So, the first question is what do you remember from your first few days in the United States when you arrived?
A big shock. Very big shock. I didn't expect. I'd flown straight, almost straight from Stockholm [Sweden] via New York and connecting flight leading up to this and there since I'd come on my own, I asked the taxi whether there was a YMCA that I could spend the night in, he said “Yes, surely there is.” I stayed in YMCAs in Europe, so I said, I went there, and I was dead tired. So I went to sleep but when I woke up, I couldn't believe right, looked around us. Is this U.S.? The place so dirty and stinky. And then the way down to the desk. I said “I have to go to the dental school. How do I? How can I get there?” He said “So you're in luck. Right outside the door, there's a bus that goes straight to there.” I said, “It’s fine.” I went to the bus stop and I saw the people who look like at least half drunk if not completely drunk sitting on the side over there. I boarded the bus and guess what many of them were like that the passengers. And then as I approach the school, I saw people like that sitting by the roadside. And I said, what is this? This is the USA, later on, I found out that many of those houses or university had bought over and they when they were in the process of demolishing and rebuilding, but in the meantime, they're occupied by people like this. I went in, in the office of the graduate program. His secretary said, “Oh, he's in a lecture right now. There's a coffee shop next door if you want to go and have a cup of coffee.” I walked in, and again, that was another shock, the place was dingy [laughs]. I went back, the guy after lecture came out and he said, “Oh, you know, these eight o'clock lectures are murder. Let's go we'll have a cup of coffee and a chat.” So there was a side door from the school building that you go and you could enter that place through the kitchen. And I went through that, followed him. And you could see buckets of dirty water sitting there. I said, “Oh my god, what is this? This is USA?” And a shock was so much more I guess because I had come from Stockholm where everything was unbelievably clean and bright and shiny. People dress like you know, doing well. In here, I see this and I say, what's going on.
And then I was a little late in joining, so, all the housing was full. So they arranged, they found a place where I could stay. And that place was an attic, it was a resident in the medical school. He was renting that house. And that attic he had converted it, he had put three beds and three presses and renting it to you, so I've got the last one which was on top of his porch. So that was another shock. The bigger shock was that guy was so racist, and racist, and discrimination, I'd heard about it, but I didn't know that, how deeply integrated it was. How widely spread and open it was that everybody. I had a friend from Hyderabad, so I became, and he had a so-called local couple who had kind of adopted him. So they came they told him, come and take your friend around and show him the town. As soon as we got in the car, he said, “Vijay, I hope you told him that people that you should stay away from, they are openly racist.” This was in end of August of 1963. November, you may remember that President Kennedy was shot. It happened during my lunch hour. So, I'd gone from school to have lunch when I came back. It was a very different atmosphere in the school. So, I said “Did something happen, what’s going on?” Very casually I was told, “Oh yeah. Kennedy was shot maybe he is dead by now.” And that was that. I said, “Your President is shot, he is dead and this is how you reacted to it?” And then after the school, there was a place for Union Building where, in the cafeteria, we ate all with a TV setup. Reporters were crying trying to report what happened. The audience sitting, rejoicing, clapping and cursing Kennedy, “That is good that SOB we got rid of and that's great.” I said, “What the hell is going on?” [inaudible] School, same thing, everybody everywhere. I mean, in the TV program I remember, watched this late show program. And there was a guest on that I forget who they were talking about some Martin Luther King or some other leader, and he openly on the TV say that “You know what, I'd be very happy if he sends it back to Africa, and takes under his arm on both sides two of his fellow preachers.” This is live on TV. That was very, very shocking to me that–not that my chairman, my guide for the program is chair of the department or head of the department. His wife used to teach math in high school. And they had a program–I don't know if it’s still there, called American Field Service, in which they used to invite high school students from different countries to spend one quarter, three months or four months local school. So he came and said, “You know that she had these three students. And they're going to be leaving shortly. So we want to take them out to dinner, and we'd like you to join us because one of them is Indian.” I said, “Yeah, I'd be happy.” And then he said, “You know, we’re going to go to my country club. But I have spoken to them, it should be okay.” I didn't know what he was talking about. But when we got there, this one guy came out and stood not more than two feet away from us, and went from left to right. Right to left. Looked at three of us. Then said, “These will be okay, Doc, come on in.” And then I realized what he was talking about that he’d spoken to them. That's how things were at that time, luckily, the school, internationally known faculty there, that I have read their textbooks. So that was, uh, but the social thing. You talk to anybody you just–
So what made you immigrate to the United States?
For higher education. So as I told you, most of textbooks that I had read the dental education are written by these people. Out of 10, maybe eight of them at Indiana University. I was admitted to two other schools, Northwestern in Chicago and one in St. Louis. But because of these people that I decided to come to Indianapolis.
Did you have any presumptions about American culture that were challenged during your first days in the US?
[The] American cultures that I learned was from watching the movies. We didn't have TV at that time. So that was only when you see this big, luxurious cars and everybody walking around, looking happy, healthy, having fun. You hardly saw a black person in those movies and if you saw they were either the butler or the chauffeur. And they also join in [inaudible]. You didn't see or hear anything about discrimination. I read about it from news here and there. But as I said, I had absolutely no idea the extent of which it was there, and so open and so widespread.. TThat same friend I told you, that Vijay was from Hyderabad, he told me they were driving from Indianapolis to going south somewhere for three or four friends, when the night fell, it so happened that the Chinese friend was driving, so they stopped near a hotel and asked him to go and find a room. He came back and said “Yeah, they have rooms.” When they went in this guy from Hyderabad had dark complexion but there was another guy from Madras at that time. He was really as you know, they’re much darker in complexion. Soon as they walked in, the guy stood up and pushed themthem out the door and said, “No, no, I made a mistake. No, we don't have room.” Then he openly said, “Look, I have no problem, but in the morning, anybody, even one person sees you, my business will be finished.” So he said, “Just wait here, wait outside in the car.” He made calls, and gave a number, address of a place. It said, “Blacks only.” So that's how much this was [inaudible]. And all this, you know, having read about it, but experiencing it firsthand and listening like this that [inaudible].
So I want to the last question I have for you today actually is what advice would you give to other newly arrived immigrants in the US?
No, I think getting integrated is very important. I still see, even within our own community in Indianapolis, smaller places and small when, you know, in 60s, early 70s, when we didn't have that many Indians, everybody got together. Now, I don't know your experience, if I go to–luckily, I have friends in all the communities and I get invited to many, but I go there and I see 99% Gujaratis, 99% Maharashtrians, 95% from Tamil Nadu. And the problem with that, is that they still speak English the way we're taught to learn to talk in.
The other thing is to become active in your local, like the school boards and be vocal. We still have the habit we get together and complain about things. But when it comes time to openly express our feelings opinions “Oh, no, I'm sure they know about it.”
I think become active in the local community, and beyond that I see it’s happening. And I'm very pleased, very happy to see that. But I think more and more people need to do that. And the other thing that as I keep telling the people have to stop, you know, talking behind backs. Indians, especially my generation, the ones who came in 70s, 80s, instead of helping each other they used to go and talk behind you to try to pull you down rather than helping. Go talk to [inaudible] and say “Oh you know what he did today?”
I mean, that I'm very pleased to see that the second generation growing up here is not like that. My children are not like that. That even us is still, that many of us, much younger than I am, are still active and they need to get more involved with the local thing and get out and be recognized. So, thanks for getting me involved in this!