Des Mera Rangreziya Babu

Part I. Maybe a part II follows, maybe not. Need to buy a notebook first if it were to.

Before anyone from the west reads this and takes it as my disparaging views on India. Please keep in mind I was born and raised there. So use this as a forewarning if you will, before you plan a trip and want to see the real India. Or anything westerners call “third world” for that matter. Do yourself a favor and find someone like me that you know is from India and has family there. Actually, better yet and more accessible to most, watch Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. All thirteen seasons of it to get a sense. It’s all romantic until one has to slum it out with us natives in the second class train compartment. You can’t just show up in India like you would in Paris or Rome and have a great experience. India is like James Joyce’s Ulysses. Its painful, its excruciating at times, maddening most of the time but if you stick with it (and why would I want to, one may ask?) you will be rewarded. To the question “why would I want to?” I can only say, you don’t. There’s plenty of places in the world you don’t have to be sitting in a room with no electricity typing away on a laptop your views the first three days you’ve been really back after a long hiatus.

The first thing that hits you as someone else, Mark Tully I believe wrote, are the smells and the heat. The smell of raw sewage, sweaty bodies beaten down by life and the heat, humidity, the dust, and of course the glorious smell of food. And this in a town at the foothills of the Nilgiri Mountains that forms part of the famed Wesetrn Ghats of India.
So here are some observations on my three days here thus far, in no particular order.

Indian expatriates in the west, especially in the US get their noses all upturned at how these people hold minimum wage jobs and can’t afford the Christmas presents they buy for their loved ones but yet go into so much debt every holiday season. Yeah. I thought of that when I was sitting in a store chock full of Kumaran Thanga Maligai and Sridevi Silks Deepavali shoppers as the mother and aunt were shopping for some clothes that ancient customs dictate need to be bought for the close ones of a recently deceased relative: mother, daughter, sisters sisters in law, granddaughter etc. The ancient customs that dictated that (Manu shastra maybe) and likely have no bearing or meaning in modern life as we know it in 2018.

Speaking of useless ancient customs. One other contraption I’ve seen south Indian people wear is the ubiquitous molathadu. The word literally means in Telugu, string worn on the waist. The only damn practical implementation of the thing I could ever think of was back in the day when the ol’ veshti was the de facto clothing of choice for most south Indian men. When it could be used to secure the veshti because the western concept of a belt hadn’t yet arrived in India. That or some supernatural powers in that string that helps with performance down there. Although, I have to say, I haven’t worn one since I was, I think six and I can’t put any diminished performance in that department specifically to have not worn the molathadu. You’d have to check with the wife on that though. Because, like most Indian men I have only been sexually active with one woman and the poor woman has nothing to compare against. So I must be the best because I’ve been the only one. So when I see tens of children of south Indian descent dutifully wearing their speedos or swim trunks taking swim lessons at the Frisco, TX public pools with said molathadu secured above their speedos or swim trunks, I wonder. I wonder what that thing is for. I’m ever more convinced it has to do with being well endowed or not down there. I would know, trust me.

Of course the guy that was fine waiting in line all the way from Dubai to Chennai all of a sudden found his Indian-ness and cut the line while three of us were waiting in the customs line. Until I called him out and asked:

“Hey! Where are you going? You see the three of us here? Standing in line? Got here before you? Why’re you special?”

He goes “Oh I thought she called my name.”

“Oh she did. Did she now? How does she know your name? Last I checked you were holding your passport and she just said “NEXT”.

All he could do was roll his eyes and go “You go saar please”. To which I said “I don’t need to go anywhere first. See that gentleman? He was here first. So thanks for standing in line.”

Then there’s the kid. I mean kid is a relative term, getting frustrated because the ticket agent was taking a long time to change my ticket from MAA to CJB from 6:00 the following morning to 11:00 the night before. Because, god help me, I was trying to make doubly sure I could make my uncle’s funeral. A man that was like an older brother to me. I looked him square in the eye and said “Dude, I’m sorry its taking a while.”
To which he replied “I am going to miss my engagement tomorrow.”

I couldn’t hold my sarcasm any longer and said “Well, someone died. So you think that’s a real emergency?”

What I wanted to say was this:

I’m sure if there’s a poor girl out there that’s waiting to be engaged to your esteemed self she’ll wait a day longer. So hang tight my friend. You’ll get to Kolkata eventually. And if that poor unsuspecting girl still wants to marry you, she’ll be waiting.

Let me stop before my curmudgeonly self negates all the good vibes and positive thoughts my previous post generated where I paid tribute to a man that was like an older brother to me.

Thanks for reading if you still are after this.

Lakshman Hariharan
Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu 10/19/18

P.S. This is news to most Indian men I know. The condoms they sell as “large” out here are really medium small elsewhere. So make what you will of that when you turn up your nose on the other culture-less people.

Is This How A Broken Heart Feels

This, I imagine is what a broken heart feels like.

My heart is heavy. They’re dropping on me, people I love, one after the other and there’s not a damn thing I can do. There’s a method to this madness I suppose. God works in mysterious ways they tell me. Words,the ones that usually come easy are deserting me in this state of mind I cannot justifiably explain.

The first early season tender coconut water, the soanpapdi from the jingle jangle push carts with those treasures under that magical plexiglass  — and often times real glass ones, at least the vendors that were worth their salt — egg shaped dome. You’d hand the vendor 25 paisa and he would slide that small door to the dome to the side and give you a few ounces of that fluffy melt in your mouth magic in a piece of old newspaper. The piece of sweet would be gone in less than the time it took to get it from the newspaper to your mouth. None of the hardened ghee infused pistachio and saffron enhanced flavors for these guys. Only the real stuff, just as god intended them to be eaten. Then we waited again, for the next vendor to show at the street. The soanpapdi so sweet and colored such a pristine white that until I grew to be twenty four and saw real snow that was I assumed snow looked (and tasted) like. One could get a small ice cream cone’s worth wrapped in a torn piece of old newspaper, even the boiled nalakadalai wrapped in small pieces of newspapers or elandhavadais, the cambarcats, the bus rides in the #5 bus from Gandhipuram. The Lakshmi vedis and the bottle rockets, the scrounging of unexploded crackers from the night before the day after Deepavali…I could go on and on.. The first ‘gedda”, one of those paper planes made of color paper that would instantly transport you to the stratosphere among the popular kids in the class.. Without Ramesh mama’s expertise I couldn’t even tear the papers the right way, let alone fly them. Growing up he was my role model for a few formative years. One just had to ask the question what I wanted to do when I grew up :“Work for MG Brothers Lorry service Obviously” came the pat reply. Because that’s where he worked. Until I grew up and decided to do see what career paths lay ahead,  Ramesh Mama’s dabbling sounded perfect for an inquisitive young child. The stuff was exciting, one week he’d be fixing and selling Remington typewriters, another season he’d be a carpenter and it was furniture and interior décor. Then it was delivering and selling milk. In his inimitable style on that TVS Suzuki moped, with the lungi raised over his knees so it doesn’t get caught in the chains. Never a dull moment. I just followed whatever it is that he did because it was so cool. More than an uncle he was the older brother that I never had. His jaanvasam car was the fist one I rode the tailgate of and oh what a thrill it was.

