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The Salesman


Time, Dec. 16, 1957

Photo: Dalip Singh Saund, right, with John F. Kennedy

Making his way, city by city, village by village, through his swarming native India last week was California's lively Democratic Congressman Dalip Singh Saund. At 58, the representative from Imperial and Riverside counties, home after 37 years, was keeping his campaign promise to try to help improve U.S.-Indian relations. He lunched with Nehru, attended a parliamentary conference, met the populace in the streets and meeting halls. By far the most listened-to and most welcomed unofficial U.S. ambassador that India had ever seen, Saund turned in a performance that undoubtedly got closer to thousands of India's doubters than any official U.S. envoy before him.

Shoes & Songs

He quickly proved that he had not forgotten his Punjabi mother tongue nor his Sikh traditions. Entering holy temples, he took off his shoes, tied a kerchief around his head (to compensate for the absence of his long-shorn Sikh beard), hugged bewhiskered Sikhs with greetings of Sat Sri Akal (God Is Truth), sang devotional songs and quoted Sikh scriptures (while his U.S.-born wife and daughter, sari-clad, observed custom by sitting with the women in congregations).

Furthermore, Goodwill Ambassador Saund wove many a pungent political thread into his tapestry. Recalling an old Punjabi proverb, 'Torn clothes should be stitched in time,' he declared it is 'inconceivable that two great democracies of the world - India and America - cannot understand each other while their objective is the same.' The U.S. attitude on India's troubles with Pakistan, said Saund firmly, arises out of a realization of Russia's domination in Eastern Europe: 'Aid to Pakistan was only part of an overall military strategy - against international Communism - given after carefully weighing all the facts of life.'

Goa & Gandhi

As for India's insistence that she control Portuguese-held Goa, Congressman Saund reminded respectful members of New Delhi's Rotary Club that the 'vast majority of American people will not agree that Goa is part of Portugal. India should explain in direct and simple terms. Don't approach Americans with negative assumptions. Americans are friendly toward India and have no bias in any way - if we don't succeed, let us search our own hearts. That is what our leader Mahatma Gandhi said. Let us gird up our loins to remove misunderstandings.'

As he journeyed on his way, Dalip Singh Saund left behind murmurs of thoughtful approval strengthened because the reiterated message had come from a man whose qualifications were as apparent as the color of his skin and the skill of his tongue. After all, they had heard him say, 'If Americans were prejudiced against Indians, how did I get elected by free vote of American people in most conservative California?'