Shanta Gidwani Herzog
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Shanta Gidwani Herzog, February 19, 1941 - February 20, 2020 

Shanta Gidwani was a social worker in her native India and led the Children’s Film Society in India in 1975.  Representing that organization at a film festival in Brussels in 1975, she met Milan Herzog, a delegate of the Center of Films for Children. They soon began corresponding about film.  

She resigned as head of the Children’s Film society in India in 1977 over a disagreement with the Information and Broadcasting Ministry over its refusal to pay for films it had authorized ordered from overseas with the intention that they would be dubbed into Hindi. “They refused to pay for the films we had imported with the result that nobody abroad would do business with us. I was frustrated enough to resign," she said.[1] 

In 1979, she traveled from her home in Bombay for a six-week vacation, hosted by Milan Herzog, who was recently widowed. They attended plays and dinner parties, after five weeks, Milan proposed marriage. A short time later, they wed. She joined the American Center of Films for Children, operating out of a small office at USC, and soon became its Executive Director. In 1985, its name was changed to the Children’s Film and Television Center of America, for which she continued to serve, first continuing as Executive Director, and later as a board member, until it ceased operations in 1995.[2] 

In 1983, she helped coordinate an international program consisting of a satellite link between UCSD and the 13th Annual International Film Festival in Moscow. Programming included children’s films made by three Soviet and three American filmmakers. The films were viewed and discussed by children in both countries.[3] 

Shanta coordinated numerous national and international film events and festivals, including the 11th Los Angeles International Children's Film Festival, held in 1983. 

In 1985, Shanta coordinated a week-long conference at USC, co-hosted by the USC School of Cinema and Shanta Herzog’s Television and the Children’s Film and Television Center of America, highlighted by presentations by American makers and distributors of children’s films and programming. She also served as its U.S. delegate. 

At the conference, a reporter questioned her about the United States, which exports much of the world’s programming for children. She responded: 

“Much of our problem is, I think, that parents are not standing up and saying, ‘Enough!’ Parents are always saying to me, ‘You know, we love that good work you’re doing,’ but then they never do anything to bring it to the networks. The main reason that quality programming is sorely lacking is this country is that no one seems to care.” 

She emphasized much of her focus on improving children’s media programming, contributing a presentation, “Book and Movies --- There Is More to Film and Television Viewing Than Popcorn and Coke” for the Third Pacific Rim Conference on Children’s Literature held at UCLA in August 1986. Her essay was published in the book A Sea of Faces: Proceedings of the Third Pacific Rim Conference on Children’s Literature (Scarecrow Press, 1989). 

When asked what the solution to such apathy might be, Herzog replied: “Pressure has to be brought to bear upon the networks, which are too often geared to the lowest common denominator. If parents see more good stuff, that makes the difference tangible between it and the usual fare available to children. The answer to all this is: We have to teach parents that, if they want something good for their children, they’ve got to fight for it.”[4] 

Shanta and Milan co-produced a series of six films on the subject of France and Spain, for Barr Films in 1988. Each was released in English and a foreign-language version. 

Shanta was instrumental in documenting Milan Herzog’s life in film, compiled his filmography, and sponsored the digitizing and internet release of a number of films in Milan’s Je Parle Français (1961) and Emilio en España (1965) series of foreign language instruction films for Encyclopaedia Britannica films. 

She was a powerful and tireless advocate for excellence in children’s media and an avid partner in the life of Milan Herzog, who passed away in 2010. She was a self-effacing humanist who was always reluctant to discuss her own achievements. They were many, and they were important. She will be forever remembered for them by her numerous and loving friends.


Of Milan and Shanta 

The story of Milan and Shanta Herzog’s meeting and life together has some significance in the history of academic film and it’s a romantic one. It’s published here, in two chapters, primarily for archival purposes. In terms of its authorship, filmmaker George McQuilkin, who was gracious enough to send along the material that follows, writes, “A lot of The Passage to India and Bombay to Los Angeles was written by Shanta herself.  As to Milan's account of their meeting and additional material in Bombay to Los Angeles, much of it came from recordings done both by Cas Goossen and earlier material recorded by Anne Collins, all with a little editing by Shanta.”


