Deen and Eunice Gupta
Intimate Alignments in the Non-Aligned Era
By Monika Bhagat-Kennedy |
SEPTEMBER 1, 2021
Most remarkable for us, though, was our grandaunt Eunice, who was white. Deen and Eunice had met at the University of Wisconsin–Madison sometime in 1960 or 1961 and married in New Delhi in 1963. As my sister and I baked with Eunice Aunty, we learned verifiably “American” things unknown to the children of Indian immigrants, like a tried-and-true recipe for frosting (butter and powdered sugar) and that our fingers were indeed the best instruments for scooping out every last bit of cake batter and frosting. As Eunice Aunty said, “They were God’s best rubber scrapers.” In Eunice Aunty and Deen Uncle’s kitchen, we delighted in experiencing something akin to what many of our friends undoubtedly took for granted—quality time with grandparents who were not thousands of miles away in India but here in the United States.
Over the past many months, I have again found myself astonished by Deen and Eunice, this time marveling at just how much I didn’t know about them. As I worked on this essay, bits and pieces of stories, names, and facts steadily came together to form a coherent account of the extraordinary life my granduncle and grandaunt led from about 1958 to 1988, before they retired to West Palm Beach. Eunice, who had a lengthy career with the Library of Congress, was among the first librarians hired to work under the PL-480 program, which helped launch South Asian Studies at American universities during the Cold War. In speaking to family members and researching the midcentury U.S.-India relationship, I have realized that my granduncle and grandaunt’s story is remarkable not merely for their interracial and interreligious marriage (long before such unions became commonplace), but also for the insights their life together provides about mid- to late twentieth-century America—a time in which a kind of postwar cosmopolitan idealism reigned in principle, if not always in practice.
A Chance Encounter in Patna
Deen and Eunice would have never met had it not been for F. Chandler Young, then associate dean of Student Academic Affairs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, who visited India in 1957. Young’s visit followed previous trips taken by professors Henry Hart (political science) and Murray Fowler (comparative literature), whose travels to India were funded in part by a federal government effort to send U.S. experts to participate in “technical assistance programs in applied fields such as engineering, education, medicine, and urban welfare.”1 According to a brief article published in the Wisconsin Academy Review, Young was sent to India by the State Department, very likely part of similar U.S. efforts to strengthen ties with the newly independent country through the exercise of soft power.2
During his trip, Young was invited to Patna University to attend a mushaira, a formal poetry recital, organized in his honor; at the time, my granduncle was a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in communication.3 Born in 1931, Deen was the fourth of six children born to a forward-thinking and politically active couple, Mathura Prasad and Parvati Devi, from West Champaran, Bihar. Champaran was the site of Gandhi’s first experiments in satyagraha in 1917, part of a campaign on behalf of local indigo planters.4 Deen’s father, Mathura Prasad, was prominent in the Arya Samaj in the area, and his mother, Parvati Devi, was involved in the nationalist movement alongside M. K. Gandhi. Parvati Devi eventually became a member of the Bihar Legislative Assembly, serving from 1952 to 1962.5 Mathura Prasad and Parvati Devi’s eldest son, Braj Kishore Narayan, was a Hindi poet whose 1955 trip to Europe inspired his younger brothers to travel abroad as well.6
Deen fortuitously encountered Young at Patna University, and the two arranged for Deen to travel to Wisconsin and enroll at UW. The arrangement was mutually advantageous: Young would demonstrate American goodwill and raise UW’s profile by bringing over a foreign student from India, while Deen would travel abroad like his eldest brother and, what’s more, obtain an American degree. Young’s impact on my granduncle was profound: he not only helped him gain admission to UW (and even a job at Oscar Mayer as a security guard), but also, it seems, advised him on what to study upon his arrival. Like Young, my granduncle studied educational and vocational guidance at UW–Madison, earning an M.S. in education in June 1961. As so many family members and friends can attest, my granduncle was an excellent listener, someone to whom you could always turn for a sympathetic and understanding ear—a quality that, among others, appears to have attracted the interest of a young cataloger named Eunice Stutzman who was then working at the UW Memorial Library.
