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May 20, 1956 - Image 12

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Michigan Daily, 1956-05-20
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Page Six

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

- ncea MnAv 20_i, 7195

Sunday, May 20, 1956

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

. .. ..... . . ,... Ju11UUr., lvlup 4RT) 17JU

I

Writer John Frederick Nluehl was warned to

"calm do

AMERICANin INDI A

I

but his ireressible enthusiasm and energy anaged t4
him on a 2,300-mile journey through India.

By ERNEST THEODOSSIN
WRITER John Frederick Muehl
impresses one as being not
-merely unusual, but downright un-
believable.
He is a man who has come to
know India amazingly well through
a fantastic 2,300 mile journey dur-
ing which he passed as a bandit,
became involved with village auth-
orities, crossed deserts, mountains
and swamps, and ended up in a
hotbed of minor Communistic rev-'
olutions. And by writing of this
India, he has becone a foremost
American authority on its land and
its people.
Right now, he is teaching the
rudiments of literary criticism to
sophomores as a University Eng-
lish professor, an occupation that
seems an immediate antithesis to
his amazing travels through a
county of 400,000,000 people to
find out "what the real India was
like."
UT THEN this seems no more
unbelievable than his appear-'
ance. To begin with, probably no'
one would ever suspect Muehl of
being an English professor at a
first glance. He dresses in a man-
ner that would make Esquire edi-
tors cringe. Plaids, tweeds, khakis'
and desert boots are everyday ap-
parel.
He has smooth black hair and a
red mustache, a combination
which students often cannot ac-,
cept even after a semester's work
with him. He is a short, sinewy
man who might be mistaken for
an Arabian prince or a Manhat-
tan bartender. His most overt emo-
tional state is enthusiasm, often
enough for a half dozen people,
and an enthusiasm which he4

SEACOAST IN TAMILNAD, SOUTHERN INDIA

swears has diminished in the past
few years, and which, in its more
blatant period, once inspired writer
Pearl S. Buck to observe that "If
you don't calm down, you're going
to kill yourself."
This enthusiasm goes a long
way toward explaining the writ-
er's actions. It has sustained him
on innumerable back-breaking ex-
ploits in India, and is no doubt
responsible for the kind of de-
termination he has. A conscien-
tious objector, he joined the Am-
erican Field Service during the
Second World War and was sta-
tioned in India from 1943-44.
What he describes as lax duties
in the AFS enabled him to take
long jaunts over the Indian coun-
tryside, once an 1,800 mile journey
to the north. And what he saw
convinced him that he must come

back on his own and get to know
India.
The conviction was there all the
time; even when he returned to
Ann Arbor to complete his B.A.
in.economics and start teaching,
and to write up his early Indian
adventures, "American Sahib,"
published in 1946 when he was 22.
In the meantime Muehl had
married and when he and his wife
set out for India in 1947, "We had
just enough money to get there
and the rest was hope. Otherpro-
fessors get books when they go
away. My kids gave me a cock-
tail shaker and an automatic cork-
screw and we were off."
THE COUPLE had just arrived
in India when Muehl came
down with amoebic dysentery and
they spent their small reserve of
cash getting him dloctored up. His
wife, Doris, went to a mission
school to teach and Muehl started
traveling.
He remembers that at the be-
ginning he had no idea of what
he was going to do. "The cities in
India are pretty decadent-a blend

of the East and the West. I had
the idea that to know the real
India, you had -to start with the
villages. I knew nothing about
the villages, so there was no way
of selecting spots to visit. I recall
one morning in a train depot. I
suddenly, realized I didn't know
where I was going, I couldn't
Muehi in Print
Full accounts of John Fred-
erick Muehl's travels and ob-.
servations in India may be
found in the writer's two pub-
lished full-length books, "Am-
erican Sahib" (1946) and "In-
terview with India" (1950).
Both have been published by
the John Day Company.
Muehl is now working on a
book about the British Fast
India Company and is simul-
taneously writing a novel set
in India. He also writes articles
for numerous publications and
is a constant contributor to the
book reviewing section of the
Saturday Review.

