In 1938 few Americans knew about British-governed India or the nationalist movements then burgeoning there. Addressing this, a New York-based foundation, the Institute of Current World Affairs, awarded 23-year-old Phillips Talbot a fellowship to spend several years in India learning about the country. This volume is a collection of Talbot's letters written between 1938 and 1950, on the buildup to the independence of India and Pakistan, and the early experiences of the new states. Talbot's letters and reports from the field, presented here in the original, include his first-hand observations on student life at Aligarh Muslim University, local life in a small Muslim community in Kashmir, a Vedic ashram in Lahore, Tagore's Shantiniketan, Gandhi's Sevagram, the Kodaikanal Ashram Fellowship, and Hindu and Muslim urban communities in Lahore and Bombay, and Afghanistan.Learning about Indian politics, Talbot attended crucial meetings of the Indian National Congress, including the Ramgarh Conclave at the beginning of World War II, and the All India Muslim League's Lahore session at which the Pakistan resolution was adopted in 1940, along with other assemblies such as the Asian Relations Conference in the spring of 1947.
He came to know Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Jinnah and other leaders. A trained journalist, Talbot reports with flair, whether he is recounting the Lahore session of the Muslim League, or describing a walk with Gandhi in Noakhali district of East Bengal after "the great Calcutta killing" of 1946, or his last interview with Gandhi a few weeks before the latter's assassination. For anybody wishing to get a ground-level view of South Asian society in its decisive decade, these letters from an American observer promise to be an enjoyable read.