The Passage to India                                                                                                    

I met Shanta Gidwani for the first time in 1975 at an international meeting in Brussels. For a considerable length of time the relationship after our brief encounter was of a purely professional nature. We wrote to each other on a regular basis to discuss our film projects. I worked and lived in the United States; Shanta worked and lived in India. Only in 1979 did Shanta come on her first visit to America, and we were married soon after that.

Shanta was born in Karachi in 1941, where both her mother and father came from. In 1947, Karachi became part of Pakistan, having previously been part of the British Empire. Her father worked as a civil engineer and was sent by his company on all sorts of assignments to different places. He frequently travelled back and forth between Burma and Afghanistan. As a result of his work, his family moved regularly. After his wife had given birth to Shanta, the Gidwani family remained in Karachi for only one more month. They moved on to Assam and then Manipur in the northeast region of present day India, where the British were fighting on one of many fronts of the Second World War. Shanta's father was at the disposal of the Allied Forces, often building and repairing roads and bridges that had been destroyed. In fact he worked for sometime on the famous (or infamous) road that joined India to Burma, now Myanmar.

While Shanta has no memories of the time of the war, she does vividly remember the terrors of the Indian struggle for independence and the horrors of partition: how her land was violently split up into Pakistan, a Muslim state, and India, which is inhabited mainly by Hindus. The partition and its mass migration caused much grief. Millions of Muslims left India for Pakistan, millions of Hindus fled from Pakistan to India.

The great Mahatma Gandhi, who had played a major role in the fight for the independence of India from Great Britain, tried in vain to exorcise the demons of death and destruction and to reconcile the fighting parties through his famous hunger strikes. But all hell had broken loose. The country was divided and it seemed impossible for people to live together in peace. The consequences are still visible in the problem of Kashmir, which exists till this day.

In 1945, after the end of the Second World War, Shanta's father together with a friend set up a business in the densely populated town of Calcutta in Bengal. In 1946 the first riots between Muslims and Hindus broke out. When she remembers these events, Shanta still sees the houses burning in the night and hears the cries of hunted people. She remembers that boiling oil was kept ready to pour over the heads of possible attackers if the house was besieged.

The Gidwani family are Sindhis, The Sindhis were the people who lived in the area that is now Pakistan—in the Valley of the Indus River, the local name of the Indus river is Sindhu—thus the name Sindhis. There were both Muslim and Hindu Sindhis living in the area under the British rule. The Hindu Sindhis were in general Hindus who also followed the tenets of the Sikh religion as preached by the original founder of Sikhism—Guru Nanak. For their daily religious observance, many Sindhis attend ceremonies in their own Sikh temples, but for birth, marriage and death they often follow the Hindu rites. Shanta's parents, for example, were married as Hindus, but her brother Prakash opted for a Sikh marriage, Shanta's immediate boss was Dorothy Baker, the Director of the School of Social Work. Miss Baker was a straight forward, good-humored, American nun full of common sense. She took Shanta under her wing and soon promoted her to be the Administrative Assistant to the Director, and since Miss Baker was responsible for the fund-raising program for the entire Institute, she made Shanta the Secretary of the fund-raising committee. This committee was made up of some very important people from Bombay's social and business community. As Shanta's responsibilities grew, Miss Baker found her an assistant to take care of the library. Shanta became proficient with using visual aids which explained to lay people Nirmala Niketan's social mission She also was introduced to the Indian advertising agency, Lintas, which supported Nirmala Niketan's activities. From them she learned more about presenting slides and films.

Since Miss Baker was also raising funds from International agencies, there was a constant stream of visitors from different countries with whom Shanta had contact. As a result of this, Shanta overcame her innate shyness, and was encouraged by Miss Baker to develop her potential. Shanta travelled to Europe a few times to attend international meetings, where she met with various donor organisations. On these trips, Shanta developed some close friendships in many, different European countries.

