February 20, 2018: Howard and I started South Asia Hand together in late 2010. We had both retired from the Foreign Service, having spent much of our careers working in or on South Asia. He introduced me to the region. We took great joy in the friends and colleagues who hailed from the region or had joined us in making it a career focus. We hoped to convey to the next generation of South Asia hands our passion, as well as the remarkable change in the region’s ties with the United States since we first got involved.
By that time, Howard was 81, and had earned the title of “elder statesman.” He was the family historian, but above all, he was the master story-teller. He wrote about his legendary diplomatic colleagues, about how his own love of words played out in the subcontinent, about what had gone right and wrong in the tangled history of the region. He still had a couple of big projects in him. Our joint effort, India at the Global High Table, was published in 2016 in the US and in India. One other joint effort, a study of Bangladesh’s two independence struggles, completed just before he entered the hospital for the last time, is awaiting publication as part of a CSIS project, and will appear on South Asia Hand shortly.
Howard started what was meant to become a series of vignettes of the major personalities in U.S. relations with the subcontinent. Failing health cut this effort short, but not before South Asia Hand had run a memorable piece on the redoubtable John Kenneth Galbraith. In his final months, as he struggled to recover from a massive intestinal bleed and to regain the physical strength he had nurtured during his lifetime, he kept up with news on his two favorite subjects: the mercurial path of U.S. relations with South Asia and Washington Nationals baseball.
But the legacy that would most delight him was the crowd that gathered at DACOR to remember him soon after his death on November 17. The old-timers recalled him with warmth and admiration. Family came from far and wide. But the remarkable thing was the large number of younger colleagues, former students from his Georgetown course on diplomatic practice, young diplomats who had encouraged their former prof to come visit them at their Foreign Service posts, and had the grace not to look astonished when he showed up.
Howard’s encyclopedic knowledge won’t be available in the South Asia Hand any more, but I like to think that his spirit will live on.