Waiting to board my Dubai to Madras flight I  walked into a duty free shop for things to buy for loved ones. My throat got lumpy and my eyes welled up when I realized that the only person I buy something for every single trip to India; someone I loved for to really have those things wont be around to enjoy them anymore.

My first Kamal padam, Rajini blockbuster, matinee, first show, second show. And the inevitable muttai -bajji (hiding it from my grandmother and other vegetarians in the family) right before walking into the Ganga Yamana Cavery theater, the Karpagam Complex. My sister and I (her more than I) grew up with our grandmother a few years of our childhood, in Coimbatore. And experienced the magic of summer vacations with the cousins, but Ramesh Mama’s bucktooth comedy routine beat anything that was on offer.

How can I forget the trip to Ooty where it rained and drank the best tea in the whole world under a cigarette stall and tree as a shelter? Ramesh mama, Mahesh, Uma Aunty, Achu and I. I still remember it like it was yesterday.

Those days our military man father had a distant, larger than life persona we never go to see except during family gatherings. When we did see him he had the aura of a military man and all the respect one instinctively felt in his presence

Ramesh mama and my mother’s mother, that strongest of strong matriarch of the family Kamala, had no strong financial means  at the time but somehow managed to get me admitted into the best high school in the city by using the little influence he could, despite my grades and performance.

That was the kind of man he was and the man I aspire to be: reliable and always present for his family and siblings in particular. The rock that the family can lean on.  I Know his sisters will terribly mourn him and there are no words in any language that can possibly assuage this incredible loss, All my mother had do was to make a call and he would drop everything, literally everything he was doing to be on her side to help no matter what the ask. We could count on him to take care of our mother like not even her own kids could. If she was traveling so much for an overnight trip he would be by her side helping her pack her bags. He shared a bond with his siblings and my mother especially that I am envious of and hope to emulate. I will always remember in my heart and carry to my grave your witticisms and spirit. The Vada Coimbatore station will miss you more than any of us. Rest in peace brother. You have no idea how much we’ll miss you especially Chitra, talking to you at least twice a day.

Everytime I look a bag for travel or every time I see that buck toothed smile I will have to suppress some tears,

Rest In Peace my friend and uncle. You lived a life most of us would be proud to have. A loving husband father, grandfather  son and brother taken too soon from us.

As I’ve uttered this a few times, I’m writing this with a heart that feels its about twenty pounds heavier and is about to break into a million pieces so forgive the typos and the poor excuse of grammar. Thanks for reading.

Lakshman Hariharan
10/17/18. DXB

War

Its a shitty business. War is. Last night I was reading Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell; his experiences on the front during the Spanish Civil War. The experiences that would go on to shape many of his views on totalitarianism in the future and eventually result in the modern classics Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm. As I was reading it, for some reason my mind drifted to a trip my son and I took to Washington D.C. this summer. To Reagan airport specifically, where I saw, while waiting to board the plane, a man wearing a t-shirt that said:

Back to Back World War Champions

He was referring to America’s victories, in World War I and World War II I suppose. Both wars in which America played a decisive influence and without which it is certainly doubtful whether the allies would have been successful. It does behoove us to remember, though, that by the time the United States entered the war the Russians or the erstwhile Soviet Union rather, had lost untold millions. And the siege of Stalingrad was yet to follow. The total deaths of the Soviet Union in World War II are said to be 27 million. The British had been at war with Nazi Germany for three years before the United States officially entered the war. The combined death tolls  for the United States and the United Kingdom? 800,000.  While I am fully aware of the sacrifices made by that generation; that when the bugle call came, farm boys from Iowa, city hands from New York and young men of all stripes everywhere signed up to fight Nazi tyranny, it helps keep things in perspective and how the war is viewed in different parts of the world.

One other fact–and this is personal for me because of where I was born and raised —  that also goes mostly unmentioned in any historical account of the war is the  total number of Indians dead. 2.2 million. The tragic part? 2.1 million of those deaths were a direct result of famine caused by Churchill’s policies; when he thought it prudent to hoard food for the British troops on the front line. The even more tragic part? The stockpiles were overflowing with surplus grain that the troops didn’t need. Wheat and other grains that could have saved millions of lives. Food he refused to divert to famine stricken Bengal in spite of innumerable pleas from Indian leaders. Lives that were deemed inferior and thus dispensable by Churchill; the hero of the twentieth century in most Westerners’ eyes, the greatest Briton that ever lived, according to most Britishers.

While we are on the topic of World War II, if there is one work and only one work you will read about World War II to understand everything that happened leading up to, during and the end of the war — Versailles to Hiroshima —  I would recommend The Winds of War and its sequel War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk. There is a character in that book; a German general who writes his memoir of  the war while awaiting trial after the war. A book within a book. Kind of a loosely fictionalized version of The Rommel Papers. In that memoir the fictional general writes, of Hitler’s desire for lebensraum (living space) for his ever expanding Reich as he invaded Russia. The fictional general draws quite a compelling parallel about India being Britain’s lebensraum. “Russia is our India”, he writes, solely to be used for resources, the people; the inferior Slavic race as the Nazis considered them, for slave labor and the land for living space.  Kind of like India was to Britain.

Returning to the gentleman in the t-shirt at Reagan airport; Kurt Vonnegut, in his wartime classic memoir Slaughterhouse Five writes that the only people who are enthusiastic about war are the ones that have never fought in one. That would explain why Cadet Bone Spurs has to rub one out every time he hears the word missile. So, I was irritated, that’s the best word I can use to describe my feeling, when I saw that man wearing that shirt and wondered to myself whether he had ever been to war ? If he has, then hasn’t he seen the misery wrought upon by it to be so naive? Perhaps he hasn’t. I have never been to war but as part of some service work I’ve been performing I have had the chance to visit a behavioral health clinic that houses many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans makes it sound like they are old or at least middle aged men and women. The handful of men and women I met were mostly barely adults, in their early twenties, if that. They were all there partly for treatment for PTSD as a result of their deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan and partly for other issues.

