Athens he found
to be one huge construction project in advance of the Summer Olympic Games. In one vista,
he’d see a temple on a hill covered with scaffolding—and in the same frame, as it were,
a couple of guys with a wheelbarrow. He says: “I’d ask myself, ‘Is this going to be ready
on time?’ ” By July, of course, the city played host to the Olympics, in defiance of
security threats and cost overruns.
Everywhere he went in Rome
and Athens, he found history. “Even the rocks are famous,” he says. But he also used
the visit to explore the present, “getting a sense of what Europeans were thinking about
the New Europe and about America. I got an earful,” he says. “Many people are troubled
by what the United States is doing in the Middle East, but I also heard support.” In
India, he spoke with a plastic surgeon who helped restore wound victims in Afghanistan
and who enthusiastically commended American action in ousting the Taliban from that country.
But at a conference, an Australian colleague let him know that “everyone’s nervous or
cautious about the whole situation,” he said. “The Aussies are convinced they’re next.”
When he got into these discussions, “I
was often the only American around,” West says. “I have to say that I heard both sides!
And while there is a certain skepticism, I can also say that most [people] still have
a high regard for America and for America’s role in the world.”
From Europe, West went to
India, where he had attended graduate school at the University of Pune [spelled Poona
when he was there] and worked for three years (1975-78). “This was my fourth trip to
India,” he said, “and fortunately, because of marriage and my former work experience,
I have a lot of contacts.” He met his wife, Ruhi, who is from the hill station of Panchgani,
when he taught at a junior college/boarding school in Maharashtra and worked on a rural
development project that continues to this day. On this trip, he revisited the school.
Then he stayed for a time in both Delhi and New Delhi, where the new capital is grafted
onto the old city, as well as Mumbai, the commercial capital, and the northern region
of Punjab. Here the rule about traveling in the same direction made for a convoluted
route. Because of two conferences in Delhi, it was the first stop on his itinerary; but
Mumbai, his next stop, is west of Delhi. So he flew to Delhi and backtracked by train.
“In India, you really
get a strong sense of the diversity of cultures and religions: Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs,
and Christians,” he says. Except in the flashpoints of its borders with Pakistan,
India generally lives in tranquility with its diversity. But “there was lots of
tension there in the political season,” he observes. At two events he attended
in Delhi—the National Forum on the Constitution Commission, at which he was one
of the few non-Indian attendees, and a World Bank Conference on global development—he
saw firsthand the debates over Indian politics and economics, which he calls “spirited.”
Meanwhile, the political season
was in full swing, with Atalbihari Vajpai’s party confident that it would roundly
defeat the Congress Party. The country was plastered with its “India Shining” posters. “I
had no sense that they were going to lose, and neither did they,” says West. But
Vajpai’s party did lose, badly, and there followed a month of turmoil in which
Sonja Gandhi, head of the Congress Party, was expected to assume the office of prime
minister but finally turned it down.