As her work developed, Shanta became increasingly interested in communication and communication techniques. Her work helping to organise the South East Asian Conference of Schools of Social Work in 1970, was noticed by several people who helped her obtain a grant for a course on developing countries' communication problems at the UN offices in Bangkok, Thailand. This was a fascinating experience for her, and it helped to further reinforce her special interest in projects involving children. This interest in children and communication had an enormous impact on the rest of her life.

Shanta worked full-time for Nirmala Niketan for almost 14 years, during which time she became very close to the nuns, especially Miss Baker. At one time she seriously considered becoming a Catholic and entering the order of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary. She liked her working environment, contacts with her colleagues were excellent, the tasks she was given had fitted her skills well, the nuns' spirituality appealed to her and life in the commune gave her a sense of security such that she wanted to become part of it. Her mentor, Miss Baker, was thrilled. Shanta, however, wanted to think things through and consulted the Mother Superior first. The Mother Superior turned out to be a down-to-earth, peaceful and wise person with lots of experience. She had sympathy for Shanta's desire, understood Shanta's motives well and appreciated Shanta's dedication and her generosity. But she also looked beyond Shanta's present state of mind to the distant future and realised what risks a young and fairly inexperienced Indian woman would run when she left her Hindu traditions - even with the best of intentions and the noblest of aims - for a totally different world of Christian inspiration. The Mother Superior dissuaded her from converting to Catholicism. She encouraged her to break away from her familiar environment for a while, to move elsewhere and work more independently and then look again at whether she wanted to stick to her plan to become a Catholic nun.

In 1974 Shanta left the permanent staff of Nirmala Niketan to join the Jesuits' Saint Xavier College in Bombay where she was in charge of a communication project sponsored by UNESCO to study the use of television for educating people in both urban and rural low income communities. However, she continued to teach at the School of Social Work where she had designed and introduced a course on communications and social work offered to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Her work at the Saint Xavier College lasted for about a year. Partly because of the positive response to her work there, she was selected to head The Children's Film Society run by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in New Delhi. The Children's Film Society of India, wanted to promote quality, Indian children's films. It produced its own films, commissioned films elsewhere in India and imported foreign films which were adapted for use in India. The Society was a member of the International Center for Films for Children and Young People known as CIFEJ, Centre International de Films pour les Enfants et la Jeunesse. It was a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), under UNESCO. At the time, the organisation was presided over by Henry Geddes, chairman of the Children's Film Foundation in Great Britain. In 1975 Henry Geddes came to visit the Indian organisation. While there he convinced Shanta's superiors at the Ministry to participate in the Annual meeting of CIFEJ which was meeting that year in Brussels. Geddes thought it of the utmost importance that India, a country with so many children and the biggest producer of films in the world, should attend the meeting. He insisted on Shanta, herself, representing the Children's Film Society of India in Brussels because he wanted someone who knew the field and not another bureaucrat from the ministry. Using all his diplomatic skills, Geddes convinced the New Delhi government to send Shanta to Brussels.

Shanta arrived in the Belgian capital in October, 1975, one day after the start of the meeting. She had had a tough journey. The Indian administration had not issued her official travel documents in time and she had to improvise in order not to arrive even later. It was a dreary autumn evening when she arrived at the Arenberg Hotel, half way between Saint Michael's cathedral and the beautiful Grand Place. She was exhausted and very sleepy. There was a message from Henry Geddes waiting for her, asking her to attend without delay an important meeting in a certain room. She dragged herself to the room, more dead than alive. There were about twenty-five people in the room, packed like sardines chock-a-block. There was only one space left — on the bed. Without asking and not even realising whose room she was in, she threw herself half-asleep on the bed. Through a haze she could hear the group, which mainly consisted of representatives of Western Bloc countries discussing the attitude they should take during the main meeting towards the Russian delegation. The Cold War was still in full swing and diplomatic incidents were easily caused. All participants had to be careful to avoid problems, but they also wished to stop the Soviet Union representatives from allowing the organisation for children films to become completely subordinate to government. The Westerners defended autonomy from their authorities as much as possible. Through lobbying they tried to find allies to vote against the Russians in case they would make a proposal for more government involvement. The issue of independence was also a very delicate one in India. Shanta tried to listen and pay attention.

