From the very first time I ever saw a film set in India I felt a powerful urge drawing me to that ancient land of mystery and romance. Leaving a theater after watching a film like “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer,” “Gunga Din,” “Kim,” or “Wee Willie Winkie,” always filled me with a longing to be there in the place I had seen up on the screen.
However, while in the Air Force, I asked a friend in personnel about my chances of making it to India, and received a rude shock after he did some research.
“Tom, there isn’t a chance that the Air Force will ever send you to India. All we have there is 11 men in the embassy; and except for one of them who works in the code room, they’re all either officers or admin people.”
A saddened 24-year-old NCO with only seven years in the Air Force, I set my lifelong dream aside, hoping I might manage something after I retired — in 20 or 30 years.
Imagine my feelings when, just three years later, while stationed in Japan and disgusted with a base literally surrounded by whorehouses and cheap bars, I had this conversation:
“Chuck,” I said to a buddy of mine from headquarters, “I’m sick of this lousy place. Is there any way you can get me out of here?”
“Fraid not,” he replied sadly. “On the other hand, could I get you a great assignment if you had a top secret clearance! We’ve been searching every base in the Pacific for someone in your field with a top secret clearance, and we can’t find one.”
“But I’ve got a top secret clearance.”
Three weeks later I began a 6,000-mile trip to Karachi. On the last stop before Karachi, I stepped out of the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi, took a deep breath of air I had never expected to breathe, and smiled from ear to ear as I watched a cow — sacred in India — calmly blocking traffic as it ate — of all things! — a newspaper.
At 1 p.m. on Nov. 1, 1959, I stepped out of an aircraft into the bright sunlight of what just a few years earlier had been RAF Mauripur. An hour later, as we drove through Karachi, which was virtually unchanged from its earlier days, I saw what the description I had read in the Encyclopedia Britannica back in Japan had meant by, “The white city of the orient.”
Was I happy? Oh, boy!
The British may have divided India into three parts when they gave it its freedom, but there had not yet been time to change it much. Just a couple of days later, I and a new friend were relaxing aboard a single-masted, lateen rigged dhow as its seven-man crew treated us to a day long cruise on the Arabian Sea at such a low price I could hardly believe it.
And on Nov. 18, 1959, Sam McNutt, another new friend, asked me, “Hey, Tom, how’d you like to meet a couple of nice British girls?”
At 7:15 that evening, Sam and I strolled up a flagstone walk to a veranda, where I took one look at a strangely familiar face and discovered I was in love.
And Lolly made the same wonderful discovery at the same moment.
We have both always said it was not like meeting someone new, but like meeting someone we already knew, and had been waiting for all our lives.
We celebrated our 60th wedding anniversary this June.