This is the first time that I collect myself to write something unofficial in English. Something that should be a well drawn picture of what I have seen, a picture vivid enough to convey my thoughts to those who make the trouble to open my book.
I am ateist, therefore I cannot ask my God to assist me in this fantastic venture, but I used to dive in my period of life that is called “when I was young (or much younger)”, so I just took three deep breaths and dive into my own brain, into my memories. Let hope I shall be able to write in an enjoyable way.
My first visit to India took place in 1972, when I was appointed the Manager of the Hungarian Pavilion at the II. Asian International Fair in New Delhi.
I arrived to Delhi in the late afternoon of the 2nd of October, both the date and the afternoon hours suggested that the temperature would not be very hot. I walked out of the Jumbo absolutely quiet - at least as far as the climate was concerned - and I immediately got the first blow from India. I was dressed in a pair of light summer trousers and a shirt with short sleeves and the trousers glued to my leg as if they were ironed on them.
Shock followed shock for days: the crowd at the airport was immense, the humidity so high it was difficult to breath, the administration at the airport polite, but slow, the porters and taxi-drivers almost rude, fighting for travellers, for a small piece of bread. The hotel was elegant, the interior decoration of the lobby and of the corridors, restaurants was wonderful, exotic, full of Indian miniatures, wood carvings, brass implements, but - though air-conditioned - the corridor and the room were smelling of mould. I was trying to be quick next morning, but the waiter was surprised to see me in the first quarter of the first official hour of opening, the breakfast was served awfully slowly, I was cheated by the cashier when I exchanged some money in the hotel.
The worst of shocks expected me around noon, when - after having reported to the Trade Commission - I was driven to the Fair. Europeans (not talking about Americans or Japanese) cannot imagine the picture that expected me. No roads, trucks and cars fighting for space, building materials in heaps, row of women handling sand and concrete from trucks in small baskets, the electric system of the fair looked like a network of hundreds of spiders, cables in absolute disorder in the air, tied to wooden posts that almost collapsed under the weight of the cables. I was about to faint. The Hungarian pavilion which was reported to be ready with the interior at a stage of 8o% readiness looked like a grey tomb from outside and even worse inside. The lighting consisted of one bare bulb under which families of labourers lived their daily life: 4-5 rush beds without any bed-cloths, a steel plate on two bricks serving as stove, a woman feeding her unbelievably small child. Those parts of the floor that could be seen looked black and dirty. The interior - wooden boards, hanging from the ceiling - was absolute waste: twisted, rough, not good for anything else than firewood.
I desperately tried to get some information from the only man present, why was the work at standstill, where could I find the contractor, first asking complete questions, then cutting my sentences into short chains of words, finally asking only the name of the contractor. Every effort proved to be futile. I went out trying to console myself with the sight of the outside word and it worked a little bit: seeing that all my neighbours must be at least in the same hopeless situation, if not worse, made me cool down. I sat down on the stairs of the beautiful pavilion and watched the strange way a woman worked a few steps from the pavilion. Dressed in saris they worked in a chain, taking over the basket from the next member of the chain, dropping the empty one to the legs of the other, making a few steps with the basket….A ritual of thousands of years: otherwise they would keep the empty basket in their hand making easier for the fellow-worker to take over it without bending down. Who can understand this?
To cut this long and awful story short: we completed the Hungarian pavilion in time. It was one of the few that were finished in time. Indira Gandhi opened the fair when it was not more than 7o% ready. There are a few points I cannot avoid mentioning:
The Hungarian staff worked “day and night” in a humid 4o-42 degrees of Celsius temperature, eating from their pockets, in inhuman situation and circumstances.
The administration of the Fair helped a lot. Without their friendly assistance this wonder could not have been established.
I want to spend a little more time with describing two Indians.
One is our sweeper. All my efforts to select an employee for the pavilion who would undertake a combination of duties, namely dish-washing, serving our guests and sweeping, were spent without result. Every nominee listened to me quietly, promised to pick up the job next day and never turned up again. I complained to the official of the Trade Commission, who was obliged to back us up and got the immediate explanation. Sweeping (and dish-washing as well) cannot taken up by the same person, who is serving the guests. Only untouchables touch dirty things. Come back tomorrow and offer the job of sweeper to the sweeper of the Trade Commission, we shall let him do the job. I went to the TC next morning and the fellow, a short, dark-skinned one was shown to me from a distance of some 4-5 meters. I made a couple of steps towards him with the intention to shook hands. He made the same steps backwards. I felt my face flushing from shame: I understood that this pure fellow is still - after Mahatma’s law made him equal some 25 years ago - afraid to cast his shadow on me, not talking about shaking hands, that it will take probably centuries to wipe out this unbelievable discrimination of human beings by fellow human beings.
The other one was a young lady. One of the most beautiful ladies I have ever seen in my (long) life. I faced similar to the case of sweeper difficulties in finding the right hostess for the pavilion. None of the girls sent by the administration or who just came to ask for any job could be accepted: they proved to be “not nice” or could not speak good English or were not ready to do something essential. I was about to ask the assistance of the TC, when I got a call from the administration: they are sending a lady just now who will definitely be good for the job. And she came in 1o minutes: a tall, beautiful girl with the usual straight black hair, bright white teeth and - I could not believe my eyes - with very unusual green, light green eyes. And though she was dressed in sari, one could guess she had splendid figure as well. I said yes without hesitation. And when she first came to learn what she would have to do, she proved that she indeed had very good figure. She came in shorts and we could see that her legs were what one would call sportive. She proved later that she could do her job on the same “beautiful” level.