A “Zesty Spokesman for Careers in Book Service”
Orlo and Bertha Stutzman seemingly intuited that their eldest daughter, Eunice, was destined for great things, giving her the middle name Marvel. Born in 1925 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Eunice was the second of four children who came of age during the Great Depression, and the challenges of that period marked the family for much time to come. Orlo and Bertha worked seven days a week, and as the eldest daughter, Eunice was often left in charge of the other children while their parents were away, a responsibility that she took very seriously. As Eunice’s youngest sibling, Caroll Gates (b. 1940), relayed to me, even when they were adults, her eldest sister couldn’t shake a perceived need to be responsible and frugal at all times: “She was very affected by her place in the family, I think. . . . We would go shopping, and she would find two outfits that she liked and couldn’t pick between them. And I would tell her to get both of them because you can afford it. You don’t have to worry about the Depression. It’s gone. But it was just deeply embedded in her very responsible soul.”7
Books had long provided an escape for my grandaunt, and from an early age she evinced a passion for languages and learning about other cultures. Early jobs in her junior high school library, the Oshkosh Public Library, and eventually the Memorial Library while she was an undergraduate student at UW prefigured her lengthy career with the Library of Congress. Eunice graduated with a B.A. in English in 1949 and relocated with a friend to Colorado, where she earned her M.S. in library science from the University of Denver. For her family, the move confirmed Eunice’s independence and fervent desire for new experiences—all, of course, tethered to books. She then moved to California, where she worked briefly at what was then San Francisco State College before returning to Madison in 1951.
As a full-time librarian at UW’s Memorial Library during the 1950s, Eunice’s training in library science and interest in foreign languages helped her respond to the growing demand in what were then known as “Oriental” languages. She took language classes at UW in order to increase her competence in acquiring and cataloging the Memorial Library’s holdings in East Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern studies. According to a short April 1962 La Crosse Tribune article entitled “UW Librarian Enjoys Life Among the Books,” Eunice’s desk was “surrounded by book trucks heavily loaded with Oriental titles, in Japanese, perhaps, or Hindi, in Arabic and Hebrew. Dictionaries for many Oriental languages sit within easy reach and typewriters with fonts for these languages fill every remaining space.” At a time in which the typical path for many women was marriage and a life of domesticity, my grandaunt, then thirty-six years old, had clearly chosen something else.
A student at heart, Eunice was attracted to a librarian’s unfettered access to new knowledge, places, and people and the insights they afforded:
I’m still excited about being a librarian. . . . It has brought me friends around the world; the people I work with have to have especially broad interests and are therefore especially interesting people; and there isn’t any other job I know of that is better for continuing an education.
You can pick up all kinds of learning here—you’d have to be blind not to. I guess I just hated to get out of school—and you never do on this job. . . .
You know, the rate of travel among librarians is phenomenal. . . . Almost everybody I know here has been to Europe, and it is common for staff members to attend a conference outside the country or to fly off for one or two days of plays at Stratford or in New York.
For over a decade, working as a librarian at Memorial Library provided Eunice the freedom and independence to live the life she wanted. In 1960, she participated in a UW-organized tour to Egypt, Israel, and Jordan. Though she had plenty of admirers and opportunities to marry, my grandaunt opted for a life on her own terms. As Deen and Eunice’s daughter, Sujata (Suji), explained to me, her mother recognized that marriage would very likely require certain compromises on her part that she was not willing to make: “I remember Mom told me that she had decided she wasn’t going to get married. She said she never found anybody in America who was interesting enough to want to give up her independence.”8 But Eunice’s views on marriage changed when, around 1961, and precisely through her role as a university librarian, she met Deen Bandhu Gupta, the teaching assistant in her Hindi class.
Deen’s Journey to Wisconsin
It took some time for my granduncle to gather the funds and documentation he needed for his journey, but in what was probably the summer of 1958, Deen was bound for the United States aboard a freighter on a two-month journey filled with anticipation and many games of chess with fellow passengers. The freighter landed in Baltimore; from there, my granduncle boarded a bus for Wisconsin. I can only imagine what he was feeling at the time: very likely happiness and excitement, but also fear and dread. Riding the bus in America in the late 1950s as a dark-skinned man did indeed prove to be a harrowing experience for Deen, as I learned from his younger brother Kripa. Kripa followed Deen to Wisconsin for higher education in 1960 and confirmed my suspicions about the challenges both he and Deen initially faced:
It was very hard for a Brown or Black man to study, to mix with people, to mix in society. I tell you a very heartbreaking instance when Deen Bhaiya landed in America. . . . His ship anchored in Baltimore, and from there he took a bus to Wisconsin. There were not many Black people in the bus. He was the only Indian. And he was quite dark. Darker than me.
His features were Caucasian, his features were very sharp, but his color was very dark. So there was a lady very close to his seat in the bus with a small child. Five or seven years old. And after two to three rounds of traveling, he looked at the child and he smiled. And the child got so scared. She told her mother, “Mom, save me from this n*****.”
This is the feeling inculcated in the white people and children in America those days. She kept crying, “Mom, save me from this n*****.”
And Deen Bhaiya felt so bad, he had to change his seat. He chose another seat to go far away from this child.9
I vaguely recall hearing about Deen Uncle having a bad experience aboard a bus when he first arrived in the U.S., but never these details. They are symptomatic of the pervasiveness of overt white supremacy in America in the 1950s, a time in which even foreign dignitaries and ambassadors endured acts of racism and intolerance that gave the lie to the liberal ideals underpinning American democracy (Dudziak 26–27).
