
At long last I was finally able to secure passage to the United States on the S.S. Philadelphia leaving Southampton. The only space available was in steerage. When I boarded the ship I found the accommodations were a far cry from the first-class luxury I had experienced from Bombay to Plymouth. We crossed the English Channel during the night and stopped at Cherbourg where the ship took on hundreds of passengers from Europe.
The week's trip across the Atlantic was not very pleasant for me principally because the food was so poor. All I could bring myself to eat was milk and fruit. I was amazed that my fellow passengers were able to eat some of the food that was served until I realized that most of them were people from Europe, many of whom had actually experienced hunger and starvation during wartime. Even though I had come from a very poor country, I had never known what it was like to be hungry.
Among the passengers aboard the S.S. Philadelphia was an attractive and charming young blonde lady who was returning to New York to join her husband. She was interested in India and we talked together quite often. She had an eleven-year-old daughter with her and we all became very good friends. New York was their destination while I was bound for San Francisco. Eight years later we were to meet in Los Angeles again under very strange and providential circumstances.
When we reached New York Harbor we were delayed by heavy fog for two days. Then at last the fog lifted a little and I could see the faint outlines of the Statue of Liberty. It was an exhilarating experience. I had finally arrived in the United States of America.
During the stay at Ellis Island, while waiting to be cleared for entry, I felt lonesome for the first time since I left India. Here I was at Ellis Island. I had come to the United States but I was not yet free to go into the country. Then while I was standing in a long line to have my passport examined a kindly inspector who obviously knew India took me out of the line and had my papers stamped. Finally, warmly shaking my hand, he said to me, "You are now a free man in a free country." Then he whispered into my ear, "You do not have to Worry about the C.I.D. either." (C.I.D. stood for the Criminal Investigation Department in India--the dread and hated secret police.)
I looked around and said to myself, "Yes, at long last you are a free man in a free country. You may go where you wish and say what you please." That certainly proved true, for as long as I have been in the United States, particularly in the early years, while I was cruelly discriminated against many a time because of the place of my birth, not once has my right to say what I pleased been questioned by any man. To me, coming as I did from India, freedom of speech and liberty to go wherever I wished without having any fears of secret police hounding me were of profound and lasting significance.
I set out from New York for San Francisco, California, where I intended to enroll as a student at the University of California to study food preservation and canning. It was a long train trip and I had not as yet become accustomed to American food. So all the way across the country I lived on milk and bread.
At the Ferry Building in San Francisco the attendant at the Traveler's Aid Society booth directed me to a Hindu temple. There I was told that I should stay in San Francisco that night and take a ferry the next morning across the bay to Berkeley. I was further advised that if I went to Mission Street I would be able to find a hotel room in which to spend the night. It was the most uncomfortable night I have ever spent in my life. I had heard about bedbugs, but this was the first time I had actually encountered a bed infested with them. The bed was impossible, and my only refuge was the floor, but that yielded scant comfort.
The next morning I rushed to the Ferry Building and took the ferry to Berkeley, the seat of the University of California. I went straight to 1731 Allston Way, where I found the clubhouse established and maintained by the Sikh Temple in Stockton, California. The temple had bought this two-story house for the use and benefit of students from India who could live there rent free. The only requirement was that residents of the club be enrolled at a high school or the university. It was run by the resident members on a cooperative basis--students paid for their gas and electricity and we took turns at cooking Hindu-style meals. When my turn came around, I always prepared my specialty--chicken curry.
For the next two years I was a resident member of the club. The resultant saving was a great help to me as it was to other students, because in those days no students from India received any government scholarships since the British Government of India was not interested in educating Indians in the United States. We had all come over on our own and we were all short of funds.
One of the senior members of the club was studying agriculture and he very kindly helped me enter the university as a graduate student, a further help, since no tuition fees were required of graduate students. In the course of my studies I took part in several experiments which were being carried on at the university at that time in the line of food preservation. I worked very diligently in the laboratory and had the opportunity to experiment with the canning and dehydration of fruits and vegetables. It was at this time that a number of tragic deaths were reported as a result of ptomaine poisoning contracted after eating canned olives. It was in the food preservation laboratories of the University of California that a safe formula for canning olives was finally perfected.
Contact with Americans was limited to associations made in my university classes; my other contacts were almost exclusively with my fellow citizens from India of whom there were some eighty at the university. The only times that students of different nationalities ever got together were at meetings of the Cosmopolitan Club, sponsored by the YMCA in Berkeley, under the leadership of the YMCA secretary, Dr. Day.
The student group from India was very well organized and we all belonged to the Hindustan Association of America, which had chapters throughout the United States in different university centers. After I had been at Berkeley two years I was elected national president of the association, which gave me many opportunities to make speeches on India and meet with other groups as a representative of the Indian students at the university. All of us were ardent Nationalists and we never passed up an opportunity to expound on India's rights to self-government. I took part in several debates and spoke before many groups and organizations.
