ed when government of India rules changed and they decided they did not want an American meddling with Tamil agricultural cooperatives.
Bouton was forced to hastily rummage around for fresh
altruistic opportunities. The name of Dora Scarlett came up.
This eccentric, but compassionate, British Communist social
activist was running a free clinic in a remote village in the
Kambam Valley, near Kodaikanal, on the then Madras (now
Tamil Nadu state)-Kerala border, taking care of leprosy victims.
So Bouton ventured to Scarlett’s mud hut clinic in a sleepy
village. He helped around at the clinic which in addition to
supplying salves and drugs to leprosy victims also provided
medical care, of any variety, to the poor.
When his paperwork was set right, Bouton returned to
Tanjore, spent the next 15 months dispensing advice on agricultural techniques and developed an abiding bond for
South India (“in my heart I am a Southerner,” he says).
Those adventurous two years in India as a young man
ensured that the country was “in his blood” for good. The trip
was what Bouton terms a “life-transforming experience.”
From then on he had a sense that India would be the focus
for the rest of his life.
There is something very comfortably Indian about the
man facing you, even if he is a white American, with a
French surname, in a grey suit and sharp tie, sitting in an elegant Michigan Avenue, Chicago, office overlooking sparkling
Strands of his conversation are sprinkled with Tamil or
Hindi words and he adopts a particular Indian intonation as
he manfully ushers those Indian words with the tricky Indian
“Long story short” is an expression he
leans on often in conversation and then
proceeds to tell you the long story,
especially when he reminisces about
his sojourns in India. Like when a col-
lector in Tamil Nadu summoned the
courage to ask the 22 year old how he
became a Marshall so early on in the
US Army. Or like the time when he was
traveling by train in India and some-
one asked him that though his name
was Bouton (pronounced like the Hi-
malyan kingdom), he did not look like
he came from Bhutan!
After earning a master’s at the
University of Pennsylvania, Bouton
opted to spend another year in Delhi
and later did his University of Chicago
PhD dissertation in Tanjore on the
Naxalite movement and the absence of
an Indian peasant revolt.
His India-born and schooled wife
Barbara Linn Bouton and he have two
Marshall Bouton with some of the villagers he was closest to while living in Saliamangalam outside Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. He had landed in
India, aged just 22, to work for the Ford Foundation, on a Quaker American Friends Service Committee scholarship. His brief: To help boost
agricultural cooperatives that introduced farmers to new seed varieties and farming techniques.
COUR TES Y: MARSHALL BOU TON
Diplomat and thinker
Strobe Talbott was awarded the
inaugural India Abroad Friend
of India Award in 2010 for being
a key protagonist in shaping the
US and India now enjoy.
Professor Susanne H Rudolph
and Professor Lloyd I Rudolph
were awarded the India Abroad
Friend of India Award 2011 for
their insightful perspective of
India spanning six decades; for
their deep engagement with
Indian society and history; and
for being steadiest friends of
sons — Chris, a computational scientist,
and Alex, a software tester and hip hop
musician. Alex was born in India and
Chris, he confides, was conceived in
India and he tells them that they are
His subsequent work — during two
long stints at the Asia Society, three years
at the US embassy in New Delhi and 12
rich years at the Chicago Council on
Global Affairs — was faithfully devoted,
through a variety of creative and innovative ways, to relentlessly enhancing and
nurturing the India-US relationship.
Bouton was the scholar who took his
head out of history-sociology-political
science textbooks, stepped out of university corridors, to bring his love for another country literally alive.
If he, as an American, could be so fond
of India, he could not see why every
other American could not be, after all
there were so many essential likable sim-ilarities between the cultures.
Nor could Bouton possibly ever fathom why the United
States, as a nation, should not have a special relationship
with India and has devoted many hours of his 71 years till
date to undoing the US’ 1960s-1970s ‘Tilt’ away from India,
participating in the little-step-by-little step building efforts
that has brought the US closer to India, from 2000 onwards.
He fondly calls it the Ship of India-US Relations and his
life’s mission, as a committed sailor, probably the first officer
on that vessel, has been to find robust ballast to keep the ship
constantly sailing in delightfully serene waters.
How did you first get interested in India?
I was a senior at Harvard, doing history and pre-medicine
and was short of a semester on non-Western history. The
only course that fitted into my schedule was a course on
India, then taught by the great Sankritist Daniel Ingalls and
Susanne Rudolph, who was your honoree last year.
The Rudolphs (India scholars Lloyd and Susanne) were
still at Harvard. It was their last year at Harvard. So I took
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