Indeed, 1958, the year Deen arrived stateside, constituted a critical node in the growing awareness of the global liabilities of American racism and xenophobia. That year, then senator John F. Kennedy wrote A Nation of Immigrants as part of the Anti-Defamation League’s One Nation Library series. Reflecting on America’s foundations as a diverse country of refugees and immigrants, the essay was republished in the New York Times Magazine in August 1963 and helped lay the foundation for the landmark Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. Also in 1958, Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer’s political novel, The Ugly American, was published, a fictional exposé of the cultural insensitivity and ignorance of U.S. diplomats and officials in Southeast Asia. In its powerful critique of the failure of American diplomatic efforts, particularly in comparison to the Soviet Union’s approach to the developing world, the novel contributed in no small part to JFK’s establishment of the Peace Corps in March 1961.
It was also in 1958 that Congress enacted the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), Title VI of which supported the study of critical modern foreign languages and their related cultures in American universities. The Department of Indian Studies was founded at the University of Wisconsin–Madison that same year, among the first of such departments dedicated to the study of South Asia in the United States. In 1960, UW was awarded its first NDEA grant, which expanded language and area studies within the new department.10 It was in one of these newly established Hindi classes that Deen and Eunice first met.
Deen & Eunice in Madison
A typical cash-strapped graduate student, Deen was working as a teaching assistant in the Hindi class when he met Eunice. From my conversations with family, it seems that Deen was delighted to encounter such an open-minded and independent American woman. Eunice, in turn, was excited to meet a soft-spoken and unassuming man who shared her curiosity about the world. Looking back sixty years later, I imagine that their shared experience of growing up in large families also drew them together, not to mention the difficulties they must have faced at times in negotiating their own paths. As Caroll relayed to me, Eunice and Deen enjoyed lengthy conversations about all sorts of topics, and as Suji recalls, “Mom said that Dad was the only guy who seemed really to understand her worldview and may just be interesting enough for her to give up this idea that she wasn’t going to get married.”11 Kripa told me that he first met Eunice at Paisan’s Restaurant in Madison, where, over slices of pizza, she told him candidly, “Kripa, I waited for a long time for a man like your brother.”
But despite their strong connection, Eunice and Deen’s path forward was unclear. As Kripa explained, both he and Deen had already made plans to return to India after studying in the United States; they had no intention of remaining in America permanently. Not that it would have been easy to do so, anyway. As suggested by my granduncle’s experience on the way to Wisconsin, his skin color often exposed him to racism. Eunice, too, was made to feel the effects of her relationship with Deen, including and beyond the uncomfortable looks and stares when they went out together. Eunice once shared with Kripa how, shortly after she and Deen began dating, her landlord threatened her with eviction:
And [Deen Bhaiya] would go once in a while and stay with her. And there was a call from the landlord. He said, “Eunice, who is this Negro coming and staying with you?” And my bhabhi, my would-be bhabhi at that time, she told me the whole thing, she said, “Look, mister, he’s not a Negro—he’s Indian.” He said, “Never mind. He’s a Black.” And so much so that he threatens to evict her from the apartment: “If that man comes again, I’ll have no option but to evict you.”12
Certainly, the landlord’s antipathy when it came to Indians, on the one hand, and Black Americans, on the other, speaks to the overarching climate of the time, in which any nonwhite individual on American soil—no matter who they were or where they came from—was vulnerable to the stings of racist behavior (Dudziak 39–42).
Like Deen, Kripa too encountered discrimination. Though he was among a handful of graduates to have earned a coveted degree in diesel technology from the Milwaukee School of Engineering in 1962, Kripa was unable to find a job. On job-hunting visits, Kripa couldn’t help but notice that his (white) friend Ronald would repeatedly get job offers, while Kripa came away empty-handed: “Wherever we would go, he would be taken, and I would be rejected. And wherever he went, he got a letter. Nothing for me.” As Kripa elaborated:
A dark-skinned Indian couldn’t find a job in the public place, like a restaurant, gas station. We only used to get jobs in housecleaning, sweeping, and as a busboy in the restaurant. Menial jobs. I talked to a gas station owner who said, “I don’t have a problem hiring you, but my clients, they don’t like it.” It was very hard to get a job . . . a proper job. Even after my graduation, I couldn’t get a proper job.13
Both of my granduncles’ experiences testify to the harsh reality of racism and discrimination that confronted Brown and Black individuals in 1960s America. At the time, there were only about 12,300 Indian immigrants in the U.S., representing less than 1 percent of the immigrant population.14 Largely negative views of India and its inhabitants were rampant, owing in large part to Katherine Mayo’s Mother India (1927), a popular polemic on Indian society (Rotter 1–8). Though Congress had recently passed the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, these were limited and focused on the protection of voting rights. The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was still a few years away, as was the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that followed. Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court decision striking down laws banning interracial marriage as unconstitutional, would not be decided until June 1967.