It was my habit at the time to write my speeches out very carefully in advance. Sometimes I would take two or more weeks to write a speech and then memorize it. I used the best possible language and tried to follow the style of old English orators who believed in melodious phrases couched in flawless grammar. But I soon found this special preparation could get me into trouble. It allowed for no spontaneity, and when I had to have a comeback or an answer to a question on controversial subjects such as Indian independence I was often very slow.
On one occasion when I was president of the Hindustan Association of America, the annual convention was scheduled to be held at the university. I had previously gone to Palo Alto and made arrangements with the president of Stanford University, Dr. David Starr Jordan, to be our principal speaker. A few days before the convention, however, Dr. Jordan had to go East and could not be present. We had difficulty in finding a substitute, but finally a professor of political science at the university agreed to pinch-hit.
I delivered a half-hour talk on the right of India to independence and the inequities of British rule. Then our main speaker rose and proceeded to tear me apart. He floored me with questions I couldn't promptly answer. "How about the primitive agriculture in India?" he asked. "How about the caste system? How about the disunity between the Hindus and the Mohammedans?"
He easily got the better of me and I felt very sick and sad that the meeting ended by creating an unfavorable impression for the cause of India.
A leadership position among my group was not always an enviable one. Once I was chairman of the annual faculty dinner to which students invited instructors as guests. I worked for two weeks preparing my speeches and introductions of honored guests, and I recall my feelings quite vividly. While sitting at the head table next to the dean of the Agricultural College who was to be our principal speaker, I worried as I tried to remember the big words and resounding passages in my forthcoming speech of welcome. Meanwhile, I could see my fellow students having a wonderful time, chatting and talking with their girl friends and faculty guests. Most of the extra work was my own fault. I now know it was not necessary for me to worry and work so hard on my speeches, but I was a perfectionist, and there was no helping it.
Mahatma Gandhi had become a very popular figure in the United States by this time and people were eager to know and hear about him, particularly from a native of India. Therefore, it was not unusual for me to receive as many as seven invitations a week to talk about Gandhi.
These talks were not always one-sided. Sometimes I encountered people in my audiences--particularly in the question-and-answer period--who knew much more about India than I, and there were some very embarrassing occasions, particularly when I was asked questions I couldn't properly answer. All in all, however, it was a wonderful experience to be able to go out and meet with people and talk of matters close to my heart. I felt at the time that the least I could do for India was to present a true picture of that unhappy land to the people of America. In those days the picture of India which most of the American people carried in their minds had little basis in reality. It was a confused jumble of yogis, snake charmers, and maharajas. There were very few good books available about India, most of them written by former members of the British Government in India who were on the whole extremely unfriendly toward the history and culture of that ancient land.
Once I was invited as a representative of the Indian students to the home of the minister of a large church in Berkeley, together with representatives of other foreign student groups. Our host was very friendly and kind and asked each of us what, in our opinion, Americans could do to make our lives more pleasant and make it easier for us to meet and mingle with Americans.
All of us were eager to meet the American people and become a part of American life; but because of our general lack of funds, we were not in a position to go out and live in American homes and pay room and board.
When it came my turn to speak, I said: "My friend, what makes us feel not at home as much as we would like are just such meetings as this, and I wish there were no need for such a meeting. What we would like is not to be considered foreigners or strangers at all, but to be accepted by Americans as friends. Then there would be no need for meetings like this. You have a beautiful home here. If a close relative or friend comes to your house, you don't stand up and offer him the best chair in the house. He comes in and feels at home; he sits where he can. It is only to strangers that you stand up and offer the best place. We would like to be merely members of the family and not feel we are strangers or foreigners."
But such acceptance was very difficult to obtain in the atmosphere of California in those days, particularly for students from Asia. Prejudice against Asiatic people in California was very intense in the early twenties and I felt keen discrimination in many ways. Outside of the university atmosphere it was made quite evident that people from Asia--Japanese, Chinese, and Hindus--were not wanted.
The state legislature had just passed a piece of discriminatory legislation known as the Alien Land Act. It prohibited Asiatics from owning or leasing farm land and was aimed at preventing them--particularly the Japanese--from acquiring rich and fertile land in the state. Japanese and Chinese were becoming a dominant factor in truck farming in California and the law stated that no person who was ineligible for American citizenship would be permitted to lease or own properties for agricultural purposes. Since all Asiatics were ineligible for American citizenship, they were effectively boycotted.
Despite the prejudice and discrimination that I saw, there were many other American practices that made a more favorable impression on me. I recall one afternoon when I was returning from the university library to the clubhouse I saw a group of boys and girls gathered together near Berkeley High School. Two boys were having a knockdown, drag-out fight. As I stood there and watched, I noticed that not one among the spectators tried to help or hinder either of the fighters. Eventually one of them acknowledged he'd had enough and the battle was over.
Then, to my amazement, the two boys walked arm in arm to the soda fountain nearby and shared a coke from the same bottle.
