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INDIA: The Shade of the Big Banyan - TIME

INDIA: The Shade of the Big Banyan

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There are other brakes on progress: the rigidly entrenched caste system, the antipathy of the educated toward manual labor, the 8,000,000 wandering sadhus or holy men (80% reputed to be frauds) who live in idleness. These and the leaden weight of superstition and ignorance make of Indian life, in Nehru's despairing words, "a sluggish stream, living in the past, moving slowly through the accumulations of dead centuries."

Fourteen Hours. Faced with these problems, most Indians beg for time that may not be available. India has been independent only twelve years, they say, and already the inequities of the caste system have been abolished—at least by law if not in practice. The sacredness of cows and the dark night of ignorance will give way, too, they insist, if slowly. But help must come from abroad, and ways and means of rechanneling the stream of Indian life will certainly be discussed this week by Eisenhower and Prime Minister Nehru.

The two men know, like and respect each other. They first met in 1949 when Ike, as president of Columbia University, awarded an honorary degree to Nehru, who was making his first visit to the U.S. After Eisenhower moved on to the presidency of the U.S., Nehru's private comments about him were not always flattering. Though recognizing Ike's inherent goodness, Nehru nevertheless thought him a weak leader, dominated by the "negative" foreign policy of John Foster Dulles.

They became better acquainted in 1956 on Nehru's second trip to the U.S., soon after Hungary and Suez had erupted into the headlines. Spending a day at Ike's Gettysburg farm, the two began talking at breakfast, continued through the morning until lunch. Then after a short nap, the talks went on through the late afternoon, dinner and evening—a total of 14 hours. It was, said Nehru, the longest sustained conversation he has ever had with anyone, and it touched on subjects ranging from the painting of Grandma Moses to the personality of Nikita Khrushchev.

Flat & Stale. Nehru as a man is as contradictory as India as a nation. Still slender, handsome and energetic at 70, he looks taller than his 5 ft. 8 in., works 17 hours a day year in and year out, and has had only a six-week vacation from his job since 1947. Personally fastidious, from the fresh rosebud in his buttonhole each morning to the silken handkerchief tucked into his right sleeve, he is most at home with India's teeming, untidy millions. An agnostic who "is not interested in religion," he is leader of one of the world's most religious peoples; he is a socialist with a built-in antipathy to capitalism, but most of his governing colleagues are conservative businessmen; often so irritable that he will explode with anger at a misplaced teacup, Nehru endured more than ten years of imprisonment by the British with equanimity and aplomb.