Though it was serendipitous for my granduncle and grandaunt to have met in one of UW-Madison’s first Hindi classes, they would need an additional stroke of good fortune for their story to progress. This happened in August 1961, when seven years after the enabling legislation had been passed, Congress finally allocated funds for an initial run of the Public Law 83-480 (PL-480) Acquisitions Program.
In the years following F. Chandler Young’s 1957 visit to India—a time in which he reports being unable to find any information on mushairas in the library—UW’s East Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern foreign language collections grew considerably, in no small part due to my grandaunt’s efforts.15 Given that his trip had been sponsored by the State Department, Young’s visit to India appears to have been part of broader efforts on the part of the federal government and university leaders to forge increased ties between India and the United States after 1957—a correction to America’s previously ambiguous stance toward India and active courting of its rival Pakistan (Graham 260–1). As Sarah Ellen Graham has written, throughout the 1950s, critics within the Eisenhower administration had argued that it was shortsighted to favor Pakistan at the expense of India, the world’s largest democracy, precisely at a time in which America was presenting itself as a beacon of freedom and liberal ideals (266). While white supremacy—including violence and unrest over desegregation in the South and massive resistance to civil rights efforts by state and local governments—continued to undermine America’s image abroad, the last few years of the Eisenhower administration witnessed an overall improvement in bilateral relations between India and the U.S.
But even more broadly, the State Department’s sponsorship of Young’s 1957 trip to India reflects America’s growing recognition of an evolving global order following decolonization. It was just two years earlier that the momentous Afro-Asian Conference had taken place in Bandung, Indonesia. Now commonly referred to as the Bandung Conference, this gathering brought together twenty-nine newly sovereign countries from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, many of which had just thrown off the colonial yoke. To give some sense of the scope of the conference, the participating countries, along with the host country Indonesia—which had proclaimed independence from the Netherlands in August 1945 as World War II was ending—included the newly independent or recently established states of North and South Vietnam (1945), the Philippines (1946), India and Pakistan (1947), Burma and Ceylon (1948), the People’s Republic of China (1949), Libya (1951), and Egypt (1953). In his opening speech, Indonesian president Sukarno addressed the historic nature of the gathering:
It is a new departure in the history of the world that leaders of Asian and African peoples can meet together in their own countries to discuss and deliberate upon matters of common concern. . . . Our nations and countries are colonies no more. Now we are free, sovereign and independent. We are again masters in our own house. We do not need to go to other continents to confer. . . .
The last few years have seen enormous changes. Nations, States, have awoken from a sleep of centuries. The passive peoples have gone, the outward tranquility has made place for struggle and activity. Irresistible forces have swept the two continents. The mental, spiritual and political face of the whole world has been changed, and the process is still not complete. There are new conditions, new concepts, new problems, new ideals abroad in the world. . . . This twentieth century has been a period of terrific dynamism.16
Jawaharlal Nehru also played a significant role at the conference and used the opportunity to continue to champion his favored approach of non-alignment, or neutralism.17 As opposed to aligning with the capitalist United States or affiliating with the communist Soviet bloc, these “darker nations”—to borrow Vijay Prashad’s term—would chart their own path, independent of the prevailing bipolar paradigm. As Nehru had described it shortly before India hosted the Asian Relations Conference in March 1947, non-alignment entailed “avoid[ing] entanglement in power politics and not to join any group of powers as against any other group. The two leading groups today are the Russian bloc and the Anglo-American bloc. We must be friendly to both and yet not join either. Both America and Russia are extraordinarily suspicious of each other as well as of other countries. This makes our path difficult and we may well be suspected by each of leaning towards the other. This cannot be helped” (quoted in Guha 153).18
Nehru’s sense that the neutralist or non-aligned position would be challenging to implement was borne out by America’s reaction to Bandung.19 Not surprisingly, the momentous occasion of the darker nations coming together to articulate a shared vision of the postwar global landscape was disconcerting to former and current colonial powers, and especially the United States. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (1953–59) was particularly hostile to the event, his deep concern stemming from the potential influence of Communist China as well as, relatedly, a changing international system in which the politics of race and racism could no longer be readily ignored (Fraser 131). In January 1955, Dulles expressed his desire for the conference to be sabotaged in a telegram to the American embassy in London: “If without strong-arm methods Conference could be prevented or considerable number significant countries influenced decline attend US would welcome such outcome” (quoted in Fraser 120). The State Department ultimately succeeded in influencing the proceedings to a certain extent by coordinating with Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines, Turkey, Japan, and Lebanon on an anticommunist agenda and strategy (Fraser 129).