Later Shanta remembered that one of the men asked her during the course of the meeting whether she wanted a drink. Because she couldn't think of anything else, she ordered a sherry. She was told the man who brought her the sherry was an American who represented the American Centre of Films for Children in the United States. That man was me, Milan. This particular meeting about a tactful approach to the Russians was being held in my room because it was the largest among all the delegates' rooms. Actually that happened because I was not supposed to attend, but suddenly found that I could be in Brussels on business, during the same time as the meeting. So I went to the hotel and it turned out that the manager was a Yugoslav, who gave me this lovely large room which could accommodate 25 people. The meeting had to be in private so that the Eastern Bloc countries would not know about it.

The next day at the Brussels Congress Centre on the Mont des Arts, difficulties with the Soviets started. While Shanta listened to a speech by the Russian representative, she noticed that the interpreters were experiencing difficulties making an accurate translation for the seemingly complicated sentences delivered by the Russian delegate. After some commotion a man in the audience got up and offered a helping hand. Shanta recognised the gentleman who had offered her the sherry the night before, and who now started to translate from Russian into English. She could tell he wasn't doing too bad a job as the people present seemed pleased. Shanta started thinking there was something special about him, this peculiar American. How is this possible, she thought... an American who knows Russian? Americans only speak English. And American English at that! She looked at the name tag of this strange American- Milan Herzog. I was sitting on his bed yesterday, and I didn't even know who he was, thought Shanta. Later Henry Geddes whispered to Shanta that everyone need to treat Milan with special care because he had just found out that his wife was terminally ill with cancer.

That evening Shanta was picked up in Brussels by a Flemish friend who took her for dinner with his wife and children in the small Flemish village of Itegem. Shanta knew the village; she had stayed with the family on her previous long visit to Holland where she had very close friends.

The same evening, when Shanta returned to her hotel in Brussels, she found a bottle of sherry at the door of her room. The bottle had been left there by me - Milan. I had wanted to invite her for dinner that night in order to privately discuss the situation in India, but found that she wasn't in. The next day when the group visited the town of Mons in the French part of Belgium, Shanta and I spent a lot of time together, talking mainly about work. I remember we had vivid discussions and got on well and appreciated each other's company. But there was no question at that time of love or infatuation.

When the meeting in Brussels finished at the end of October, 1975,1 flew back to California and Shanta returned to India via London, where she visited for a couple weeks with Henry Geddes at the Children's Film Foundation. For the following four years, Shanta and I wrote to each other about our work, about the problems with children's films, the exchange of materials and how we could possibly help each other to solve specific issues in the area of children's film. We didn't meet again until 1979. By then Shanta had resigned from the Children's Film Society of India because she was dissatisfied with the political meddling of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who according to her was behaving in an authoritarian manner and wanted to change her country's policy on film in a dictatorial way. Shanta thought Indira Gandhi was doing exactly what people at the Brussels meeting had tried to stop the Russians from doing: the Prime Minister was trying to turn the Society into an instrument for political propaganda and Shanta had no desire to take part in this.

In 1977, she started working for the Lintas advertising agency which was, at that time part of an international company, headquartered in London. However, while that was her full time job, she continued to teach at the School of Social Work. Shanta was also volunteering her time with the Adoption Association of India and was involved with other non-profit groups. In early 1979 Lintas decided to send Shanta to the UK to study the information set up in the Lintas London office, so that she could set up a similar department in Bombay (Mumbai). She also decided to take a few weeks additional holiday and visit the States. I had told her on numerous occasions that my wife and I would be delighted to receive her and would be happy to put her up, so Shanta decided to come to California,. But when Shanta wrote to inform me that she could finally come to the States, the news of Roni's death had not yet reached her. I had to include this in my reply. I also wrote that Roni's death should not stop her from executing her plan. I had fallen behind with my work and was working on a new production, which meant I was away from home a lot, but I said Shanta could stay at my house, use our car as she thought fit and do whatever she pleased.

