National Geographic : 1946 Apr
The National Geographic Magazine research laboratory at the main steelworks. Steel from the Tata mills, summer-weight uniforms from the Bombay textile factories, space in hotels, and almost every conceivable kind of equipment and accommodation were turned over to the American troops without stint. One American request, however, almost provoked an international incident. Sacred Pasture for Holy Cows A young American captain was searching desperately for warehouse space in the Cal cutta area to provide storage for the growing stream of weapons and munitions flowing into that port. A few miles outside the city he discovered a field which looked like an ideal warehouse site. Except for a small peak roofed Hindu temple and a few grazing cows, it was entirely vacant. He promptly filed a requisition and got ready to move in a con struction crew. The next morning a storm broke around the captain's ears. Delegations of gesticulating Hindus crowded into Army headquarters. Im portant Hindu industrialists called to protest at the American Consulate General, and the native-language newspapers printed columns of indignant editorials. At the captain's office it took some time for the bewildered Americans to quiet down their angry guests enough to find out what was really the matter. Then, after a long conver sation in Bengali, the interpreter reported: "You simply can't take that pasture," he told the captain. "It is sacred. For many years it has been a home for old cows. Those cows are holy animals, and they cannot be moved without giving offense to all Hindus." The captain apologized handsomely to everyone concerned and went off to look for another-and nonsacred-warehouse site. Such incidents, however, are rare. On the whole, the Americans, both military and civil ian, managed to get along on excellent terms with their Indian hosts. The process, of course, involved a good many adjustments on both sides. The Army commissary, for instance, learned that when it slaughtered cattle, the butchering had to be done in an isolated spot and usually at night, to avoid offending any Hindu; and most soldiers soon knew better than to ask a Mohammedan cook to fry bacon. The Indians, on their side, learned to jump with a good deal more than their normal agility when a jeep came down the road, and they usually were tolerant when an American unwittingly broke one of the caste rules. One reason for the Indian's friendliness lay, perhaps, in the fact that he learned many useful things from his American visitors. On the Bengal and Assam Railway, for example, a battalion of American transportation special ists taught native crews the most modern methods of railway operation, and as a result the tonnage carried more than doubled. Technical representatives from the United States factories showed Indian student me chanics how to assemble and repair all kinds of machinery, from a jeep to a four-motored air transport. Throughout the country, Amer ican industrial engineers and their British colleagues demonstrated new techniques and improved equipment in hundreds of little machine shops and factories. Under the stimulus of military demand, In dian industry made more major strides dur ing the war years than it could reasonably have expected in twenty years of peace. It is true that many nonessential consumers' goods in dustries closed down because of the shortage of materials and spare parts; but wartime restrictions are gradually being relaxed. India's demand for industrial goods is al most bottomless, and there is little prospect that the new skills and new machinery ac quired for war purposes will go to waste. A typical example is a little brick building with a tall chimney on the outskirts of La hore.* It looks strange among the mud huts of the peasants and the delicate marble balus trades of the famous Shalimar Gardens near by, but the people of Lahore are as proud of this modest factory as they are of any relic of the past. It is the first dry-ice plant to be erected in India, and it was built entirely by Indian technicians and with Indian capital. The machinery includes a German Diesel motor, odds and ends of secondhand pipe, and homemade insulation-but it works. So long as the war lasted, all of its output went to the American, British, and Indian Armies, to preserve meats and other perishable foods dur ing shipment to the troops in Burma. When the fighting was over, however, it could expect to find a ready market for its dry ice in a land where refrigeration often proves to be a life saver. Together with numerous other war-born industries, such as the cashew nutshell oil plants in Travancore, to cite one instance, it may help provide a gradually rising standard of living for India's hungry millions in the postwar years.i * See "Through the Heart of Hindustan," by May nard Owen Williams, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, November, 1921. t For additional articles on India, consult the Cu mulative Index to THE GEOGRAPHIC, 1899-1945.