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

A Game on Life Support

I can barely stand to listen to the news these days , a sentiment that many of us agree with, no doubt. I can neither tolerate the bellicosity of right wing talk radio nor the we are so much better than the other side smug elitism of public radio. That is not to say that I believe this “both sides are to blame” nonsense though. Plus these aren’t exactly peachy times for a liberal left of center listener like me. So I do what every responsible citizen would do in such a situation: disengage. Disengage and let someone else figure it out while I bitch and moan about how bad things are. Which means I listen to a lot of sports radio while in the car or traveling. I oftentimes hear the hosts on the radio station I listen to discussing how some baseball games are so long and something needs to be done about it if the game is to sustain the viewership and patronage of younger viewers. Which brings me to the topic of this post: Test cricket.

The Indian born Chief Executive of Microsoft, when asked by an interviewer how he would explain cricket to an American had one word: Impossible. He added, in the same interview, that his most valuable possession is a cricket bat signed by the great Sachin Tendulkar. More on that later. His comment regarding the impossibility of explaining the sport of cricket (and especially Test cricket) to Americans has nothing to do with the average American’s ability to understand the game and has everything to do with what an anachronism Test cricket is in this day and age. Players step out in spotless whites like they did over two hundred years ago, there are breaks for lunch and breaks for high tea and the game is played over five days; sometimes with no result. Right. With no result. High Tea aren’t exactly the words that come to mind while trying to conjure up in one’s imagination an exciting and absorbing sport. In fact just typing the words high tea feels like I’ve been transported to the Victorian era. Yet here I was, up at 5:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning glued to my computer screen watching India play England in a test match. There is a certain love for a game that one grew up watching and the team one grew up rooting for that no other game or team can replace I suppose. Or I’m just a sports fan with way too much time on my hands. Time that could be put to better use elsewhere.  For someone with not one athletic bone in his body I watch way too much sports. The ratio of time spent watching sports to time spent playing sports is heavily skewed in favor of the number left of the colon, or the numerator, if you would.  I love the Dallas Cowboys, the Dallas Mavericks and heck I’ll even jump on the bandwagon when the Texas Rangers are in a pennant race or in the playoffs. Baseball. A game I don’t even understand fully. The first time I went to a baseball game with some coworkers I actually asked one of them when halftime was.

But nothing quite compares to the joy that accompanies the Indian national cricket team’s victories. Anybody that has been to Indian subcontinent, has an Indian or a Pakistani friend or has generally spent a few days with anyone from the subcontinent knows that the game is a religion in India. A Malayalam poet named C.P. Surendran once wrote, describing the love and passion Indian people have for cricket and one gentleman particularly : “Batsmen walk out into the middle alone. Not Tendulkar. Every time Tendulkar walks to the crease, a whole nation, tatters and all, marches with him to the battle arena.” Enough has been said about society’s tendency to overvalue sports and Indians’ penchant for deifying cricket stars and this one in particular so I’ll spare the reader that lecture. Suffice to say that there has likely never been a sports figure more revered in the history of all sport. The Indian team’s victories are especially sweet for me when India beats England. Something about sticking it to the former colonial masters in the game they taught us to play is gratifying like few other things are for me.

I am, in a sense different from the average Indian cricket fan that a win over the arch rivals west of India’s disputed border is less satisfying to me than a victory against England.  The writer Wright Thompson, describing the India — Pakistan rivalry wrote “Its just like Auburn vs Alabama.” Yes, he added “just like that, except for the constant threat of nuclear holocaust.” Yes, it is India — Pakistan, not Pakistan — India, and yes it matters just like it is Texas — OU and not OU — Texas. But as I grow older I find myself becoming less partisan and more of a fan of the game itself than individuals or teams. Finally, after thirty something years of watching cricket and sports in general, I understand the cliche that no individual is bigger than the game.
No other game that I know of on the planet has different formats played over different time spans, save the sport of running. In any case, no other sport that involves bat and ball is played in three formats. Yet, as most intelligent commentators and former players would tell you, Test cricket is the pinnacle of the game requiring the endurance, patience and fitness levels that if a team wants to compete at that level, can be in the very least, daunting. Don’t let the portly cricketers from the past — a famous former cricketer from Sri Lanka comes immediately to mind — let you belie the fitness levels the longest format of the game demands. I’m also old school in that club cricket, of the type most popular with the youth of today, has no appeal for me. I watch all formats of the game but I’m only emotionally invested in the fortunes of the Indian national cricket team. In fact the only times this grown ass man can recall having shed shed tears over sports is twice: Once when India failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the 2007–2008 World Cup Not Test cricket or the shortest format but a third format that is played over a whole day. Take that basketball! and once when the great Sachin Tendulkar retired from the sport.