Because it was impossible to change the travel dates, Shanta decided to fly to Los Angeles as scheduled. On 26th January, 1979, she arrived for a month's stay. She had decided to use this holiday to gather information about the UN "Year of the Child" activities that had been organized in and around Los Angeles as she was the Secretary of the "Year of the Child" Committee in Bombay and had been asked to give a report on the celebrations in other countries.

I met her at the airport and apologised for not having much time to spend with her. I told her she had to make good use of the means I could give her, but she had to organise her own holiday. She had the freedom of our house, and I explained to her how best to handle our car and advised her against driving on the left side as they do in India!

During her stay in Los Angeles, I tried to entertain her as much as I could and introduced her to various friends, who kept her busy—but since she was interested in media production, she was very curious about our production and spent a lot of time at our studio and even assisted me on several occasions. As a result she often met up with my faithful secretary Milka. Milka is a person of inestimable value, an efficient helper who solves any practical problem, who is very attentive, one hundred percent reliable, modest but also self-assured and above all cordial and generous. She is an excellent judge of character - she sees right through you. Milka had instantly won Shanta's confidence. And visa versa. Within no time they spoke openly and frankly with each other. They talked extensively and often went out together.

When Shanta was packing her bags, Milka asked her to stay longer. Shanta explained to her the difficulties she had experienced in order to get an American tourist visa, and how she had to promise to return to her country on time, since the American Counsel in Bombay had suspected her of wanting to go to Los Angeles in order to marry in the States, because people who got married in the States were allowed to stay! "Why wouldn't you get married here?" Milka said as if it were the most normal thing in the world. "To whom?" Shanta laughed. "To B.B (that is how Milka referred to me—Big Boss) Milka said in an uncomplicated, yet deadly serious way. "You would make a good wife for him. I know he feels the same. I see what I see."

Shanta later told me that she was completely tied up in knots. Milka had touched a string that kept reverberating. Here was something unspoken that lived deep down inside her, and had never been allowed to come to the surface. She knew we appreciated each other. It was also clear that we enjoyed being together. It was true that during the time we had spent together, a special feeling of solidarity had grown. Milka with her infallible instinct had noticed quite correctly how Shanta had become something more than a foreign colleague who happened to stay at my house. To me she had become more than just a good friend. We felt more and more attracted to each other, but had never openly discussed this.

Shortly before Shanta left, the opportunity came up to have a serious conversation about the subject. It was I who started it. Shanta had told me before that she really felt at ease in my house, but had not taken this any further. I wanted to get to the bottom of this and call things by their name, without trying to force anything. Apart from the things that brought us together, I could also see the great difficulties that could keep us apart, and which I had to respect. Certainly our age difference was of prime importance.

I frankly asked her whether she would marry me, but at the same time I urged her to take her time and give it careful thought, to look at the pros and cons together with the thoughts of her parents and friends. She promised she would definitely do this. But in her heart (she told me later) she had already said 'yes’. She had made up her mind to return to Mount Beacon Terrace.


Bombay to Los Angeles

Shanta was confident that she would say yes to Milan's proposal of marriage when she returned from Los Angeles to India by a roundabout route in 1979. First she flew to London, where she was given a short training by Lintas. Next she travelled to the Netherlands to help Trudi Van Puyenbroek organise a fancy fair in order to raise money for Trudi's orphanage in India. In between she visited her Flemish friends in Itegem, where she failed to say anything about her marriage plans. She did have a very serious conversation with father Puyenbroek in Goirle, and she was relieved to find that he agreed one hundred percent with her plan.

