Us and Them
For months I debated, dissuaded and deliberated on the US elections. Watched in awe, how this country went through the same rhetoric that marred the political scenario in India. Here in the Silicon Valley, we cater to a certain mindset of political correctness – much so, as we come from varied countries and cultures. We try to even it out by appreciating all that is new and unfamiliar – making them a part of our new life in a new land. Most of us, who live in the Valley, studied very hard all our lives, competed with the global intelligentsia to be right here to find a footing under the sun in this environ of meritocracy. As immigrant communities we paid our taxes in time, put up with a respectable lifestyle and expected minimum from the government. We would sometimes encounter a homeless person on our daily commute or check on the internet how many refugees ISIS evoked – 2 million or 6 million? The numbers are in haze, soon forgotten in the galore of events-hopping, wine tasting and “networking” at the Row.
Not so far from where I live in San Jose, I had once met a Ninja. Well, he quite didn’t look like one then. He was sitting on the pavement at the intersection of West San Carlos Street and Meridian. Drugged out and hallucinating. It was December, he needed a blanket. And, food. And perhaps medication. Love, family ..a vision of the future? He had none. We started talking. For one thing, it was hard for me to understand why somebody can’t get a job in the Valley and that too somebody like him, who could make such intellectual conversations under such adverse conditions!
I decided to follow-up on his situation. There it was: the torrid picture of an illegal immigrant. If you are only an immigrant, and not illegal, you would perhaps never know what transpires in their lives. Previously I had been part of many romantic drawing room conversations about how this country is built by immigrants. But illegal immigrants? What would you build, if you are completely broken, shattered, devoid of even basic human pride?
His horridly failed semblance reminded me of the past. The city where I was born and raised, Kolkata, had many people who looked the same. Felt the same. Every few years, just before the elections we would see them. They are sitting under the bridges, the rail stations and in dilapidated buildings. Some even checked into the government sponsored hospitals as medical bills were cheaper than hotels. Some of them came in flocks with no food, or shelter or even a commitment to a future. They were just numbers. People called them vote-banks. Enlisting refugees was the only sure-shot way to winning elections in Bengal then; sadly, even now. I was too young to understand the implications. What do they do after the elections? Do they go back? Or continue to live in dilapidated buildings and hospitals?
What do they do in California? In New York? Florida? Texas? Do they continue to starve and beg and bear the brunt of their hapless new statuesque? If there is equality and parity in our eyes, then like the Silicon Valley directorate we would want to give them some brand recognition: Illegal Immigrants. Vote banks. Only, they don’t live our lives. We don’t live theirs.
Nationalism and Populism
Right after millions of Indians died to free their nation from British colonization, the then liberal/socialist government put a cap on nationalism. It was considered un-intellectual to talk about national heritage, cultural history and having a religious identity was nothing short of blasphemy!
One’s disposition could only be judged by whether they are “Haves” or “Have-nots”. If you are in the have-category then nothing much you can do. You would want to live with guilt the rest of your life for wanting to earn money. If you are a have-not then the government provoked to look deep why you are in such a situation. Maybe because of your caste, religion or ancestry. A massive database got created dividing every state and its people. It went on for 6 decades with thousands of sub categories. New political leadership rose only catering to certain categories of people. However the villages looked darker, the kids hungrier and the dream of a better future shattered altogether. The categories blossomed and fueled more hate-mongering.
An election happened. A lot of people from a lot of different categories happened to like the same person and the only calling they answered to was their sense of national integrity. Democracy decided on the issues, on the policies and on the overall national need at the moment to select a leader who would be willing to take a fresh look at the bigger picture and shake it all up. The media went berserk. The academics were ashamed. How can one avoid the essence of disparity in an election! That’s what unites us. If we are all the same and start thinking alike, then everything would suddenly look very simple. Nobody would need expert socio-political-psychological-clinical inquisitor to discuss stuff. How can common people make their own decisions? But they did. For once, a nationalistic bent of view also became the most popular view. That was in India.
We just had one hugely path-breaking election in the US. Now, elections are similar and dissimilar in many ways. However, the basic human needs in our societies have somewhat been a constant. No matter how much we tried to analyze, revise, supervise the polls, the need of the hour pretty much boiled down to jobs, dignity and the promise of a good life. Here in the US, one can be white, black, brown, yellow, mixed ethnicity or even genetically modified perhaps, but the needs didn’t change. Much to the anguish of the pollsters, the hunger for making a change in governance elevated to record levels. Change did come. People reckoned with a leader who seemed like a far-cry from any established image of a leader. Yet, he emerged as a hero. Once again, nationalism conceded with populism.
From Global to Local
So, for us who have been living in the Silicon Valley for a while now, our lives are dictated by numbers. The numbers in our pay checks, the 5-digit number of the zip code, our house is in or the school that our kids go to. The dreaded number of tax bracket we fall in. The limited number of vacation days we can take in a year. The number of miles we need to commute for work and the number of hours it takes to reach 30 miles on a freeway. The number of zeroes that could possibly add in the retirement benefit if and just in case the number of stock price in the current company changes. We run calculations in our heads every minute. There was a time in my life, when I wasn’t counting anything and had the liberty to sit on a couch and read Thomas Friedman’s World is Flat. I believed in it too. I believed that we, the global citizenry could somehow come together and help the 500,000 Yezidi people in Iraq who turned homeless overnight being attacked by ISIS. Then, some of us got together one evening to discuss Brexit. We even discussed the earthquake that devastated an elementary school in Italy recently. While we couldn’t seek a lasting solution and the Yezidi people are continuing to live in dire-straits situation, tragedy hit home. Somebody in my neighborhood killed a police officer. He was the only earning member of his family of five. He was patrolling the neighborhood at midnight trying to keep our community safe. Somebody shot him. Strangely, the media didn’t know the category-class-ethnicity of the criminal. Didn’t know where he came from or where he wanted to go. I found out that in the city of San Jose itself, hundreds of police officers got killed in the last few years. While the nation debated on moral battlegrounds whether to comply or oppose law-enforcement officers, I tried to think for a moment what our lives would be like if there are no police officers in the streets. Also, what would my six-year old son do if his school shuts off permanently due to lack of state-budget? What can I say to my dry-cleaner, now that she has to shut shop after thirty years as she is going bankrupt paying small-business-owner taxes? Nobody discussed these in our drawing room. We chose to anguish over Michelle Obama’s closet expenses and Donald Trump’s locker-room conversations. I anguish over some other grossly selfish issues too. Like my son’s future, now that the national bully-report is published for public that 1 out of every 3 Hindu kids is bullied in American schools.
Ah well, I don’t know what category I’ll fall into now. Maybe there are hopes of future endorsement from a fiscally-conservative, socially libertarian, politically-incorrect, intellectually right-liberal, suppressed-middle class, and forever-fretting soccer-mom party!