The historian James McPherson, in his book on the Civil War Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era writes that a common refrain among confederate soldiers was that it was a rich man’s war but a poor man’s battle. That could probably be said of most wars I think. The singer songwriter Steve Earle, in his song Ben McCulloch, narrating (or singing) the story as a soldier in the confederacy under General McCulloch’s command, sings:

I killed a boy the other night
Who had never even shaved
I don’t even know what I’m fighting for
I ain’t never owned a slave

The song starts like this:

We signed up in San Antone, my brother Paul and me
To fight with Ben McCulloch and the Texas infantry
Well the poster said we’d get a uniform and seven bucks a week
The best rations in the army and a rifle we could keep

One of the most haunting poignant anti-war songs you will ever hear is the ballad The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, sung by Shane McGowan of The Pogues. Singing about an Australian conscript in World War I thrown into the hell that was Gallipoli he sings:

We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk he was ready, he primed himself well
He chased us with bullets, he rained us with shells
And in five minutes flat he’d blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia
But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again

It continues:

Now those that were left, well we tried to survive
In a mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
But around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit
And when I awoke in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, Christ I wished I was dead
Never knew there were worse things than dying

And the concluding paragraph:

And now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams of past glory
And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, “What are they marching for?”
And I ask myself the same question

I would recommend one give a listen to that song, the Shane McGowan rendition. It brought a lump to my throat the first time I heard it. Gallipoli, incidentally happens to be the other great, acknowledged Churchill blunder.

So almost thirteen hundred words later, what is my point you ask? The one I started off with. War is a shitty business. And that no one in their right mind should be glorifying it.

Thanks for reading.

Lakshman Hariharan,
09/30/2018 Prosper, TX.

Serena

It is becoming habitual for me to write about things I have no clue. Or to quote what David Letterman says of Dr Phil: “Here’s more advice” and thoughts, if I may add,  “I pulled our of my ass”.

Couple of stories regarding women’s issues dominated the news cycle here in the United States in the past few weeks. First, and one that has largely petered out is Serena’s outburst at the US Open final and her crusade ,if you were to believe her supporters, against sexism. Before any women reading this take umbrage to my condescending use of the word crusade; as someone who contends that white folk don’t get to decide what is and isn’t racist, I fully agree that men don’t get to decide what is and isn’t sexist.  It also goes without saying that those who say sexism in the work place doesn’t exist are just as full of shit as those that say there is no racism in our society.

A lot of overt acts of sexism in the workplace are probably rare these days, especially in the West, but they weren’t until a few years ago. Or to quote Jay Leno, since I’m apparently in the mood to quote comedians today; and this goes to everyone out there that laments the “PC culture”: “If it weren’t for political correctness we would still be throwing cat whistles” and slapping them on their rear ends, if I may add, ” at women in the workplace”. Are there instances of political correctness run amok? Absolutely. What with disinvited commencement speakers and such. But that doesn’t mean that the concept overall is to be lamented but that’s besides the point of this post.

I personally don’t think that Serena is some crusader against sexism in sports but I can definitely understand her being judged by different standards than those men are judged by. Several compilations of men throwing temper tantrums on the tennis courts with far less severe consequences have been making the rounds on my social media feeds so I’ll spare the reader that. Regardless of what one thinks of her crusade, to overuse that word, there is no doubt in my opinion that she was justified in taking exception to the harsh penalty imposed of one whole game.

Here are some of the overt and not so overt instances of sexism I have seen in the workplace:

Every time and I mean every single time I have had a woman boss, a male coworker has asked me “Is she hot?”. There are several things wrong with that but I’ll just say that no one has ever asked me whether my male boss was hot, but then I don’t have any gay friends, so take that for what its worth.

Referring to another coworker: “God she’s a bitch. I pity the poor sonofabitch that’s married to her.

or worse

“God she’s bein’ a bitch today. Time of the month again?”

Oftentimes when a woman gets promoted to a senior or an executive role:
“I’m sure she was fully qualified for the job and it has nothing to do with our diversity and inclusion policy”.
Never mind that despite making up half the population less than 20% of women make up the industry I work in, so even if I were to grant that the diversion and inclusion policy was at work somehow, there’s a long way to go for equality in the workplace. And what if it were indeed the diversity and inclusion policy at work? Isn’t that the whole point of diversity and inclusion?

“I don’t know how you can walk in those heels”

Well guess what you would’ve said if she did show up in say comfortable shoes?

“I can’t believe she showed up dressed like that.”

Enough about others, some of what follows are some times and situations I find myself suppressing my sexist instincts, and honest to goodness those happen subconsciously until I take a moment to realize what I’m doing. So here goes:

Whenever that shirt smells like it’s been left in the dryer in a half dry – half damp state for too long. My first instinct is to get irritated (and not at myself) as if it was somehow not my fault that the clothes were left in the dryer loo long in that state. It takes a split second to turn that blame around on myself.

That feeling of having accomplished something good the day I load the dishwasher and vacuum the house, half ass as the cleaning may be by most standards of cleanliness, and cook lunch and fold the laundry. To be clear, I don’t get that feeling of accomplishment when I do those individually or on separate days. I do when I do all in one day and I have to remind myself that my wife does that on most days. Or when I expect gratitude for having done all of that.  As if I’m going above and beyond what is expected of me.

Taking “days off” from parenting. I have too much going on these past few days and I just want to relax. Guess what? She doesn’t get any days off from parenting. There’s only one other person to pick up my slack and that’s her. And guess who picks up her slack? No one.

Now these may just be me and my upbringing in a highly patriarchal and sexist society in India, or my general assholery but I do wonder how many men actually have these reactions or feelings. Among other things, why do I have to remind myself that I live in this house too and its supposed to be a shared responsibility?

I won’t even go into the other more overt acts of sexism or double standards by which women are judged when, for example, they break down or cry (“Oh here come the tears”), or women, working or otherwise, having to take the brunt of the responsibility at home. When a man does the former its him showing his vulnerability and that’s oh so commendable.

If you’re a woman reading this and have had to suppress the urge to pound that keyboard at my incredibly ignorant and prejudiced point of view, I apologize. And to everyone who read this, whether you pounded the keyboard or not, thank you.

