The Foreign Service Journal, September 2011

S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 1 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 35 n 1968, while other young Americans were protesting the VietnamWar and evading the draft, I was the junior officer in the consular section of Embassy New Delhi. (At full strength the section consisted of two American officers plus six ad- mirable and essential Indian employees.) In fact, I was the youngest and most junior officer in the entire gargantuan embassy. Before joining the Foreign Service, I had been a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching British economic history and Eng- lish in Nigeria. And growing up on the streets of New York City had helped foster a smart-ass attitude (some would say) that carried over into my adult persona. After I got to New Delhi, I grew a beard. While there were many beards in India, no other American in the em- bassy had one. That and other characteristics gave me a rep- utation as an unconventional character, prompting an embassy wag to dub me the Hippie Control Officer. The ap- pellation caught on: “Let me introduce you to Larry Lesser. He’s the embassy’s Hippie Control Officer.” This was relevant because in those days India was a prime destination for Westerners seeking spiritual enlightenment. The Beatles came to India that same year as followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. There was a constant stream of mostly young Americans and other, non-Indian people going to ashrams, staying sometimes for months on end. They lived on very little, smoked charas and ganja, and sometimes got sick or arrested, lost their passports or wound up destitute. These low-budget visitors were called hippies (although they generally didn’t call themselves that). Generally, they preferred to have nothing to do with the embassy, which they saw as a symbol of the reactionary and oppressive govern- ment fighting an immoral war in Vietnam. But if they were in distress, they didn’t hesitate to ask for — or demand — help from the American Citizens Services unit. (They were taxpayers — in principle, anyway — which meant that con- sular officers and Indian assistants were really working for them. We were there to help them, even if it was their own foolish behavior that got them into a fix.) My first supervisor got an early transfer by volunteering to serve in Vietnam, and there was no one lined up to replace him. So for the next year my primary job was adjudicating non-immigrant visas for Indians who wanted to go to the United States for a visit, for business, for higher education… or forever. (The Indian employees were far more knowl- edgeable than I, of course, but didn’t have the authority to issue visas or passports.) As a result, even within that immense embassy I acquired a high profile, mostly because of my role as the gatekeeper for visas to the United States. Smart, ambitious Indian men (hardly any women) wanted to attend American universi- ties, and many of them ended up staying here, marrying, be- coming business leaders and, eventually, becoming U.S. citizens. H IPPIE C ONTROL O FFICER A N UNCONVENTIONAL APPELLATION LEADS TO UNEXPECTED CONSEQUENCES FOR A NEW FSO. B Y L ARRY L ESSER Larry Lesser is a retired Foreign Service officer whose over- seas posts included NewDelhi, Ouagadougou, Brussels, Kigali and Dhaka. Since retiring from the Service he has had nu- merous short-term and part-time assignments with the De- partment of State, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Peace Corps. I