She did, however, anticipate difficulties with her boss at Lintas in Bombay whom she now needed to explain that within a short period of time she was to leave the important job she had been given despite all he had invested in her. But he was also unexpectedly understanding and very supportive.

When she told her parents that she was going to get married, her mother became very worried. Obviously she was not keen on her daughter leaving for a faraway country for good. Mother Gidwani put forward that most of all she was concerned about the age difference: Shanta was barely 38 years old, I was 70. But father Gidwani reacted in a very positive way. 'Look at Shanta's face', he said to his wife, 'have you ever seen our daughter this happy? She radiates. Let her be happy!'. Shanta threw her arms round her father's neck. She was infinitely grateful to him. At a later stage she truly regretted the fact that I never met her father in person. Shanta was convinced that he and I would understand each other well and that we would have become real friends. Unfortunately father Gidwani died at a young age, before I could visit him in India.

The die had been cast. Shanta wanted to marry me as soon as possible. I insisted on her thinking it over and wrote her a long letter with nine reasons why a young woman should not marry the old widower I was. I have the letter ready to hand and could let you read it, but we prefer not to have it published. Some matters of the heart are better kept private. Anyway, Shanta read the letter, considered my objections and refuted all nine arguments one by one. The matter was settled. We were going to get married. We immediately set a date: 12th July 1979.

But in order to make a dream come true, one has to overcome laws and practical difficulties. You can not imagine the problems which arise when you want to quickly arrange something you really want. Shanta knows all about it.

Finding a replacement for Shanta at Lintas in Bombay turned out to be easy, partly because of the fact that the agency was understanding and helpful. But obtaining a visa from the American consulate in Bombay to get married in the United States was a horse of a different color. Shanta remembered the difficulties she had encountered last time when traveling to Los Angeles, so she spoke to a friend at the consulate who was willing to help. Then something unexpected happened. While working in a small village on Year of the Child, Shanta received an urgent phone call from her friend at the consulate asking her to immediately contact her fiance in the States. In 1979 it was anything but obvious how to make an international call from one of the 650,000 villages in India. But Shanta knows how to deal with these things and she managed to speak to me. When she called me it was one o'clock at night in Los Angeles and I was asleep. I was sound asleep because that night, for the first time in my life, I had taken a valium. I have always been a bad sleeper and I wanted to be prepared for the tough day ahead of me. It was precisely that night I received an ill-timed phone call. I woke up with a fright that put me in a bad temper and I answered the phone grumpily. 'Sorry', Shanta said at the other end of the line, 'but Los Angeles called Washington and Washington called Delhi and Delhi call Bombay and Bombay called me to inform me I had to ask you to urgently call the immigration service in Los Angeles.' I told her I would make the call the next morning. She was so curious to find out what was going on that she called me the next evening. The only thing the immigration service wanted to know was whether I would be willing to pay for Shanta's collect calls from India. 'Why on earth couldn't Los Angeles ask you directly instead of calling round the world?' Shanta rightly wondered. That would have been a possibility but the administration moves in mysterious ways and it is better not to give it too much thought for risk of becoming worried.

In the end Shanta got her visa and started packing. Her parents could not attend the wedding because they could not cope with the long journey to Los Angeles. One of Shanta's best friends, her boss at Lintas in Bombay, would stand-in for her father - he would give away the bride, as Americans call it.

Shanta left Bombay four days before the wedding in order to arrive in Los Angeles in time for a last medical check up and to receive the injections which are legally required before marrying an American. The appointment with the hospital had been made. She flew with Lufthansa via Frankfurt and San Francisco to Los Angeles. The atmosphere onboard was fine and she had a good flight. Until she arrived in San Francisco. When preparing for the last and short part of the long journey, the plane refused to take off. The captain did not seem all that concerned about the failure. He was sure it would be fixed in no time, and in the meanwhile all passengers were served champagne and caviar. By now most passengers knew that Shanta was getting married and they happily drank to her future. But the failure seemed worse than initially anticipated and the spare parts required by the technicians were not available at the airport. On top of this it was getting dark and it was decided to put everyone up in a hotel and not to leave until the next morning. This was the same morning Shanta had her appointment for the check up. She realized that under the circumstances she would never arrive on time and pleaded with the airport staff to please put her on an earlier flight. But all departures for Los Angeles were fully booked. She ended up all by herself, with two giant suitcases too heavy for her to carry herself, her eyes filled with tears.