Sincerely,
Your garden variety sonofabitch.
09/23/2018, Prosper, TX

P.S.: 1. The oxford comma gets a bad rap these days, but I’m a fan, as you can see.
2. I’m still learning the proper use of the semicolon and colon so bear with me.

**Update: A reader pointed out that I started off being condescending to Serena and her crusade but never explained why I was condescending. The reason is that over the years I’ve seen a lot of these tantrums from her and I believe it was just that. A tantrum. The media is so penchant on turning everything into a cycle that will be discussed for days not minutes that it results in stuff like this. Making a crusade out of a tamper tantrum.

The Problem of Plenty

Or plenitude if you will. I am trying to follow Orwell’s six rules of writing, one of which is “never use a long word when a short one will do” with some success. I wrote this post about perspectives a few weeks ago. And out of that grew what I have written now. Some more pondering on the issue and I realized that personally I suffer from not quite affluenza but whatever the word is for “has been given too much in life for too little effort”. Something in between affluenza and poverty, skewed toward the former. Before it comes across as more of my self deprecation shtick, hear me out. Also, honest to goodness though, its not a shtick. I really am that low on self confidence and belief in my own abilities. Everyone suffers that to some degree I suppose but moving on…
Outside of struggles in my own head and some personal trauma as a late teen/young adult, I really can’t think of many other hardships I have faced. Things one day I may be able to write about but not today.

I had what would be considered an upper middle class upbringing back in India, an Army brat with privileges most common folk in India could only dream of. Don’t get me wrong I didn’t grow up wealthy or nothin’ but didn’t lack for anything. I mean I was spanked as a kid but who hadn’t ? I don’t know of a single Indian person of my generation that hadn’t and that’s how they raised kids back then in India. Even now probably some do. Was given chance after chance after chance by my poor (figuratively speaking) parents even after multiple disappointments. I wasn’t a particularly good student. In fact my grades used to be abysmal. The only subjects I ever enjoyed in school ever were English and Hindi. Granted we weren’t exactly reading James Joyce or anything but I realize now that at forty two I’ve finally figured out what I want to be:

An aspiring struggling writer of marginal but slightly noticeable ability like a friend says sarcastically.

In spite of not having decent grades to get into Engineering school my father spent most of his life savings to get me into a private college so I can have a better shot at life, even given my own failings and lack of effort. Speaking of my father, one thing I can think of and it doesn’t necessarily qualify as a hardship per se but I lost my father when I was 29. Just around the time when I started seeking out his advice on several things. I always felt shortchanged by that because I could have used a few more years of his wisdom. Because, like Mark Twain said:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

But my father had an almost fatal heart attack when I was barely thirteen so it could have been much worse and he went on to live another sixteen years. Do I have regret about not taking him to a golf major that one time he was able to visit my sister and I in 2003? Absolutely. My reason was that I didn’t have the money at the time to afford flight tickets and tickets to a PGA tournament let alone a major. If I’d known thats the only opportunity he would have to visit the United States I would have begged borrowed or stolen to make that happen. That’s one regret I’ll take to my grave but even so I can take solace in the fact that I was able to, in what turned out to be his last few years, help him have some of the material things he would have loved to have but didn’t because he spent all his money educating me. And trust me, he liked the good life.

I have other dedicated several past and future posts for my angel of a mother and my sister, my moral compass, who always knows good from bad, so I’ll leave out of this post the two other women that are responsible for making me the man I am.

Of the hardships I have faced the one that comes first to mind is being stuck in a dead end job from 2002-2004 in spite of having a Masters degree making $25,000 a year. This after racking up several thousands of dollars in credit card debts due to my own reckless spending for the most part and some tuition fees etc. So it was tough going for a couple of years. Even then there was a redeeming factor to that. I could look forward to spending all my free time with a woman, that somehow against better judgement and advice decided to take a chance on me.
Speaking of the woman that has shown questionable judgement in picking a partner, another hardship if one can even call it that was, some mild resistance from some of her family and friends, completely legitimate. I mean when a dude that looks like he just fell off the turnip truck walks into your loved ones life who asks such trivial questions like

“What exactly does he do?”

What is his family background?”

How can he support a family with what he makes?

Are you sure you haven’t rushed into this? After all you’ve only known him for about a couple of years.

And in all honesty he doesn’t really strike us as the go getting ambitious kind.”

The last sentence they didn’t say but should have. It would have been completely justified. I don’t know what she saw but she persisted and I haven’t been prouder of any of my “accomplishments” than having landed her as a partner. And to clarify, in case it comes as resentful , if I had a daughter I wouldn’t let her pick someone that’s like me for a partner. In fact, more like  I’ll have that Remington 870 Express Synthetic 7- Round shotgun — Google says that’s the most popular handgun according to some sites, so it must be true —  at the ready. I know as much about guns as I do about the works of Milton or Byron so take it for what that’s worth.

My wife and I never really had any real trouble when we were trying to start a family. I mean, I joke that it was almost too easy if you ask me. Almost like well let’s try making a baby, and boom! the pregnancy test comes back positive. About thirty two months later we went well, if  we’re going to have another one lets do it now so they aren’t too far apart and boom! there was another positive test. Thanks to a lot of good luck and no doubt the way my wife took care of herself there were no miscarriages, no complications either time and we had two healthy handsome intelligent young boys. I know a lot of couples that haven’t had that privilege. So there was that.

Ever since 2004 I have been gainfully employed at one of the best most iconic companies of not just our times but perhaps in history. We’ve been financially sound as a family, been able to save some for the kids’ college, drive nice cars, live in a neighborhood with great schools and a house that probably ninety percent of the world’s population of 7 billion would love to live in.

The same friend that thinks I have marginal but noticeable ability as a writer says that if the biggest problem I have is someone being a dick at a gathering or wherever then I have no leg to stand on and complain.

Thank for hearing me out. Apparently I was on a roll yesterday.

Lakshman Hariharan
09/16/18 Prosper, TX

P.S.: My mother has this superstition about bad people seeing her kids’ prosperity and somehow will cast an evil eye, so I’ll say that I understand I’m only 42 and there’s plenty that life can throw at me. I’ve been advised that when my boys are teenagers I would wish I had the problems then that I have now.

Is Code For

PSA: Some of what follows is rated R for profanity. If profanity bothers you, you have been forewarned.

