Outside the entrance to the India pavilion was a large wooden board inscribed with a famous Mahatma Gandhi quote: “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any”. Though India was in turmoil in the world, it presented itself at the World’s Fair as a delicious mix of past and present, playing on the exotic and the modern, all the while affirming the strides it had made since independence from the British. The pavilion was advertized in a brochure as such:
In the pavilion’s restaurant, visitors could sample delicacies, including the Kashmiri Fruit Cocktail and the Kashmiri Fruit Cup. One could also visit the store, upstairs, and buy “Gorgeous silks from Kashmir” and “Kashmir stoles and scarves”. While contested in the real world, the region of Kashmir seemed to belong to India at the Fair. The Pakistan pavilion for its part emphasized instead “Kebabs” and the “finest rugs and carpets from the Frontier Regions of West Pakistan”, never naming Kashmir directly.
Gandhi came again for the grand opening of the Fair, in the company of Presidents Johnson and Eisenhower and many other high dignitaries. Here she said: “I am deeply sensible of the honor you have done my country. Our participation confirms our faith in the theme of this fair: ‘peace through understanding’. Historically your theme is linked with its location, for we are in New York City, the home of the United Nations…. All men are born equal, said Abraham Lincoln, who was born in the United States, but belongs to the whole world. However none of us have been able to live up to this ideal. Between the idea and the reality lies the shadow of short sighted natural interests and the false notions of pride and prestige. Interdependence is but another word for working together.”
The World of the Fair and the real world seemed to overlap and in my research I sometimes wondered which was informing the other. Prime Minister Nehru died during the period of the Fair and the India pavilion closed for a couple of days, with the Indian flag flying at half mast and a book of condolences sent to Indira Gandhi with signatures from high dignitaries. There was even a bomb scare at the pavilion that was attributed to angry Pakistanis.
India had described itself at the Fair in the same terms that the British had used to describe India in the past with words like "colorful" appearing dozens of times on brochures and advertisements. The press had been mesmerized by this but especially by Gandhi, the elegant woman from this intriguing culture, who ended up using the stage of the Fair to make important political claims. By the time she came to Washington in April 1966, now as Prime Minister, to meet with President Johnson, Gandhi was well know among officials in the United States as a result of her several visits to New York for the Fair. A Time Magazine article published ahead of her meeting with Johnson entitled “Visitor in a Sari” explained how “President Johnson hoped to help strengthen India so that it [could] take its place along with Japan as a bulwark against Chinese Communist expansion in Asia”. This is precisely what Gandhi had been working at for the past few years, lobbying not at the United Nations nor on Capitol Hill, but at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.