American wheat and finding texts related to the Emergency


Johnson with Gandhi, March 28, 1966. (White House Photo Office)(

Maya Dodd’s collection

These texts were contributed by Maya Dodd, former Director of the Centre for South Asia at the Foundation for Liberal and Management Education, Pune. Maya Dodd’s PhD, ‘Archives of Democracy: Technologies of Witness in Literatures on Indian Democracy Since 1975′, among other things, dwelt on the literature produced during the Emergency of 1975 in India.

The years spent researching the Emergency revealed that its literature was easier to locate in University libraries in different parts of the country that had systematically built up their collections in the 70s and 80s, than in the libraries of Delhi.

Books that were sometimes unavailable anywhere in India were found in the library collections at the University of Chicago. All of these, Dodd said, were stamped with the sign, PL480. Public Law 480 linked the import of wheat into India from the US, in itself a debated milestone in India’s agricultural history, to a program to acquire South Asian materials for American libraries. As a result, Indian researchers can find literature published from the time of the Emergency stamped with the sign PL480 in American libraries. See an essay about this arrangement by Maureen L. P. Patterson, ‘The South Asian P.L. 480 Library Program, 1962-1968′, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Aug., 1969), pp. 743-754

Paper, by Amitava Kumar

The following excerpt from an essay ‘Paper’ by Amitava Kumar at the kenyonreview of 2002 has been reproduced for its comment on another encounter with PL480.

There is a short story I like in which a young man comes to the United States from India and becomes obsessed with the desire to know everything about the Indian tradition. The story was written in Kannada by A.K. Ramanujan, who taught for many years at the University of Chicago. In the story, the young man named Annayya is amazed at how, unlike him, the American anthropologists knew so much about Indian culture. Annayya begins to read books on India: “On the second floor of the Chicago library were stacks and stacks of those books which had to be reached by climbing the adders and holding on to the wooden railings. Library call number PK 321. The East had at last found a niche in the West.”

The number PK 321 is tied, in my mind, with another code or number, a cryptic marker of mid-twentieth century globalization. It is PL 480, short for Public Law 480, 83rd Congress. Beginning in 1951, the United States provided wheat to India and other newly independent nations and accepted payment for the grain in local currency. The money that was “interest payable by the Government of India on the Wheat Loan of 1951″ was used to fund “cultural exchange.” In other words, monies to buy Indian books for American libraries in return for the regulated disposal of wheat from the American Midwest. The PL 480 library program for India and Pakistan began in January, 1962. The library at the University of Chicago was selected by the Library of Congress as one of the top beneficiaries of the program. The books about ancient Hindu traditions that Ramanujan’s Annayya was reading concealed a more contemporary exchange involving, among other things, the regulation on the open market of the price of thousands of tons of wheat from places like Kansas.

Under the National Defense Education Act of 1958, a South Asia Language and Area Center was started at Chicago; as a result, the university received substantial Ford Foundation long-term grants. The same Ford Foundation was, of course, also interested in grains. India, with help from the Americans, was trying to succeed at launching the Green Revolution which was to later make grain transfer to India unnecessary. But, that was not the only aim of the Green Revolution. The environmental scientist Vandana Shiva has written that under the Ford Foundation program in India “agriculture was transformed from being based on internal inputs to being dependent on external purchased inputs for which credits become necessary.” The creditor was going to be America. We begin to see the further irony hidden in Ramanujan’s remark that the East had found a niche in the West under the call number PR 321: the ghost that lurks beside that call number is the PL 480 program and the story of American grains and even gain. As Shiva points out, “The social and political planning that went into the Green Revolution aimed at engineering not just seeds but social relations as well.”




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