All other passengers had left baggage reclaim for the bus which would bring them to the hotel. She thought everybody had left her to her own devices. Her heart sank into her boots, she was unable to reach me, had no one else she could contact, and couldn't even manage to leave the space she was in. Then all of a sudden this nice young stewardess arrived who said to her in a friendly way: T am sure you thought I had forgotten about you. But I haven't! I tried all I could to find you a flight for tonight, but there is not one seat available to Los Angeles. You know what? Let's go to the hotel together, I will make sure you can leave with one of the first planes tomorrow morning, so you can make it in time for your appointment. And now we need to hurry to catch the bus, because there are no taxi's in San Francisco today, they're on strike.' The girl ran for the shuttle bus, managed to stop it, and ten minutes later Shanta was checking in at the lobby of the airport Hilton. Then the phone rang. 'Miss Gidwani?', the receptionist asked, 'a call for you'. 'Milan!', shouted Shanta, 'how on earth did you find me?'. I explained to her how I had been waiting at Los Angeles airport for her and how I had found out that all passengers were staying overnight in San Francisco, and how I assumed Lufthansa would put up its passengers at the airport Hilton. Shanta was over the moon to hear a familiar voice after hours of discomfort, the voice of someone she had wanted to contact but had been unable to call. Over dinner, which was paid for by Lufthansa, it was announced that the failure had been fixed and that the plane would leave for Los Angeles early the next morning. Shanta was up in the clouds and started dreaming of her fairy-tale wedding.

The next morning the plane took off on time, flew without any turbulence through a cloudless sky and landed without any problem at Los Angeles airport. The plane was taxing to the gate and Shanta was looking through the window, trying to catch a glimpse of Milan who was waiting for her, when all of a sudden there was a loud bang and the aircraft came to a stop. A burst tyre! The machine had to be towed to the arrival gate, which meant another delay.

Luckily all passengers had had their passports checked on arrival in San Francisco and it took no time for the luggage to come through. I was waiting to take care of Shanta and her two enormous suitcases. We raced to the hospital and arrived five minutes to nine, just in time for Shanta's appointment.

After the medical check up was completed we rushed to the jeweller's to collect the wedding rings. The jeweller had made a special effort for Shanta: her fingers were so delicate he had to find a particular size of ring for her. Afterwards we drove to Mount Beacon Terrace. I dropped off Shanta, gave her a big kiss and left, because I had some urgent business to attend before the wedding. Not a very romantic welcome to her new home, I'm afraid !

At the time Nico, Sadja's son, was staying at our house, shortly after his parents' divorce. Shanta and Nico approached each other with great caution. Nico was -and is- a very sensitive boy, who greatly loved his grandmother, my first wife Roni. Nico had to get used to the idea of granddad remarrying, so shortly after the death of the grandmother he had loved so dearly. On top of this granddad was getting married to this exotic character who wore such strange cloths as saris. But it didn't take long before Nico and Shanta became the best of friends. This continued after Nico grew up. They are still very close.

On the day of arrival, after Shanta had spent some time with Nico in the house, the kitchen doorbell rang. Shanta opened the door to a woman with a small girl in a pram. 'Oh', the lady said, slightly shocked, I didn't realise Milan had visitors'. 'I am not just a visitor,' Shanta replied, 'I have come here to marry Milan.' The woman introduced herself as Robin, one of the neighbors, who was taking her six months old daughter for a swim as many of the neighbors do up to this day. At her first meeting with Shanta, Robin was informed of our wedding plans. She became one of Shanta's best friends, which she still is. She and her daughters -Kate and Anna - regularly came for a swim. Shanta considers Kate and Anna as her own children, that's how close they are. Bit by bit Shanta got to now everybody in the neighbourhood, in the same way she did with Robin, Kate and Anna and soon she was fully integrated in our Oaks community.

