I was 19 when I arrived in Chicago from Bombay on September 5, 1969 to be an architect. It was not to be. I had been writing fiction since I was 11, won the creative writing competition on campus my first semester, a story about an account executive, sick of dealing with the rat race and his social-climbing wife. Two years later I followed the lead of my protagonist heading for the Bloomsburg State College in Pennsylvania to major in philosophy, guitar slung across my shoulder, carrying everything I owned in two suitcases and two shoulder-bags.
The Greyhound stopped that night at Youngstown, Ohio where I got a cup of coffee from a vending machine, plunked a dime into the jukebox (the Eagles singing their latest, “Witchy Woman”), and returned to the bus to nap the rest of the night away, entirely unprepared for what I saw the next morning: green valleys, gleaming waterfalls, towering hills, terrain as lush and full and throbbing as Illinois prairies had been flat and dull—but deboarding on Main Street in Bloomsburg my excitement turned to apprehension. I found myself at a declivity in the road, the campus at the top of a hill. I was 21. I had mountains to climb, literally and figuratively, but I slung my shoulders with the guitar and shoulder-bags, hefted the suitcases, took a deep breath, and began my journey, making several stops before I reached the top of the hill, pale from exhaustion, shining with sweat, head fogged with philosophy.
The images show the downtown area of Bloomsburg from which I made my way up to Carver Hall, the college’s administration building (capped by the glittering gilded dome). I knew no one in the town (or the state, for that matter), I was one of just 6 foreign students, the job I had been promised had been forgotten, and a glitch in the mail had cut me off from family and friends for weeks (long-distance calls were for those who could afford them). I found a job working the midnight shift in a Hanover canning factory, hosing down machinery from which I extracted what felt like dead rats (husks of corn, vegetable of the day, still warm from threshing), followed by a more idyllic job, plucking chrysanthemums at Joe Steiner’s Flower Farm.
I’m still climbing mountains (no longer literally), but it’s good to be able to look back upon the uncircumscribed path I followed almost 50 years ago with a measure of satisfaction and accomplishment.