Bandung was widely recognized to be a watershed event and has assumed mythological proportions over the decades. The widespread optimism arising from the conference that galvanized peoples of color around the world came to be known as the “Bandung Spirit” (Prashad 45). Delivered in commemoration of the ninety-fourth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1957 address “Facing the Challenge of a New Age” evinces the Bandung Spirit as King proclaimed that he and his followers were “privileged to live in one of the most momentous periods of human history. It is an exciting age, filled with hope. It is an age in which a new world order is being born. We stand today between two worlds: the dying old and the emerging new.” King’s words, much like Sukarno’s two years earlier, index a hopeful if clear-eyed enthusiasm on the part of oppressed peoples of color regarding the slow yet steady decline of an entrenched global paradigm marked by colonialism and white supremacy. In the post-Bandung era in which the darker nations had suddenly become key players, American leaders were gradually realizing that careful demonstrations of soft power, informed by knowledgeable insight about the particular region or nation at hand, would be the most conducive to achieving foreign policy objectives (Fraser 131–36).
Sukarno, Nehru, King, and Cold War diplomacy seem in many ways so distant from the lives of a Wisconsin librarian and a graduate student from Bihar. The American government’s efforts to understand, navigate, and influence this evolving and dynamic non-aligned world, however, would open and maintain opportunities for Eunice and Deen to link up their lives and chart their unique path therein.
“See If You Like My Country”
Even before the Bandung Conference, the United States had been exercising soft power to win favor in the emerging non-aligned world. A major hallmark of Cold War public diplomacy, the PL-480 program had its roots in U.S. food aid to India in the early 1950s. Under the terms of the so-called Wheat Loan of 1951, India was authorized to direct the first $5 million of interest payments to the development of its own higher education institutions. Three years later, Congress passed the Agricultural Trade and Assistance Act (PL 83-480), which sold surplus U.S. agricultural commodities to foreign countries that paid for them in their own currencies. Eventually known as the Food for Peace program, the act was signed into law by President Eisenhower on July 10, 1954, and established the Office of Food for Peace, the first permanent U.S. organization for food assistance to foreign countries. Through this act, India received more than $2 billion in surplus farm commodities between 1956 and 1963, during which time millions of dollars were also made available for collection development and training programs for Indian libraries (Rotter 108; Konnur 51–52).
Once again, 1958 proved to be a decisive year.20 In September, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) introduced an amendment to the Agricultural Trade and Assistance Act that implemented a provision in which foreign currency earned from the sale of agricultural surpluses abroad could be used to obtain a broad range of foreign publications. The Library of Congress was charged with overseeing the spending of these monies for the following activities:
(1) Programs outside the United States for the analysis and evaluation of foreign books, periodicals and other materials to determine whether they would provide information of technical or scientific significance to the United States and whether such books, periodicals, and other materials are of cultural or educational significance;
(2) The registry, indexing, binding, reproduction, cataloging, abstracting, translating, and dissemination of books, periodicals, and related materials determined to have such significance; and
(3) The acquisition of such books, periodicals, and other materials and the deposit thereof in libraries and research centers in the United States specializing in the areas to which they relate.21
Despite the passage of the Dingell amendment, however, progress stalled over the next three years due to ongoing negotiations over the program’s scope and costs. It wasn’t until August 1961 that Congress finally approved a pilot operation in India, Pakistan, and what was then the United Arab Republic of Egypt and Syria. Chronicling the origins of the PL-480 program shortly after its founding, Maureen L. P. Patterson, the renowned South Asia librarian at the University of Chicago, wrote in 1969 that “the original request for appropriating nearly $3,000,000 in foreign currencies in twelve countries was whittled down to $400,000 in soft currencies and $36,500 in hard dollars for programs in three countries” (745–46). In October 1961, the librarian of Congress approached a number of university libraries to ascertain their interest in participating in the initial phase of the program; for a $500 yearly fee, libraries would receive the material collected by the field offices deemed to be of “cultural or educational significance.” Eleven university libraries accepted the invitation, including the University of Wisconsin, where Deen and Eunice were studying and working.22
As Eunice’s sister Caroll told me, it was Deen who suggested to Eunice that she apply for a job in the New Delhi Field Office, likely sometime in early 1962. “See if you like my country,” Deen said innocently enough to Eunice, but, importantly, this wasn’t just a casual aside to find out whether she liked the food or the weather. Rather, both Eunice and Deen were clear-eyed about the opportunity presented by the PL-480 program. Should Eunice like India, this would confirm to Deen that it would be possible for them to make a life together there. As one of only a handful of librarians in the country with knowledge of Hindi and Sanskrit, Eunice was hired by the Library of Congress in August 1962, and two months later she moved to New Delhi to begin her job as a cataloger in the newly formed New Delhi Field Office.23 Deen remained behind in Madison.24 Blue aerogrammes were sent back and forth across oceans and continents in the months that followed, and it was through these letters that Deen learned that Eunice did indeed like India, that she loved the food, and that she had put on weight.25 It was also in these letters that he formally proposed marriage.26