The Indian American comedian Hari Kondabolu has this joke about when people ask him where he is from. He usually replies “Queens, NY”. And he will sometimes get the question: “No. I mean where are you really from?” He jokes that that’s just code for “Why aren’t you white?”
One of the comments on a web article about this and other “white” jokes the comedian makes literally said: “How dare you bite the hand that feeds you?”. Granted that the comments section of an internet article, the dredges of the internet if you will, or as my favorite TV writer says of Twitter, where “shitsquib, basement-dwelling minions” thrive (read the original brilliance of David Simon here ) isn’t exactly the kind of place one should go looking for meaningful and thought provoking conversation. Also granted that I won’t even begin to pretend to know where I should start with whats wrong with that comment. Yet here I am discussing it because I have a broader point.

One more anecdote and I’ll get to the broader point.

Once I got into a Facebook argument with some random native (American) born friend of a Facebook friend. Over the course of the “conversation” things got heated and he said something about how he hated the visa (H1-B) program many of us Indian immigrants used to get our toehold in the United States. Along the lines of “you should be grateful to us for letting you in” without saying the actual words. Some of us first generation immigrants to America (and I am guilty as charged) tend to have a certain snobbery about being first generation immigrants . Something that is akin to and can come across as looking down upon native born Americans. You know, like saying:
“I worked my ass off to get my American citizenship and earned the privilege to live here. What exactly did your ass do to deserve this privilege? Other than wining the fucking lottery and being born in the wealthiest nation on earth?”.
But in my defense I do that only to those fuckmooks, to use another insult my favorite TV writer coined, that question my loyalty and my right to live here in my adopted country.

I learned two lessons from that incident. One, don’t get into an argument with anyone on social media. Regardless of Facebook friend or  Facebook friend of Facebook friend or not. Two, this is the internet and social media specifically. There is no room for cogent arguments, only mouth foaming and spit spewing. In my defense, this was my early foray into social media and I didn’t know any better.

Ok, I lied. One more anecdote and I’ll get to the broader point. In my earlier days as a new immigrant, before I got my citizenship I used to, naively make the argument of
“I’m a decent law abiding citizen that pays his taxes and overall adds to, not detracts from America. Why do you resent me?”
I remember it was around the time when that great champion of the poor, the upholder of liberty, the senior senator from Iowa Chuck Grassley was taking some anti immigrant stand. A stand which probably, in hindsight, given the current administration makes ol’ Chuck look like St Peter welcoming the chosen ones entering the pearly gates. It was pointed out to me by an American friend in pretty much as many words:
“Listen, some of these people don’t want you here period. They don’t want you living here, working here, taking their jobs. They don’t like how you look or how your food smells. They don’t really care about what kind of model citizen you and your ilk claim to be. So as far as they’re concerned, you can take your taxes and model citizenry and stick them where the sun don’t shine. And while you’re at it, go back to where you came from.”

Now to the broader point. What bigoted or racist hidden meaning do some people have when they say something?

“Such and such suburb of Dallas is getting too crowded”
Is code for: There are too many people moving in to this suburb that don’t look like me or talk like me. Too many people that smell like curry and have an accent.

“I don’t care what you do in your bedroom, whether you fuck a chicken or a goat or another man.”
Is code for: I’m really a homophobe and a bigot who is equating gay sex to bestiality but I want to maintain the veneer of being progressive or “with the times”.”

“I believe in the market economy.”, when uttered by someone with as much knowledge as I have about, say, astrophysics.
Is code for: “I have employer provided healthcare. Those don’t have a job that provides healthcare can, how shall we say, go fuck themselves.”

“I have no problems with immigrants like you.”
Is code for: Until you don’t threaten my authority and stop accepting the fact that I’m your better. When you do I’ll treat you and talk about you (just like you and I did now) in just the same way I treat that Mexican construction worker who doesn’t have papers.

“You’re English is so good.”
Especially when said to a Spanish speaking person
Is code for: I didn’t expect your Hispanic ass to be this articulate in English. Why don’t you go back to speaking in that accent so I can feel better about myself for having accepted a boat person?

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”
Is code for: “Poor black folk choose to be poor because they don’t want to work and want to suck on the teet of this great land of ours for as long as they can without doing anything in return.”
Never mind that the biggest teet suckers in the history of modern civilization were likely your ancestors.

“Lincoln freed the slaves over a hundred and fifty years ago.”
Is code for: Black folk are just plain lazy and don’t want to help themselves using slavery as an excuse.”
Never mind that this “excuse” is the greatest injustice ever perpetrated for centuries by man against fellow man.

As is my wont, the prologue and sometimes the postscripts take longer than the actual point I want to make. So thanks for sticking with me.

Peace,
Lakshman Hariharan,
09/15/18, Prosper, TX.

A couple of postscripts:
1. I realize not every person that says you’re English is so good or asks where are you from originally is being racist or bigoted. Most genuinely want to know about you and your background so they can better understand you but I’m just using hyperbole as a tool.

2. There are certain Indian Americans like that descendant of Pierre T Beauregard — or at least he wishes he were — Bobby Jindal that take umbrage to the very phrase Indian American but guess what Piyush? You can go…

Make America What Again?

One of the most interesting aspects of my job is that one week could find me in Anchorage, AK, the next in Los Angeles, CA and the week following that in deep Dixie. Places so diverse that they may well be on different continents. That is the greatness of this land where one can meet, enjoy cultural experiences and have conversations with people of so many cultures and countries. The next best thing to experiencing the cultures and having conversation in those places themselves. “A continent masquerading as a country” was the phrase used by my favorite publication to describe the country of my birth India. It is quite an apt description for my adopted country as well. Another, more interesting aspect is the people I get to meet. Now, I am not a very social person in my private life. Quite the opposite actually. As an example, consider this: My seven year old got so tired of my recluse of an existence that he took it upon himself to make friends in the neighborhood we live; because he probably (and rightly) figured that left to my own devices he would have no friends. When I introduced myself to one of my neighbors she said: “Oh yeah. We know who you are. You’re Arjun’s dad. He’s a great kid. He came over and played with our kids last week.”

I relate that anecdote only because it is odd then, that the interaction with people of different ethnicities is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job. I am not a particularly gifted observer or conversation maker but I do like people watching. And when I meet someone new I try to find a common thread we can discuss. Something I know  a little bit of but want to know more about. Say, discussing perestroika with someone of relatively recent Russian origin. Or discussing with someone from Iraq ancient Mesopotamia and the part the Euphrates and the Tigris played in bringing about the cradle of modern civilization; or Muqtada al-Sadr’s party winning a lot of seats in the the just concluded elections. Or asking a former Marine how it was visiting all those places and meeting all those different people when he was on active duty. He replied, and I found it funny, because I really enjoy dark humor : “Oh it was a lot of fun meeting new people….. And shooting  them.” In all these conversations I broach something I think could be of common interest, never for once assuming I can completely understand their circumstances. Empathize? Yes Try to understand? Possibly. To know what exactly it was like? No. Because I may read about a certain topic and a certain place but it is no substitute for having been there and lived those experiences.