speak the language-I was just
plain scared."
Within a few weeks he had
learned Hindustani and in January
of 1948 he began his long-awaited
journey in Kathiawar in the
northern part of ,India. Playing
along with the idea that he would
get a better reception if the vil-
lagers thought he was a fugitive
from the law, he took to begging
for food, grew a beard because
shaving increased the likelihood
of infection and learned to sleep
comfortably with -bedbugs and
rain pouring in through the shabby
roofs.
Moving through South Gujarat
he met up with a police officer and
spent several weeks chasing a
bandit. They never caught him,
and Muehl worked his way to Ma-
harashtra where he traveled with
a band of roving minstrels. Com
edians, dancers and jugglers were
his daily companions. While in
this part of the middle India he
began to learn about the Rash..
traya Swayamsevak Sangh, or the
RSS as it is called, a violent re-
actionary organization seeking to
establish the old caste system
more forcefully and return India
to its ancient glory.
It was in a village in Mahara.
shtra that he learned of Gandhi's
death, engineered by the RSS who
skillfully moved out of the vil-
lage, having celebrated the assas-
sination before it actually took
place.
The forests of Mysore, a jungle
area inhabited largely by tigers
and giant cobras, was the next
area he covered. His description
of the suffering in this area is
a tribute to superhuman strength
and his body took the worst beat-
ing it had ever encountered.
In the southern part of -India,
Tamilnad, he spent his time learn-
ing the life of a fisherman and
getting in and out of adventures
with a Communistic uprising,
where cultivators were striking
against the landlords. Finally, sun-

stroke brought him to collapse and
he was rushed to a modern hospital
for recovery.
MUEHL has written the account
of his travels in India into
a book entitled "Interview with
Indig." Like any first-rate travel-
er, he is full of delightful anec-
dotes. But like any first-rate writ-
er he has covered nearly the en-
tire field of human experience in
his book. No doubt inspired by the
sociological outlook - of the thir-
ties when he was growing up, he
has looked for India in the masses.
Yet, the masses for him are large-
ly individuals about whom he has
written with simplicity and in-
tegrity.
His styles is fluid and lively and
the picture he presents is one of
squalor, misery and the strength
of a people to endure under social
and economic conditions that are
such an immense labyrinth of con-
fusion they would stagger most
American urban dwellers.
Whether Muehl has really found
India in the villages is a question
worthy of much discussion, but
remaining unanswerable in the
final analysis. The corruption and
horror he reports represent as
serious a problem. as any nation
has ever faced, and his disqust
with a caste system that he feels
increases poverty and starvation,
and a government which cannot
come near to solving the really
big problems demand the most in-
tense consideration.
Muehl's attitude toward his
findings is a combination of anger
against injustices and a feeling
of sympathy for and understand-
ing of the people he knew.
As dine critic has said, "Indians

COMPROMISE-After his return from India, John Frederick
Muehl shed his beard in favor of a "cookie duster." Both are red,
a marked contrast to his black hair and a perpetual puzzle for
students. Says Muehl: "I once almost dyed my mustache black,
so -people wouldn't think it was a hoax."

may, and doubtless will, protest,
but not one in a million of them
will have seen or done what ..
Muehl did in his six months of
journeying."
Muehl explains it in this way:
"I was going to put a preface in
my book, saying that there was
no such thing as a real India,
that there are only many Indias,
and this India is my India. But,
then I thought this would be ap-
parent to any intelligent reader."
M UEHL HAS now been away
from India for some seven
years. Last summer he was asked
to write the script for the award-

"All I have to do is look at a
globe and find a primitive spot
and I go into a trance. .If I ever
thought I'd have to spend the rest
of my life teaching the same course
from the same notes, year after
year--I'd just die."
Whether or not continuous aca-
demic routine would be a death
blow for Muehl, he is unlikely to
become anything like an ordinary
faculty member. "I am not a schol-
ar," he will say immediately when
questioned about his teaching. He
likes small classes, he likes stu-
dents "when I can get to knuw
them personally."

p
5'
to
v
ti
to
I
a
c
U
a
to

winning TV documentary ''Assign-
ment: India." Working with form-
er U.S. Ambassador to India John
Chester Bowles he ran into some
difficulties.
"Bowles kept telling me things
had changed so much since I was
there, and that the differences we
had in outlook-he was far more
optimistic than me-would be-
come more uniform if I should
visit India again. I don't think so."
Muehl does hope to return to
India some day, to see if there
are many changes. His is an es-
sentially roving spirit, infused
what he called before "juvenile
dreams" and what he now de-
scribes as "middle age fancy."

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