Deen followed Eunice to his home country a few months later, and the two married in a small ceremony in New Delhi on March 9, 1963. Their son, Ajay Neil Gupta, was born on August 22, 1965, and their daughter, Sujata (Suji) Caroll Gupta, was born on March 3, 1967, both at Holy Family Hospital in New Delhi. From my conversations with Ajay and Suji, it appears that the two enjoyed the best of both worlds, American and Indian. Theirs was a hybrid home, one in which they relished their father’s Indian cooking and easily switched between Hindi and English as the situation demanded. In New Delhi, the family traveled in a wide social circle, one that included not just Eunice Aunty’s American colleagues but also friends and neighbors hailing from all over the world. Exclusive dinners at the American Embassy Club and Commissary would be followed by family gatherings at the homes of Deen’s brothers, Desh and Kripa, and their families. In their home, young Suji met the Dalai Lama, who had by chance been visiting with E. Gene Smith, Eunice’s colleague and a preeminent Tibetologist.27 Deen and Eunice were also intimate with the famous Indian film family the Bachchans, as the poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan’s father, was an admirer of Deen and Kripa’s eldest brother, Braj Kishore Narayan.
At a time in which residence in America was not a viable option, Deen and Eunice took advantage of opportunities that came their way and boldly charted their own non-aligned path. In America, India, and everywhere else in between, they turned heads during their forty-four years together. Indeed, it was precisely in Deen and Eunice’s nonconformity with traditional conceptions of national belonging, racial hierarchies, and gender roles that their union revealed the possibilities and pitfalls of their time. As I have learned, shortly after getting married in March 1963, the two noticed that Deen was experiencing difficulty in accessing the American Embassy Club and Commissary in New Delhi in his capacity as Eunice’s spouse; what’s more, Eunice had lost her own access to these places by virtue of marrying an Indian man. In other words, American-style discrimination had cropped up even on Indian soil, as the same rights and privileges enjoyed by Indian women married to American men who worked at the New Delhi Field Office and the American embassy were not afforded to them. But their unjust ouster didn’t stand for long. In her quiet and determined way, Eunice matter-of-factly called attention to the discrepancy, had words with the ambassador (very likely John Kenneth Galbraith), and got the rules changed.
I wish I knew years ago what I have now come to know about my granduncle and grandaunt’s lives. I would love to ask Eunice Aunty how she navigated her unique position as an insider/outsider during her residence in India from 1962 to 1974. As I have gathered, Eunice’s identity as Mrs. Gupta afforded her some credibility with the majority-Indian staff at work. By that same token, she had to tread carefully in her capacity as a white American woman supervising an office full of mostly Indian men. As Suji relayed to me, she had once asked her mother why she always wore modest custom-made Western dresses and not South Asian clothes to the office, to which my grandaunt replied: “The only thing that keeps some of these Indian men listening to me is the fact that I’m American. I have to set myself apart—I can’t start pretending like I want to be Indian, because then these men will really not listen to me.”29
As my mother remembers from her conversations with Eunice, one such individual was a Mr. Siddiqui, who worked under her in the Karachi office in the 1980s. Though it’s true that he initially had a hard time taking orders from my grandaunt, I learned from Ajay and Suji that Mr. Siddiqui eventually became one of their mother’s biggest supporters and was quite saddened by her retirement. It was also during Eunice’s tenure as field director of the Karachi office, likely in 1986, that Suji was able to accompany her mother on one of her work trips to Gilgit and Swat in northern Pakistan, where Eunice rendezvoused with a book dealer who had just smuggled some banned books out of Afghanistan in order to preserve them. As Suji told me, accompanying Eunice on this adventurous (and, at times, harrowing) trip that involved a risky bus journey on winding, narrow roads at high speeds instilled in her a newfound respect for her mother.30
As much as I admire my grandaunt, I am also in awe of my granduncle, who quietly supported his wife’s profession and, practically speaking, realized early on that her job offer with the PL-480 program meant that her career would necessarily be front and center. While he and Kripa began a thriving business in India much as they had intended back in Wisconsin—the first service station of the Indian Oil Corporation in the country, which still exists today—Deen was not allowed to formally work in the other countries where they resided and consequently took on odd jobs (e.g., as a substitute teacher or swimming coach at the children’s school). As I understand it, the fact that Eunice continued to live her life on her own terms as she had always wanted and, in her own way, patiently chiseled away at the glass ceiling over her nearly thirty-year career at the Library of Congress was in large part enabled by Deen. In a remarkable reversal of typical gender roles, my granduncle did not shy away from taking charge of the domestic sphere while his wife worked long hours in the office and was often on the road.31 A talented chef, my granduncle had a passion for cooking and enjoyed all aspects of meal preparation, from the buying of ingredients to the composting of the leftovers. As Caroll recalls, my granduncle would carry his spice box with him wherever he went, and once even got into trouble in airport security on account of his circular metal tin. Though their flipped gender roles certainly led to some tension and even some gibes from outsiders—“Oh, Deen, I want your job!”—my grandaunt and granduncle nonetheless forged ahead much as they had always done.