To say that the game is struggling would be an understatement. I don’t know of any other game that is played to empty stands and still manages to survive. The shorter more “exciting” formats of the game sustain Test cricket and they allow the lesser teams to be competitive. I oftentimes wonder how many kids in the subcontinent under the age of twenty five really care about and answer it myself. Not many. And as the history of boxing shows, a game that cannot sustain the interest of the younger generations cannot survive. But I don’t know what the solution is. A game played over five days is more suited to 1818 not 2018. The stodgy powers that be running the sport are finally waking up to the reality that something needs to be done if the game is to survive. That includes trying some innovative things like day night (pink ball) Test cricket. Yes, there’s red ball cricket, white ball cricket and now, pink ball cricket. There was a child in the stands holding a sign, clearly written by an adult, which read: “KEEP TEST CRICKET ALIVE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION.”
Amen to that. The game is on life support and this fan hopes it survives. Now excuse me as I go back to doing what every concerned and responsible patron of the game would do. Sit around and mope about the future of the game.

Thanks for indulging me and reading.

Lakshman Hariharan
08/04/2018 Prosper, TX.

Hamilton

My ten year old and I took a trip to our nation’s capital last month. One of the conversations early on in the trip went something like this.

Me (doing my best Tony Soprano voice): There it is.
Ten Year Old (TYO): What?
Me (Pointing to the Washington Monument): George Washington showing the British a huge middle finger.
TYO: Really? No, that can’t be what it represents.
Me: No it’s not. BUT are you ready to check out the monument to G Dub? What about my man Tommy J?
TYO (Making a face like he’d smelled a cadaver): Who are they?
Me: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
TYO: Please don’t call them that.
Me: Ok what ’bout my homie Marty K?
TYO (The same face again): Who? Oh, never mind. Please stop.

I then did the floss and had him record it, all the while watching him visibly cringe and cover his eyes. As if covering his eyes meant no one around him could see him in the company of a rotund middle aged man doing the floss. Right by the Washington monument no less.

So we did the museums and the touristy stuff but we also caught a performance of Hamilton.The popular cultural phenomenon that has swept the nation the past three years. Full disclosure is in order here. This is the second ever play or musical or what have you I have ever watched. The first one was The Damn Yankees to which I had tickets courtesy of a co-worker whose husband was a student in the Drama department at Texas Tech University. That was about fifteen years ago and I sure didn’t know nothin’ about no baseball or no damn Yankees then. I sure as hell didn’t know what a musical was. Regardless the wife (then fiance) and I had a great time. The poor graduate students that we were then, the highlight was the free food. All this is a long winded way of saying that if there is a person least qualified to review a performance of Hamilton you are reading him. That being said I cannot resist writing what my impressions of the show were, even though, as always, I’m a day late and a dollar short (more like three years late). So for what its worth, here goes.
The music is incredible. My ten year old and I haven’t stopped listening to it since the day I booked the tickets. Some would call questionable parenting letting a ten year old listen to a soundtrack that starts with “How Does a Bastard, An Orphan, A Son of a Whore and a Scotsman“, but hey. Questionable parenting aside, one doesn’t have to be a fan of hip hop — which my ten year old and I most certainly are — to appreciate the genius of the music and the lyrics, of the interweaving of the story of Alexander Hamilton and the Revolutionary War. Just brilliant. The ten year old gets a special kick out of the songs featuring King George III (You’ll Be Back, What Comes Next, and I Know Him). He remarked how the actor playing George III looked just like DJT and said “So King George was the Donald Trump of his time.” I corrected him that Donald Trump is the King George of our time and how all of them back then were Donald Trumps.  He also gets a kick out of the lyrics that involve the character of the Marquis de Lafayette, because of the French accent: The Story Of Tonight, Aaron Burr Sir, and Yorktown being some of his favorite ones. My personal favorite is How Does a Ragtag Volunteer Army, In Need of a Shower, Somehow Defeat a Global Superpower? (Guns and Ships)

