My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

Text Size: Small Text Normal Text Large Text Larger Text

KATMANDU, Nepal, Tuesday—I have just learned that I was in error earlier this month when I called the memorial to Gandhi in New Delhi his tomb. This was incorrect as according to custom, his body was cremated and the ashes were buried in the Ganges. The Indian name for the memorial we visited is Samadhi. It was ignorance on my part and stupid acceptance of Western idea that made me make this mistake. I am most grateful to have it called to my attention, for I know it must have seemed very stupid to anyone who knew the Indian customs.

Last Tuesday morning we were taken on a tour of Allahabad by Dr. Katju, the Home Minister, who was a most delightful guide. First of all, we got in little boats used by pilgrims who come to the spot where the sacred rivers meet the Ganges and the Jumna. One river is blue and one is brown but both are perfectly clear, good water.

We were greeted on the shore by some of the families who have for generations lived in this area and care for the pilgrims' needs. There is a priest representing every possible denomination or caste and he flies a flag over his particular little shelter so that all pilgrims can recognize their own man.

When one leaves one gives whoever has taken care of one a small present, and some of these families have become rich through these services. The number of pilgrims usually is very great, but on Tuesday it was rather cold and windy so only a few people were bathing. The young ones looked to me rather shivery. We rowed about for a while and every good Hindu dipped his fingers in the water and touched his forehead, for it is a sacred river.

After getting out we went to an old fort to see a remarkable column cut out of one piece of stone. The inscription shows that it goes back several centuries before Christ, even though the later inscriptions were put on several centuries later.

We visited next the jail where Pandit Nehru and his father and innumerable prominent citizens were put during their various confinements in prison. These political prisoners were housed in a little separate prison inside the walls, with a high wall surrounding their particular cells. There were just four such cells, with no connection with one another, but at times the prisoners were allowed to have their food cooked together and to have two other prisoners help them in preparing it. There was not much light in the cells, except what could come through the doorway but the prisoners were allowed lanterns at night. The only furniture in the cells was a cot and a stool on which to sit—a fairly austere kind of life.

Finally, we visited the maternity hospital built in memory of the Prime Minister's wife, who was quite young when she died.

In the afternoon I received a degree at a special convocation at Allahabad University. I had accepted an invitation to the Students' Union right after the convocation and at lunchtime an open letter was read, which had been written by some of the Communist students and signed by a number of others who were probably only dupes. The authorities were rather worried for fear that I would be treated discourteously but I protested I could handle any group of young people. They insisted, however, that I refrain from attending the large meeting of students.

Then I invited those who had written me the letter to come and see me, and I was prepared to receive up to 100 members of the union out on Mrs. Pandit's lawn afterward. Unfortunately, a delegation came to ask Mrs. Pandit why the meeting with the Students' Union had been cancelled. Among them was the vice president of the union who was one of the foolish boys who had signed the open letter.

Mrs. Pandit told them that the open letter was foolish and discourteous. They were so annoyed they staged a demonstration, demanding that she come out and apologize. Finally, I went out and talked to them and promised to go to their meetings, which I did.

They gave me a very nice welcome and presented me with a framed scroll. Then I made another lecture.

It is quite evident that these young people are frustrated, unable to find work to do, and brought up in a tradition of British education which provides them with a good classical education but rather little in the way of practical learning that they can use today to serve their country more effectively.

I hope that after my meeting with them the incident was closed.

I thought the university was a delightful spot and I am very glad to have a degree from there and I hope all universities in India will think over their predicament and try to make such arrangements that the boys will find it easier to get jobs and also have the kind of education that serves the present needs of India.

E. R.
TMs, AERP, FDRL