Soon afterwards my daughter Tania arrived with her young family, her husband and their first son, who was still a baby at that point. They flew in from Iowa, where Tania's husband works as a teacher and successfully runs a farm. Tania and Shanta broke the ice very quickly. Tania insisted on wearing one of Shanta's sari's for the wedding, which she did and greatly enjoyed. She looked gorgeous!

Of course my secretary Milka also attended our wedding party. Shanta still insist that Milka was the decisive factor when it came to making a choice whether or not to commit to each other. Milka read our thoughts like no one else has ever done. She was the first one to tell Shanta to marry BB. Milka called me

BB, an abbreviation of Big Boss. And Shanta really took a liking to Milka.

We got married in a small church that does not belong to any denomination but performs a kind of religious ceremony. Religion is important to us. I was brought up a Catholic but have stopped practising a long time ago. Shanta was close to giving up her Hindu tradition for Catholicism. We are religious in our own way. We pray together and try to live as good a life as possible, according to the bible.

After the ceremony we invited our guests to a modest reception in Indian style. It was small scale and cordial, we enjoyed the company of the people there. We cut out the frills. For the same reason we didn't leave on an expensive honeymoon like newly-weds do. We went straight back to work.

For a while Shanta worked as a volunteer at the primary school where our neighbour Marilyn taught, helping Hispanics to improve their English. After that she joined my company. She had experience in film and assisted me with the production of Children's films. In the first years of our marriage she delivered a lot of material for the American Centre for Children's Films. In 1995 we hosted the CIFEJ congress, the Centre International de Films pour les Enfants et la Jeunesse, the same organisation which had brought Shanta and me together in Brussels ten years ago. Shanta was the true inspiration for this meeting in Los Angeles. And when I landed an important contract to make documentaries in France and Spain, Shanta travelled to Europe with me for six months. After that we worked together on many other educational projects. Shanta became my associate. That's why our company is called Herzog Associates.

Filming in Europe provided us with an ideal opportunity to visit our acquaintances on the Old Continent. Our circle of friends expanded all the time. We repeatedly visited ex-colleagues of the Encyclopaedia Brittannica in France or friends in Holland and Belgium. These friends put us in touch with other friends. With these people we ate baked herring and black pudding with apple sauce near the river Nete, before walking back to Itegem through the Herenthout forest on a balmy summer's eve. Beautiful memories!

Our distant friends come and visit us too. They know Mount Beacon Terrace. They know they are welcome. They visit our neighbours. They use our house as an operation base for exploring California. We enjoy taking them to the Huntington museum, to the Getty, to the Tar Pits, to a concert in the Hollywood Bowl, to an old Spanish missions in Santa Barbara and Capistrano or to a quiet spot of untouched nature in the San Gabriel mountains.

Shanta and I are grateful for the friendship we have received everywhere in the world and for the gratitude our friends have expressed. It makes us happy. Just like we are happy about the wonderful relationship we have with our neighbors. Shanta takes credit for this. She is always there when people need her and she has often been the driving force behind community initiatives. She has done so much to keep my family as close as possible.

I am grateful that, after Roni's death, I married Shanta. We argue the whole day about the smallest household issues, but no one takes better care of me than she does. And when she calls me 'Cedo', I always answer with full conviction 'yes, my darling'.

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[1] Sanghvi, Vir. “Children's Film Society and its long history of corruption, nepotism and governmental neglect.” India Today, April 23, 2015.


[3] Cole, Michael,  and Keyssar, Helene. “Moscow Calling San Diego: An Experiment in Intercultural Communication.” University of California at San Diego, August 1983.

[4] Voland, John. “World Panel Examines Children’s Programming.” Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1985.

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