But perhaps the biggest surprise to me in researching this essay has been the way in which my own life and career has paralleled—and, at times, intersected with—those of my granduncle and grandaunt. Inspired by my granduncle and grandaunt’s blended marriage, I didn’t hesitate to date, and eventually marry, my non-Indian college sweetheart and to make with him a happily hybrid home for our daughter. Nearly fifty years after they did, I also studied Hindi at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Most remarkably, I now know that a large percentage of the books that sustained my graduate training at the University of Michigan and at the University of Pennsylvania from 2007 to 2016 were acquired during my grandaunt’s tenure at the New Delhi Field Office. By 1982, the year in which I was born, the number of libraries receiving Indian materials stood at thirty-one, and the New Delhi Office had “acquired, processed, and sent to libraries in the United States over 14 million pieces to support research programs in South Asian studies.”32 I’m amazed by the possibility that so many of the books from which I have learned so much over the years may well have passed through my grandaunt’s hands in the 1960s and 1970s before they eventually found their way into mine decades later in the United States. Materials acquired through the PL-480 program began to be labelled as such in the late 1960s in order to raise public awareness of the endeavor; books bearing this stamp have newfound significance for me.33
I would like to extend special thanks to Deen and Eunice’s son and daughter, Ajay and Suji, Eunice’s sister Caroll, and Deen’s brother Kripa, who generously shared their memories in interviews with me over the past many months. Kripa and Ajay also provided the photographs accompanying this essay. I’m also grateful to my cousin and Deen and Eunice’s grandniece, Neha Gupta Kumar, who provided invaluable assistance in locating and translating materials about the Gupta family. Kripa Gupta, who provided insight not just as Deen’s brother but also as an Indian student in the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s, unfortunately died of complications of COVID-19 prior to the publication of this essay. I regret that I was not able to share it with him and to document more of his experiences.
1. Sharon Dickson, “History of the Center for South Asia and South Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” accessed December 26, 2020, https://southasia.wisc.edu/center-history/.
2. As stated in the Wisconsin Academy Review, Young was “called to India a year ago by the U.S. State Department as an educational specialist,” where he “advised particularly with native leaders” (Paust). See also Sarah Ellen Graham, “The Eisenhower Administration and Public Diplomacy in India: An Ambivalent Engagement, 1953–1960,” Diplomacy & Statecraft 25, no. 2 (2014): 260–84.
3. Dean F. Chandler Young, “A Mushara [sic] in India,” Wisconsin Academy Review 5, no. 4 (Fall 1958): 168–69.
4. Jacques Pouchepadass, Champaran and Gandhi: Planters, Peasants, and Gandhian Politics (New Delhi: OUP, 2009).
5. See “First Bihar Vidhan Sabha” and “Statistical Report,” 4, 7. In 1942, when my grandmother Shakuntala and her younger brother, Deen, were about thirteen and eleven years old respectively, they, along with their younger siblings, witnessed their parents and eldest brother going to jail for their political agitation against the colonial government. See Narain: An Introduction, 18–19, and “Sri Mathura Prasad.”
6. Narain: An Introduction, 22. Interview with Kripa Gupta, December 11, 2020.
7. Interview with Caroll Gates, April 28, 2021.
8. Interview with Suji Gupta DeHart, August 20, 2020.
9. Interview with Kripa Gupta, December 11, 2020.
10. Sharon Dickson, “History of the Center for South Asia and South Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” accessed December 26, 2020, https://southasia.wisc.edu/center-history/.
11. Interview with Suji Gupta DeHart, August 20, 2020.
12. Interview with Kripa Gupta, December 11, 2020.
13. Interview with Kripa Gupta, December 11, 2020.
14. Migration Policy Institute, “U.S. Immigrant Population by Country of Birth, 1960-2019,” accessed May 19, 2021, https://www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/us-immigration-trends#....
