A memoir of an Ohio family’s enlightening and often culturally jarring 1960s sojourn to India.
In this slim volume dedicated to her children and grandchildren, Harlan admirably succeeds in preserving her wide-eyed, motherly memories of a life-altering family adventure in India from August 1962 to May 1963, spent mostly in the Punjabi capitol of Chandigarh. She writes that she was prompted to write the memoir by Virginia Woolf’s admonition that nothing really happens until it’s been described. While her Fulbright-scholar husband taught nearby, Harlan, who holds a degree in home economics from the University of Wisconsin, learned the mystifying ropes of domesticity in and around the family’s spare, but servant-rich, lodgings. Her four young children attended book-poor, architecturally austere schools where corporal punishment for minor infractions was still the norm. Harlan stepped in when her youngest daughter complained of being smacked in the head by her teachers. In a plot twist worthy of Charles Dickens, Harlan took a teaching post herself at a local school for girls whose stern female principal studied at Harlan’s alma mater. The principal proved a taskmaster, and Harlan learned she was capable of more than she thought—a transforming lesson that she carried home with her. Harlan’s family, however, never quite seemed to quite get its balance during its relatively short stay; all but the author were anxious to get home. This comfortably well written narrative is less compelling when describing special family occasions and visits to India’s famous places. (And, despite its title, the book has little to do with Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian prime minister at the time of the Harlan’s stay.) Harlan, a now-retired clinical psychologist and professor in Ohio, augments her memories with letters and notes.
An enjoyable and unassuming memoir of India.