A visit to Gadar Memorial in San Francisco

Getting Inside

After getting misdirected once to 436 Hill St, San Francisco which is the old original address which does not exist anymore, I eventually reached 5 Wood St, San Francisco.
It was the time of sunset, I knew I was late, but finally, it felt good to see a nondescript apartment marked “Gadar memorial”. Least, I expected locked doors. I did not drive 40 miles to stand in front of this locked door. There must be a way to get in, I contemplated, as I noticed an Indian woman walking upstairs towards me.
“I am here to see Gadar Party’s office”, I asked as she stammered while replying in English.
“हिंदी बोलती है आप ?”, I inquired.
“जी हाँ”, she confirmed.
“मैं आशीष, south bay से आया हूँ ग़दर स्मारक देखना था । “, I said, while pointing towards the building.
“आपके पास consulate से permission है?”, she asked.
“consulate से permission?”, I inquired.
“consulate से बिना permission लिए यहाँ आना मना है । “, she confirmed.
Even for bureaucratic Indian govt, taking permission from the consulate to visit a first world war era memorial is perplexing. I believe this is the only such Indian memorial in the western hemisphere. Of course, I was not ready to yield and drive back another 40 miles before paying the homage. We both stood there motionless with an awkward silence.
Someone had to blink, thankfully, she did.
“एक बार मैं अपने husband से बात करती हूँ । “, she said.
She unlocked the door and went inside, and after some chatter, they both came out, and after some quick conversation, he allowed me in to visit the memorial. The rest of the discussion with them was pretty friendly.

Inside

The memorial consists of a single hall with locked showcases filled with books in English, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu. A few posters and pictures were hanging on the wall, labeled in one or the other of the languages mentioned above. I didn’t visit the memorial expecting an audio tour but not finding English, or Hindi labels on the items were depressing. The whole space lacked maintenance. After thanking the Indian couple who seems to have been appointed by the consulate to maintain the place, I left half an hour later. The treatment of the memorial, which is the last symbol of this movement and Indian students who started it, by Indian govt is deplorable. Especially, given the fact that this is the only memorial of its kind in the USA.

Departing thoughts

The treatment met out to defenders of the nation, dead or alive, uniform wearing or revolutionary, determines its destiny. A second world war story of France vs. the UK is apt in this context. “Before World War II, it was not uncommon to see placards hanging outside some restaurants in Paris which read “Dogs, lackeys, and soldiers not allowed”. On the other hand, even pregnant women used to get up and offer seats to soldiers on London buses. When the war broke out, France capitulated in no time while Britain remained undefeated.” [source]

Bloody Banana Bread

I grumbled that I have to go through security check on a connecting airport. It turned out that my domestic flight had landed in the international section. There was no secure passage connecting it to the next terminal. I crossed the security checkpoint at LA airport, and after wearing my shoes, I was waiting for my bag to come out of the scanner.

“Sir, is this your bag?” a tall African-American TSA personnel looking at me, said, “it turned the light red on the scanner, we need to recheck it.” I was pretty sure the bottles were empty. I was not carrying anything sharp except keys which TSA people have seen before. She opened my bag in front of me, checked and pulled a banana bread out. “We have to test this,” she said.

I purchased that banana bread earlier from a Farmer’s market (“mandi”). I did not get a chance to eat it, so, it was wrapped around in unmarked polythene, there was no receipt either. Could this banana bread be carrying narcotics? How would I prove my innocence? How would I explain this to my mother? The thought sent shivers through my spine. I felt a strong impulse of grabbing the banana bread from her and swallowing it right there. But fear of five TSA men jumping on me and Mercury News/Punjab Kesari publishing that news held me back.

Less than a minute later, she came back and said: “everything fine, you are good to go.” I finished that banana bread right there while she watched with bewilderment.

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