15. As Young wrote, “The Mushara [sic] in India is a gathering of poets. . . . When my friends in India asked me if I would like to attend one of these affairs, I had to admit that I had never heard of a Mushara (and I might say that, as yet, I have been unable to find a reference to it in our University library)” (168).
16. Sukarno, “Opening address given by Sukarno (Bandung, 18 April 1955),” accessed July 8, 2021, https://www.cvce.eu/en/obj/opening_address_given_by_sukarno_bandung_18_a....
17. While understandably linked to Bandung, the Non-Aligned Movement itself would not formally take shape until 1961 in Belgrade (Prashad xvi).
18. The Asian Relations Conference notably included delegations from twenty-eight countries (Guha 153). Following the ARC, India also hosted the Conference of Asian, Australasian, and Middle Eastern Nations on the Indonesian Question in 1949 (Ampiah 7).
19. Nehru’s words were echoed by Prime Minister of Ceylon S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, who in 1956 described neutralism as the desire to “build a new society for ourselves . . . which best suits the genius of our country. We should like to get some ideas and some principles from this side and some from the other, until a coherent form of society is made up that suits our own people in the context of the changing world of today. This is why we do not range ourselves on the side of this Power-bloc or that Power-bloc” (Ampiah 16).
20. As Maureen L. P. Patterson has written, “The turning point in the attempt to establish a large-scale nationally coordinated acquisition program of South Asian materials came in 1958” (745).
21. Quoted in Patterson, 745.
22. These were University of California, Berkeley; University of Chicago; Cornell University; Duke University; University of Hawai’i; University of Minnesota; University of Pennsylvania; University of Texas; University of Washington; University of Wisconsin; and Yale University.
23. “Library Director Thrives on Travel, Change in Job.”
24. On May 12, 1967, the University of Wisconsin hosted a one-day conference entitled “The Impact of Public Law 480 Program on Overseas Acquisitions by American Libraries.” Eunice was mentioned by name in the conference paper by Donald Jay, coordinator of Overseas Programs of the Library of Congress, who recognized her role in early cataloging efforts: “A South Asia languages section was set up in the Descriptive Cataloging Division of the Library of Congress with staff recruited from various parts of the United States. Important to the success of this particular cataloging program was the appointment (or I should say to begin with the loan) of Miss Eunice Stutzman, now Mrs. Gupta, a cataloger from the University of Wisconsin Library to assist with our cataloging operations in New Delhi” (6).
25. Interview with Kripa Gupta, December 11, 2020.
26. Interview with Ajay Gupta, August 20, 2020. See also Miriam Hinderaker, “Guptas’ Life in India Described.”
27. Both Ajay and Suji maintain their parents’ legacy in different ways to this day. While Ajay appears to have inherited Deen’s quiet solemnity and thoughtfulness, Suji has their mother’s effervescence and drive for new experiences. After a twenty-six-year career at Booz Allen Hamilton, Ajay is now the AP Computer Science Principles teacher and human resources director at Trinity Christian School in Fairfax, Virginia. After teaching in international schools in China and Malaysia from 2008 to 2020, Suji currently resides in Tulum, Mexico, where she is director of education programs at Make a Difference Travel.
28. Ajay Gupta, “My Mother’s Legacy.”
29. Interview with Suji Gupta DeHart, August 20, 2020.
30. The riskiness of this journey is reinforced by the observations of Alice L. Kniskern in her 1982 article, “Library of Congress Overseas Offices: Acquisition Programs in the Third World,” in which she observes Eunice’s travel limitations to acquire source material: “The Library has a part-time contract employee in Kabul with responsibilities for identifying and acquiring whatever is available within the Library’s selection guidelines. Some material is received in Karachi from this employee and other publications are acquired from Pakistan sources particularly in Karachi and Peshawar. It would be more than useful for Mrs. Gupta to visit Kabul but the present political climate does not permit this. There is no expectation that the Library will be able to acquire publications from either Afghanistan or Iran for any other U.S. institution within the foreseeable future” (94).
31. In a 1980 Oshkosh Northwestern article entitled “Library Director Thrives on Travel, Change in Job,” Eunice explained the flipped gender roles in her marriage as follows: “My husband’s mom had a position which was equal to a state senator. So he’s accustomed to having a career woman in the family.”
32. See E. Gene Smith, “The New Delhi Office of the Library of Congress at Twenty: Changing Acquisition Parameters,” Library Acquisitions: Practice and Theory 6, no. 2 (1982): 161–66.
33. Patterson, 753.
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Monika Bhagat-Kennedy is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Mississippi, where she specializes in representations of nationalism and cultural belonging in colonial-era and modern Indian literature. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and M.A. degrees in South Asian Studies and English from the University of Michigan. She is completing a book titled Imagining Bharat: Colonialism, Nationalism, and the Politics of Form in the Indian Novel, 1880-1920.