The new ambassador of India is putting is very mildly on a rainy November morning when he says his government would be "disappointed" if Jimmy Carter does not go to India later this month.
"Both the government and the people are keenly looking to his visit," says Nani Ardeshir Palkhivala between forksfull of herbed scrambled eggs at his Macomb Street residence.
There is no doubt that there is much to do - and undo - after the tensions and strains on U.S. and Indian relations in recent years. And the appointment of Palkhivala, a distinguished jurist and outspoken champion of human rights but no pinstriped career diplomat, is regarded in official circles as one of the best indications yet that India is cager to refleet the new tone and dimension of those relations.
"The State Department says we may know President Carter's decision by early afternoon," he continues, glancing at an aide for verification. It comes in a nod, without discussion. The air is weighted momentarily with the unspoken frustrations of spectators at a waiting game.
An immediately successful lawyer whose clients have included some of the giants of American business. Palk-hivala is accustomed to the high-pressure chambers of the corporate boiler room. And he appears anxious to get on with the business at hand.
But "early afternoon" comes and Carter's decision does not.
Since arriving in Washington on Sept. 25 with his wife. Nargesh, herself a prominent attorney, the 57-year-old ambassador has addressed citizens' groups from New York to Wisconsin weekly.His dialogue is low-key but eloquent, recounting the "rebirth of freedom" in India since the fall of Indira Gandhi. He is generous in his praise of U.S. efforts on behalf of human rights.
"You are too close to the Carter administration to see it now," he says during this breakfast discussion. "But history will show that the United States played a memorable role."
He met Jimmy Carter Oct. 7, two weeks to the day that he and Mrs. Palkhivala arrived. White the ambassador, who carries cabinet rank in India like Andy Young in Carter's administration, makes no such allusions, those close to him saw in the encounter some promising signs. One was the speed with which Carter received him (in the Nixon administration, for example, the average wait for ambassadors was 28 days). Another, the cordiality.
"I welcome you personally, Mr. Ambassador," Carter told him. "Your reputation in India as a champion of human rights and constitutional liberties achieved at some personal risks at times, precedes you."
"If the stars shine among the Parsis, all the Parsis know about it," says a countryman obviously proud of Palkhivala.
(Parsis total little more than 90,000 today in India, out of a population of 600 million. A tight, cohesive group concentrated for the most part in Bombay, their ancestors fled from persecution by Persia's Muslim rulers more than 1,000 years ago. Reaching India, they found safety and religious freedom.)
Palkhivala is the son of a Bombay businessman of modest means. Determined to study law, he paid his own way through school by writing magazine and newspaper articles. Scholarly but at the same time unpedantic, he regards Ralph Waldo Emerson as the United States "greatest thinker" and can be quite startling when, without affectation, he suddenly recites from Emerson's "Brahma":
"They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
"I am the doubter and the doubt, "And I the hymn the Brahmin sings."
"If you search for the truth," Palkhivala says by way of interpretation, "you don't have to worry about heaven. You can turn your back on it."
Says a countryman hailing Plakinvala's "brilliant" legal mind and also his reputation for "highly ethical, highly decent," professional and personal conduct, "he's an articulate spokesman on any subject and capable of understanding the language of diplomacy as well as business or law."
It is clear why Prime Minister Moraji Desai would pick palkhivala, to articulate India's policies in Washington, though some detractors question whether the Indian leader had sufficient international perspective to have amde the choice on his own.
The puzzle, then, is why Palkhivala - India's preeminent lawyer who even represented then-Prime Minister Indira Ghandi in her election fraud case - would accept Desai's appointment.
One associate says that while he often represented the poor or took cases challenging human rights and charged no fee, he was a "tycoon" where big business was concerned.
"He never touched a case unless it gave him 100,000 rupees ($10,000) a day," says this source. "That of course, would mean it was a major case."
Palkhivala's American acquaintances bear such names as Rockefeller and Kaiser. He is a retired "captain of industry." as his biography describes him, among captains of American industry whose firms he often has represented. When he calls it "incorrect" that the government of India is unresponsive to foreign business, it is with the perspective of corporate lawyer first and diplomat second.
International Business Machines and Coca--cCola - "both were my clients" - have indicted they will leave India rather than comply with regulations requiring divestiture of 60 per cnet of their stock into public stock.
"They have clear and invariable corporate policies, " say Palkhivala, "that wherever they operate they will have 100 per cent equity."
On the other hand, there are 60 U.S. companies with manufacturing operations in India complying with foreign exchanger regulations there. IBM and Coca-Cola are the only two which have not. "Everywhere I go here, people ask why we are singling them out," said Palkhivala, and I say that we must treat everybody alike under the law.%
That is just one of the questions Americans are asking Palkhivala in his travels between college campuses and get-acquainted Washington dinner parties. Another relates to Indira Gandhi's chances of regaining power.
he had pulled the rug out from under Palkhivala, her counsel, in June 1975, when she declared a state of emergency and arrested thousands, among them Desai, the man who would one day succeed her as prime minister. Heeding the advice of what Palkhivala calls "a samll coterie of time-servers and self-seekers," Gandhi sidestepped him at a point when a lower court had brought back "a very favorable order" from her behalf.
When he finally did get to see her, "I told her that I was sorry but, yet have been ill-advised, " I was not able to change her mind." He withdrew from her case.
Indians' memories, he says, are "very fresh" and he believes it "improbable" that she can achieve significance again because "the type of people who are advisers now are no different from those who surrounded her then."
Palkivala is uncomfortable with questions about 82-year-old Desai's morning rigual of drinking his own urine. A health faddist and devotee of Mahatma Gandhi, Desai is pictured by his ambassador as so "basically honest" that when "newspapers interviewed him and asked him about it he was unconcerned with the consequences. He is so basically an honest man."
The "misunderstanding" that can ensure, according to Palkhivala, is not unlike that which surrounded Gandhi's brahmacharya experiments, [Word Illegible] called tests by which Gandhi, celibate from the age of 36, took young women to bed with him in later life to demonstrate his self-discipline.
At a series of small dinners given by various members of his embassy staff, Palkhivala and his wife have been quietly and systematically introduced to Washington's society of influence.
Seated on the floor among members of Congress, administration officials, leaders of the academic and cultural community and members of the press. Palkhivala's style has been relaxed and unassuming, in keeping with the Carter administration style.
A Senate wife confesses after one dinner that his straight-forward manner is a breath of fresh air after the chip on the shoulder borne by one of his recent predecessors. Another guest characterizes him as "either an extremely poised diplomat or a very secure tycoon."
"At some point, people who have made a lot of money in India stop trying to make money because taxes are so high and take up causes," according to one Indian. "If Nani, is seeking to build a power base for himself, it's justification enough for spending a couple of years in Washington."