My experiences interacting with, or talking to people with diverse ethnicities are hardly unique and nor do I have any special ability to get people to tell their stories. Which means such interesting stories are everywhere waiting to be uncovered. Sometimes just showing that I am interested goes a long way in learning about people and cultures, which consequently enriches my life. It also gives me ammunition for the arguments against the bigots. So consider some of the other people that have, over the years, in no particular order as they are presented here, enriched my life and broadened my horizons:

Two Iraqi gentlemen who made their way to America by way of a special visa program, for which they were eligible in 2015 (or 2016) after working as IT technicians for the US Embassy in Baghdad for twelve years after the 2003 invasion.

A gentleman of Laotian descent who was brought here as a child by his parents fleeing the civil war in that country. I asked him, how of all places he ended up in Little Rock, Arkansas? He replied that his father, when asked by the US authorities where he would like to live in the States requested to live in a place that had all four seasons. So Little Rock is where they ended up.

A gentleman of Russian descent who arrived here around the same time as me, just around the time Boris Yeltsin, whose alcoholism was taking a toll, was getting ready to hand power over to Vladimir Putin who has ruled Russia since. This gentleman was a young adult during Gorbachev’s perestroika. He thought the topic dominating the news cycle; the Russian meddling in the 2016 elections was a “circus” and “two faced”. By the latter I presume he meant the United States’ foreign policy which has left  untouched no continent in the world by installing dictators and gross human rights violators as long as they are our “allies”. As FDR said of Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua: “He may be a sonofabitch but he is our sonofabitch.”
A quote that is attributed, likely apocryphally, sometimes to Kissinger, advising Nixon what to make of another other notorious abuser of human rights: Yahya Khan of Pakistan.

A Yonsei man whose Issei great grandfather had been interned in one of Roosevelt’s infamous camps during World War II; at the very time his Nisei grandfather had been fighting the Italian Fascists as part of the legendary 442nd Infantry Regiment.

A gentleman of Chinese origin in his late fifties who recalled what it was like to be a teenager during the terrible times of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and a young boy during the misery of the Great Leap Forward.

A German colleague who remembered, as a little boy, being told to be very quiet one night as his father and mother bundled him and his siblings into a car in the middle of the night to flee Communist Czechoslovakia.

A Jewish gentleman of Russian descent whose father had been a holocaust survivor and who, according to his own telling, on the very day of the coup against Gorbachev, at the very minute tanks were pointing their guns at the White House (the newer, less famous one in Moscow), was presenting his case to the visa official in the US Embassy in Moscow for asylum in the United States. He said that the visa official at the embassy took one look at his father’s application, commented on the tanks rolling in and said that there need be no explanation and that his visa was approved.

An African American gentleman who, like me, was an Army brat and spent most of his childhood in West Germany during the cold war.

A gentleman of Swiss origin whose girlfriend was from Dresden in former East Germany and bore some resentment about the reunification. He said she felt she was looked down upon by those from former West Germany and sometimes pined for the simplicity of those days, despite the conditions. She must be one of a very small minority of Germans that felt that way I would imagine.

Compared to all these stories, the humiliation of queuing up at the US consulate standing hours at a time in the muggy oppressive heat of Chennai (then Madras) for a student visa to be approved or rejected at the whim of someone likely with no more than a GED or high school diploma seems trivial. I realize that the part about no more than a GED or high school diploma comes across as incredibly demeaning to those that may not have had the same privileges and opportunities to get an education that I had when growing up, and I’m sorry for that. But that is exactly how I felt at the time. It is also the story of hundreds of thousands of other Indian immigrants who got here on a non-immigrant visa and decided to stay on to become green card holders and eventually citizens.

Why one may wonder I bring up these people and stories? Most of these people and stories have one thing in common: war, strife or turmoil in the mother country that led people to leave those countries in search for better opportunities for themselves and in some cases their families. There is also another common thread in all but two stories (of the German coworker and Swiss gentleman). After one of my work trips, sitting in an airplane going over the trip mentally, I chuckled to myself recalling the events of the week. I recalled that earlier in the week I was one of four people cooped up in a conference room over the better part of a week discussing cyber security strategies for a large hospital in the nation’s capital and none of us was American born. The others being the aforementioned Iraqi gentlemen and the gentleman of Russian origin. In other words, exactly the kind of people the current occupant of the White House and many of his supporters don’t want here.Exactly the kind of people to keep America as great as she already is. What exactly are we trying to make great again? And why? It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that it is code for Make America White Again. Even if with his “understanding of a fifth or sixth grader” intellect of a brain — a quote attributed to his former Secretary of Defense — managed to figure out what exactly Make America Great Again means, he can take his plan and stick it up his you know what. We don’t need the current occupant of the White House’s permission nor direction to keep America great. We’re doing it as we speak and have been at it for several years. Speaking of codes, I have another post, the content of which I originally included in this one but this is getting way too windy. So I decided to do a separate post on just what I have learned is code when someone wants to say something bigoted or racist but can’t overtly. That is to to follow at some future date  and time.

Thanks again for indulging me if you made it this far.

Lakshman Hariharan
09/15/18, Prosper, TX.

P.S.: There is another common thread. The conspicuous absence of any women or people of Hispanic origin and only one African American in these conversations. Unfortunately, that is quite representative of the industry I work in. It is mostly male dominated, white and Asian at that, where women and other ethnicities are woefully underrepresented.

The First Time I the Heard N Word Employed

As far as words go, the n-word is likely one of the most offensive in the world. Right up there with the c-word employed while referring to a woman. Although the c-word seems more acceptable across the pond in ol’ England. That’s probably why when I heard a black person called the n-word on an airplane the other day I was shocked. It is more a reflection of the sheltered existence I have had perhaps but it was quite jarring to me. I have heard black people use that word among themselves, I’ve heard it on screen and in hip-hop lyrics but never to a black person’s face in real life. Not that I can recall anyways.  I don’t suppose to know what some black folk mean when they say using the word among themselves takes the power out of it and whatnot and I certainly don’t pretend to know whether is is right or wrong that some black folk choose to use it among themselves. What I do know is that I can’t imagine how the woman it was used against felt. But then, it is quite likely that wasn’t the first time someone had called her a “fucking n***** bitch.” Now, what outrage this woman could have possibly perpetrated to be called such an offensive epithet you might ask. And that is a valid question. So allow me to explain.

