Irrigating India : My Five Years as a USAID Advisor

Few of us can imagine what it must be like to live in a time and place where basic human needs like water and food seem nearly unattainable. Sol Resnick, a civil and agricultural engineer, was sent to India in 1952, as part of the US State Department’s Agency for International Development (AID). AID’s mission was to help emerging nations develop their own economies, thereby creating additional international markets for US goods. His job was to train engineers and teach Indian villagers new methods of irrigation. Resnick’s personal mission was to literally irrigate India, which had been decimated after two consecutive years of drought.

“You forget the temperatures that could reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Resnick, recalling the experience. “You forget the lack of air conditioning. The unfamiliar food. You remember the looks on the faces of the people. They stay in your mind forever.”

Resnick offers a very personal view of a tumultuous passage in Indian history. At its most basic level, the book is a captivating collection of personal stories by an engineer working in the heart of India in the 1950s. At its most complex, it’s a rich history of a struggling nation just passing through the threshold of independence.

Resnick’s recollections, as told to and written by his wife, Elaine Minow Resnick, provide a fascinating look into the foibles of the caste system and bureaucracy of the time, as well as the visionary leaders and hardworking people of both countries. The AID project ultimately succeeded because the US did not simply give aid to India, it provided training for Indian villagers by American men and women who went out into the fields and worked with them. People like Sol Resnick.