Gene Smith was head of the Library of Congress New Delhi, whose realm of responsibility covered all of Southeast Asia, South Asia (except Pakistan), as well as the Himalayan region. The size of his staff was fifty or more of which 3-4 were American citizens. Their language expertise covered most of the most important of India’s sixty or so languages.
Upon our arrival at the New Delhi airport, we were met by Gene, Helen Mya Thanda Poe and her husband Jim, Bruce Knarr and Anne Langhaug. We had drinks at Gene’s house before having dinner at the Tandoor Room of the President Hotel.
While Gene and I did not meet with the Ambassador, we spent a great deal of time meeting with many of his staff to discuss problems dealing, among other things, staff size, microfilm equipment, automation, and the future the office when PL480 rupees were no longer available.
We also made courtesy calls on the Indian National Bibliography as well as important libraries.
The several meetings with the staff of LC’s office were important. I was the highest-level LC staff to ever visit the Office and the staff, many who had worked there for many years, were effusive with their thanks. I was pleasantly surprised to find how honored they felt and proud they were to be working for the Library of Congress. They were looked up to by India’s libraries and publishing houses. They presented to us a photo album of our stay and an engraved silver tray as mementos of our visit.
The links of the gold chain that Pat bought in Bangkok were spent, plus many more rupees, with a Mr. Singhe, a jeweler whose shop was in the Red Fort. The entrance through the Lahore Gate lead to a retail mall with many jewelry and crafts stores. Helen Mya Thanda Poe, an LC employee who is an American of Burmese descent, was Pat’s partner in crime. Mr. Singhe was able to set some of Pat’s loose stones as well as sell her others. She doesn’t remember what she bought, except for many small diamonds to use in future setting of other stones.
As she and Helen were returning to the car with Pat’s several small cloth drawstring bags, a breathless Mr. Singhe came running after them and asked to see them. He explained that he had reset some stones for a wedding from a Rajah’s cache of jewels, and then retrieved a pair of dangling earrings – each one containing 2 large emeralds with each emerald surrounded by sizeable diamonds that he had included by mistake.
In retrospect, it is fortunate that Mr. Singhe caught them in time. While Pat would have done the right thing in the end, it would have hurt her to give them back; however, they were so spectacular and magnificent that she could never ever have had a place to wear them. They were only fit for an important Indian wedding.
There were several social gatherings for us at Gene’s house but our schedule was so frenetic that the Delhi experience is a blur – as if we had been taken up in a whirlwind.
I got to know Gene when he returned to the Library of Congress on home leave. He was a consummate librarian and administrator. Living in India, in 1968 he joined the Library of Congress’s New Delhi Field Office as a young scholar and, in addition to his administrative duties, developed a program to reprint Tibetan Buddhist texts. Many Tibetan books were destroyed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s when monasteries and libraries were burned and some books were lost while the Tibetans were fleeing their county. For the next three decades, including his work after he left the Library of Congress, he tirelessly led the effort to locate and reprint every extant Tibetan text. In do doing, he rescued numerous Tibetan Buddhist traditions from extinction. He had studied Tibetan studies at the University of Washington and was fluent in the Tibetan language and Sanskrit, among others. He was a convert from Mormonism to Buddhism. He served the Library of Congress by also heading its offices in Indonesian and Egypt.
Because of his help to the National Library of Bhutan in preserving its collections, he became friends with Bhutan’s Queen Mother and, through this contact, was able to arrange for Pat and me, representing the Library of Congress, to be her guests for a five-day trip to Bhutan.
In checking some of my facts, (http://blog.tbrc.org/), Gene had founded and became the head of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC) in New York City. To date, the Center has digitized more than 7 million pages of Tibetan texts and built a digital library for research, scholarship-, and text delivery on the Internet (www.tbrd.org).
Representatives of more than 300 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Tibet, India, Nepal and Bhutan unanimously nominated Gene for a lifetime achievement aware for his contributions to the preservations of the Tibetan literary and spiritual heritage. The award ceremony took place at the Nyingma Monlam Chenmo International Prayer Festival in Bodhgava, Bihar, India, January 22-23, 2010. Gene is the subject of a new documentary, Digital Dharma.
He died in 2010.