This has happened to me before. I’ve ponied up the ten or fifteen dollars for in flight internet access and have had darned the thing not work. In fact the two trips right after I had signed up for the monthly plan (forty dollars per month no less) from one of the providers on a specific airline, the internet access didn’t work. The first time I called the flight attendant over to complain she simply said “We’ve had this problem all day today. We’ve complained but they haven’t fixed it.” That was that. She said she was sorry about the inconvenience, I said it wasn’t her fault and I resigned myself to the outrage of having no internet access, paraphrasing the comedian Louis CK,  “while flying thirty thousand feet above sea level sitting in a comfortable chair” for a whole three hours. The poor choice for the source of my quote is not lost one me but that’s the most appropriate one I can think of. I don’t remember what happened the second time but it wasn’t anything eventful or worth remembering evidently. I canceled my subscription before the next billing cycle and moved on. I wish I could say that I have conducted myself this rationally, not having been a donkey’s ass every time in every frustrating customer service situation but I would be lying if I did.

I relate this story because this is exactly what happened last week, and coincidentally, it happened on a flight to the City of Angels like it had with me on those two occasions. This time the outrage was perpetrated against a man in a #23 Lakers jersey, apparently one so excited about LeBron’s arrival in Los Angeles that he couldn’t wait until the season began to buy the jersey. How the man’s sartorial sense, or the lack of it, has to do with any of this I do not know. But I do know this: Nobody wants to sit next to a man in a freaking basketball jersey on a cross country flight with nothing underneath showing all his disgusting armpit hair to the world. Certainly not with his arms raised above his shoulders behind his head the whole time. The man was frustrated that the internet he had paid for wasn’t working. The flight attendant tried to help him but obviously she wasn’t a technical expert and couldn’t help beyond what she’d been taught. Although she tried more than most. She asked him to make sure he is connected to the Gogo in-flight wireless network. She asked him to open the browser on his phone and go to the Gogo in flight website directly using the browser and a couple of other steps that could have helped.  It is at this point that I heard the flight attendant say “Sir please do not talk to me like that.” The man said something else and the flight attendant went “Sir you are being incredibly rude. I will not be spoken to like that. This is when I heard, clear as day, him saying: “Just leave me alone you fucking n**** bitch.”

I heard it and so had a few others around us but no-one (myself included) said anything to the man or confronted him. To not be impolite I suppose. Just like the time I did not stand up and speak out against overt acts of caste discrimination by my own family members back in India. But this post isn’t about my cowardice. Speaking of not wanting to be impolite, what could possibly be more impolite and outrageous than using the most offensive racial slur against someone, no matter what the provocation, I do not know. What kind of decorum I was trying to maintain, do not ask me. My excuse, like that of many is that I do not quite have the right words and right response in the heat of the moment. I can think at least ten things I could have said after the fact but I find myself tongue tied and unable to respond at that very moment. The flight attendant, rightly outraged by what she heard, brought one of her coworkers and said “I’m not giving that man a single thing to drink or eat on this flight.” She also went on the intercom and spoke with the captain about what happened. A few minutes later another flight attendant came along with a piece of paper and explained something to the man. I presume it was some kind of warning or rebuke. Hopefully one that said he isn’t allowed to fly on any flight operated by that airline henceforth but I am not sure what it was and can only hope that is indeed what transpired. All I know was the man nodded defiantly that he understood what was being explained to him. The flight attendant was a bigger person than I could ever be and asked the man during drink service whether he would like some ice water. The woman was exceedingly polite to everyone else on the flight including myself. I do that myself sometimes. When I am in disagreement or have been outraged by someone’s comment in a gathering I go out of my way to be nicer to everyone else around. Just to prove a point that I’m not the asshole here. Although the flight attendant probably was just nice like that always.

While I was deplaning I had an impulse to stop by and tell her that I thought she was a bigger person than I and that I admired her poise and grace. That if she were ever to complain or otherwise pursue some sort of action as a consequence for this passenger I would do everything I could to be on her side. That here was my phone number and contact information. But I didn’t because I didn’t know how she would react. Or I told myself that anyways. Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda. The story of my life.
You’ve indulged me twice in a day so thank you again.

Lakshman Hariharan
08.26.18
Prosper, TX.

Perspective

I struggle with keeping things in perspective, as I assume many of us do. I found myself seated at lunch a few weeks go with a gentleman from Iraq who had worked for the US Embassy in Baghdad after the 2003 invasion and found his way to the United States via a special visa program. He recalled how he once heard one of his American coworkers at the embassy lament the long forty five minute commute to work back in the States and thought about his own commute to work. For perspective, the Iraqi gentleman said that when he worked for the US Embassy in Baghdad, he had to, if he wanted to make it to his desk on time by 9:00 a.m., leave his house at 5:00 a.m. to go through all the security checkpoints and barriers before he could enter the embassy.  Four hours. Or that a man of decidedly higher intelligence than most people with better, more cushy jobs that I run into on a daily basis had to work as a PC technician at the US Embassy for twelve years before he could be eligible for the special visa.  I told him I admired his resilience and I could relate, albeit remotely,  because I never had to suffer such hardship. Because I came from a place where everything moved at a glacial pace (at least when I lived there) and now I find myself complaining if the old lady in front of me at the grocery line takes a few extra seconds to pull out her coupons. I also told him I hoped he would be a better man (and by all indications that he is) than I and wouldn’t find himself complaining about his commute to and from work in the nation’s capital in a couple of years, when the sheen and novelty of immigrating to the States has worn off. By all appearances he did seem a better man than I, seeing  how patient he was with things like people taking forever to pull out of a parking space and the patience he showed with cars that have right of way taking forever to make that right turn so you could make your left turn. And the joy he took in all the things we take for granted here in the States. Call it Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or the problem of plenitude but I wish I could keep things in perspective like that.
I also found myself wanting to be like him for the genuine joy he took in spending time with his children every day after work, although I suppose most good fathers are like that. Not that its an excuse for indiscipline but I try to remind myself every time I’m upset with my ten year old for leaving his soccer cleats laying around or with my seven year old for leaving his Legos all over the place that there are thousands, likely hundreds of thousands, if not millions of couples that would love to be able to have a chance to put those soccer cleats or the Lego pieces away but cannot, for one reason or another.