It was my first experience with sportsmanship as practiced in America. I vowed to myself that if I was going to acquire any of the characteristics of the American people, one of the most important ones would be to learn to be a good sport. At this time I saw another example of it on the political level. During the American national election in 1920 I read the speeches of the two presidential candidates and heard some of the debates on the issues. It was a long and hard-fought campaign, but I saw that on the night of the election, as soon as it became apparent that Senator Harding had won the election, the defeated candidate, Governor Cox, sent a sincere message of congratulations and offered his services to the next president.
After a year of study at the university in the Department of Agriculture, my love for mathematics was once again aroused. This was not difficult, for my interest had been kept alive by my friends who were taking courses in mathematics and who would often come to me for help. Then one morning, out of curiosity, I visited the Department of Mathematics. I talked to the instructors, and told them I had majored in mathematics in India at the University of Punjab, and graduated with a B.A. degree with honors in Applied Mathematics.
I learned that if I wanted to try for a master's degree in mathematics at Berkeley I could apply the units which I had acquired in the Department of Agriculture toward the twenty which were required for an M.A. degree. I figured out that it would be possible to take some courses in mathematics while continuing my studies in food preservation and within a year's time I could get an M.A. degree in mathematics.
So I joined the Department of Mathematics and qualified for an M.A. For my master's thesis I was advised by Professor McDonald to continue work that had been started by a professor at Cambridge on a differential equation which had no general solution but did have particular solutions.
I worked on the problem diligently and when Professor McDonald accepted my thesis he told me that if I wanted to continue for a Ph. D. degree he would be happy to accept my work as thesis for that high degree. This was naturally quite an inducement, and with this generous encouragement I therefore decided to continue my mathematical studies. I expanded my work on the same thesis "On Functions Associated with the Elliptic Cylinder in Harmonic Analysis" and after about a year and a half of further study I received my Ph. D.
The greatest difficulty I encountered was in languages. I had to have a reading and writing knowledge of two foreign languages. I chose French and German and learned to read books on mathematics in both tongues.
My two instructors in agriculture, Professors William Cruess and Richard Christy, were very helpful to me in my work and I became deeply attached to them personally. Among the many favors they bestowed upon me and other students was to help secure jobs during the summer vacations in various canning factories in California.
One year I worked in an asparagus canning factory of Libby, McNeill & Libby near Sacramento. Another time I was employed at the same company's factory in Sunnyvale, a very large plant where cherries, peaches, and other fruits in season were canned. I also worked at the factories of the California Packing Corporation, particularly Plant No. 7 in Emeryville near Oakland.
During the several months I worked at the Emeryville plant I became very friendly with the superintendent, Mr. Henry Bernier. He was a very progressive manager who believed in giving opportunities to college students and inducing them to join his organization. I had been in charge of the syrup department for several months when the assistant superintendent of the plant was transferred.
One evening Mr. Bernier invited me to his home for supper. I enjoyed meeting his lovely wife and two small children, and during the evening's conversation Mr. Bernier asked me what I intended to do after I graduated from the university. At that time I was still working for my Ph. D. degree in mathematics. Since my mind was far from made up as to the future, I replied very vaguely to the effect that some time in the future I wanted to write a history of India and perhaps the further opportunity to obtain a fellowship or instructor's position in mathematics in some American college or university. Almost as an afterthought I said I was also interested in learning more about the canning industry.
Two days later Mr. Bernier told me that during that evening at his home I had talked myself out of a good job. He had decided to offer me the position of assistant superintendent of the factory, a welcome and flattering offer to a twenty-three-year-old student. The company, he said, was looking for college graduates who had studied in the field of agriculture because they were expanding and needed more college-trained people in managerial positions. When I had been vague about my future plans, he had decided that it was not the job for me since they had no interest in training young men who were not certain that they wanted to make canning a career. It was the first time in my life that I talked myself out of a good job; but certainly not the last.
I received my Ph. D. degree in mathematics in May, 1924. By that time I had decided that I was going to make America my home, although I had received offers of professorships from two colleges in India. I had made up my mind definitely that I was not going back to India, but the difficulties in my way were very formidable.
During my college years at Berkeley I had maintained my keen interest in American history and government by studying the lives of the great leaders of the nation, Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson. I had come to the United States as a great admirer of its institutions and its leaders. America exemplified for me the highest form of democracy. Its people had developed a system based upon the Declaration of Independence and the belief that all men are created equal. Human dignity was recognized and (with some notable exceptions) the principles of democracy were practiced.
From my contacts at the university my fondness and affection for American institutions had extended to the American people as well. I came to love their open friendliness, enthusiasm, and spontaneity. Even though life for me did not seem very easy, it had become impossible to think of a life separated from the United States. I was aware of the considerable prejudice against the people of Asia in California and knew that few opportunities existed for me or people of my nationality in the state at that time. I was not a citizen and could not become one. The only way Indians in California could make a living at that time was to join with others who had settled in various parts of the state as farmers.
I had met a few Indians from Imperial Valley who had done very well, and so in the summer of 1925 I decided to go to the southern California desert valley and make my living as a farmer.
III. EARLY DAYS IN IMPERIAL VALLEY
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