Or when I complain about having to walk a few extra steps in the scorching Texas sun because I didn’t find a closer parking spot at the grocery store. I then see a man in a wheelchair and try to be grateful that I have legs. Try being the operative word, because, as a friend says, it lasts about seven minutes. Before I’m back to complaining that my Mercedes doesn’t parallel park itself or that my Ducati doesn’t have cruise control. Or the time I was stuck behind a garbage truck for a whopping two minutes in traffic on the highway and couldn’t stand the stench. The next day happened to be trash pickup day in the neighborhood and I saw the guy hanging off the back of the garbage truck emptying the contents of our garbage cans into the truck and resolved to be grateful that I don’t have to ride in or drive a garbage truck for a living. Or the time when I thought the janitor (custodian, if the word janitor is offensive) at the office was rude not to acknowledge my “thank you” and smile as I walked by her. I had to ask myself how appreciative I would be of someone’s thank you if I had to clean toilets for a living.

I also try to put it in perspective to my ten year old when he complains about not having WiFi for a few minutes on the three hour or so drive to Austin, or when he is outraged that he will be in middle school next year and still doesn’t have an iPhone. But as a wise man once told me: They do as you do, not as you say. Its possible that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t set quite the right example with my reaction to the car tailgating me on the way to soccer practice, or the time the car in front of me was going forty miles an hour where the speed limit was fifty five.

Thanks for indulging me and reading. Now please excuse me as I get on an online forum and bitch about how the fifty thousand dollar electric vehicle I ordered is taking forever to enter production.

Lakshman Hariharan
08/26/18
Prosper, TX.
P.S.: I own neither a Mercedes nor a Ducati, although I wish I did.

Summer Reading

Barack Obama and Bill Gates publish their summer reading lists, so I figured why not me? Because, you know, I’m just as accomplished and the world is waiting to know what I’m reading.
Its been a good summer for reading so far. I knocked off my reading bucket list a few works of fiction considered modern classics: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and the Orwellian classics Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm.  I enjoyed most, to the surprise of almost no one that knows me, the dystopian Nineteen Eighty Four and the satiric Animal Farm. Although the latter I found less of a satire and more a grim and ultimately sad depiction of what has been in some parts of the world and what could happen over here. I’d heard that the sales of these books, especially the former had skyrocketed since the 2016 November elections here stateside. Now I know why. Animal Farm was first published in 1945 and Nineteen Eighty Four in 1949. The dates of publication are important because of how Orwell foretold events as they unfolded in the former Soviet Union before anyone knew how they would eventually unfold. It is fair to say that when these books were written,  in much of the world outside the United States and the countries then commonly referred to as the Western Democracies  — loosely comprised of the countries that fought Nazi Germany minus the Soviet Union — the jury was still out on which form of government was the best. As the historian Ram Guha writes, the Nehruvian tilt to socialism and the Soviet Union is a case in point that the matter wasn’t quite settled in everyone’s mind, as obvious as it sounds now. Orwell’s prescience is a testament to his brilliance. I enjoyed his most famous works of fiction so much that I have started reading Homage to Catalonia; his experiences during the Spanish Civil War that went on to shape his views on authoritarianism.
No seasonal reading for me is ever complete without reading a work or two by the late Christopher Hitches, so I picked up The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Provocative title aside, no one can quite put it like Hitchens. One line in particular jumps out. Writing about the time when Mother Teresa was asked what poor people without money or power can do to make the world a better place and she answered: “Smile More”,  Hitchens writes that it is a “…fortune cookie maxim of such cretinous condescension”. Reminds me of a certain Be Best campaign, if one can even call it a campaign. That is just one line that jumped out in a brilliant work. The book (or pamphlet rather) has been called at various times by various people a vicious attack on Mother Teresa, a polemic and a screed. All it is is an honest questioning of why she chose to associate with authoritarians and where exactly did the millions raised by The Sisters of Charity go? Why the affectation of poverty? And the questioning of faux naif as Hitchens puts it and what the real motives were.

When my ten year old and I visited the holocaust museum (which is where I picked up this next book incidentally)  in Washington DC earlier this summer I saw NEVER AGAIN plastered on the walls so many places that I remarked remarked: “Yet it still happens.” My ten year old asked:  “You mean like in Syria?”I told him not quite but he was partly right I suppose. A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by former US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power is a powerful, if sad read. The story of genocide in the twentieth century and America’s inaction in the face of it. Starting with Turkey’s genocide of ethnic Armenians it traces America’s response (or lack of it) through the twentieth century; the Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda. Learned a lot about a man named Raphael Lemkin who coined the word genocide and several other United States lawmakers that were crusaders for American intervention in cases of genocide. A great read I would recommend to anyone trying to understand genocide.

In addition I read some of Tom Paine’s works, The Age of Reason and Rights of Man. It helped that I read Christopher Hitchens’ interpretation of Paine’s Rights of Man  before diving into the actual works. I’m working on a separate post, if it ever sees the light of day, on Paine, Rights of Man, the contrasting viewpoints of his and Edmund Burke’s and their pamphlet wars. According to the author Yuval Levin in his book (another summer read) The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine and the Birth of Left and Right” what we call in American politics as Conservative and Liberal originated here. Along the same lines, an interesting tidbit I did not know was where the terms left and right as applied to our politics originated. During the French Revolution it seems. Hitchens writes: “It is from this period that we derive our most common as well as our most crude political metaphor. The Jacobin faction began to sit to the left of the president’s chair in the assembly and the Girondin faction to his right.”

Another read, Lincoln On Race and Slavery edited by Henry Louise Gates Jr. deserves its own separate post.

Now a couple of final thoughts on the Orwellian works I had referred to earlier.

Take this exchange between O’Brien and the protagonist Winston in Nineteen Eighty Four:

“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

What is sometimes five and sometimes three and sometimes all at once is two plus two. Because the Party insists that two plus two is not four. Earlier in the novel Winston writes in his diary: “Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two is four. If that is guaranteed all else follows.”

Now, consider this tweet from the President of the United States and assure me with a straight face we’re not headed toward some Orwellian nightmare.

Stick with us. Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. … What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

Or his counsel’s statement that “Truth is not truth”.

Animal Farm of course reminded me of characters from the twentieth century, mostly from the former Soviet Union. Here are the analogies I could draw
Major — Lenin.
Napoleon — Stalin
Snowball — Trotsky
Squealer — Molotov, Beria, Goebbels..take your pick.

That has been the list so far for the summer of ’18.

Thanks for indulging me.

Lakshman Hariharan