I’ve always thought, and this is no revelation for even a casual reader of American history that some of the founders: Hamilton, Paine, Jay, Madison, Lafayette, Rush, to name a few, get short shrift in the telling of the founding compared to Messrs. Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin. One doesn’t need any particular knowledge of revolutionary history to appreciate the show but like everything else, the more one knows the more one can appreciate it. For example, from the reading of Ron Chernow’s excellent biography of George Washington I understood the complicated relationship Washington had with Hamilton and also the bitter falling out Paine had with Washington after the French Revolution. In Paine’s view Washington’s abandonment of him and Lafayette to face the guillotine in the Robespierrean Terror that followed the French Revolution was unforgivable. He went from a “man of exemplary virtue” in his eyes to being called at best a marginal character that received way too much undeserved credit for the revolution.
Returning to the show, I thought the reduction of Jefferson (What’d I Miss) as someone that delegated the writing of the Declaration of Independence to the Marquis de Lafayette, took credit for it and went gallivanting about Europe was not cool. Yes, Jefferson spent most of the war in France and Europe but to reduce arguably his greatest accomplishment with the exception of the Louisiana Purchase to essentially a credit undeserved bordered on the revisionist in my opinion. But I do understand how in the popular telling of history some things can get embellished. Especially considering that when viewed with today’s lenses Jefferson would have been what we call Conservatives today. More on that later though. The lyrics precisely go like this. It could be the satire that went completely over my head so I’ll let the reader be the judge:

I had Lafayette draft a declaration
Then I said, I gotta go
I gotta be in Monticello
Now the work at home begins

So what’d I miss?
What’d I miss?
Virginia, my home sweet home, I wanna give you a kiss
I’ve been in Paris meeting lots of different ladies
I guess I basically missed the late eighties
I traveled the wide, wide world and came back to this

There’s a letter on my desk from the President
Haven’t even put my bags down yet Sally be a lamb, darlin’ won’tcha open it?
It says the President’s assembling a cabinet
And that I am to be the Secretary of State, great
And that I’m already Senate-approved
I just got home and now I’m headed up to New York
Headin’ to New York, headin’ to New York

Those familiar with Jefferson’s exploits (or in this specific case, institutionalized rape, as the historian Jon Meacham writes) would not have missed the reference to Sally Hemmings.
The caricature of John Adams was funny. The lyrics of Take a Break as Eliza is urging her husband to spend more time with her family go like this:

[ELIZA]
Angelica, tell this man John Adams spends the summer with his family

[HAMILTON]
Angelica, tell my wife John Adams doesn’t have a real job anyway

Or as Washington steps away and Adams is now president , the lyrics of The Adams Administration go:

[BURR]
Adams fires Hamilton
Privately calls him “creole bastard” in his taunts

[JEFFERSON]
Say what?!

[BURR]
Hamilton publishes his response

[HAMILTON]
Sit down, John, you fat mother—[BLEEP]

Now granted that Adams was nicknamed His Rotundity by some of his peers because of the highfalutin titles he kept coming up with for Washington, one of which was “His Highness, the President of the United States of America and the Protector of their Liberties”. Before Washington put his foot down and they settled on the powerful yet simple “Mr President”. But fat motherfucker? C’mon! That’s just plain mean.. And funny. And needless to say that evoked the greatest amount of laughter from the ten year old.
Some of the loudest cheers from the audience came when Hamilton and Lafayette sang Immigrants: We Get the Job Done (Yorktown).

One takeaway for me from the show is how precarious things were. Things we take for granted today; the things that are Common Sense (see what I did there?). The people electing their own leaders. A government of the people, for the people, by the people if you will. How novel the very concept was and what an experiment it was on so grand a scale. One also appreciates the greatness of Washington the man as one looks at the bickering and pettifogging that followed him. As history is our witness, the first excuse for any dictator or general to usurp power is: “If I leave it to these clowns the country will come apart”. The man was prescient to see the folly in setting the wrong precedent and every president since has followed it. Well, at least until a certain FDR came along. The Communist in the White House they called FDR. Even so, Washington himself could not escape the taunt of Dictator. Heck, even the great Abraham Lincoln was called a dictator when he suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. So presidents lest revered and canonized in the popular telling of history should take solace in that even Washington and Lincoln weren’t above the accusations of being dictatorial.

Another takeaway was what the fate of the revolution would have been if it were not a white man’s revolution. I have always envied America and its revolution and felt ashamed in a way that we Indians couldn’t do that to the British sooner. Before Empire became a tottering, rotting relic of the previous centuries  Before the British had their resources stretched so thin after World War II that they could no longer hold on to Empire. But that shame and envy is misplaced because if it weren’t the white gentry of Virginia, Massachusetts, Philadelphia and New York  leading the charge (literally and figuratively), I dare say it had every chance to go down as “an insurrection” or a “mutiny” as the events of 1857 subsequently showed in India. What the Indians call The Revolt of 1857, or The First War of Independence is simply the Sepoy Mutiny for the western world. Would the French have stepped forward if this were not a white man’s revolution? I don’t know but I’m inclined to believe they wouldn’t have.

Another thing I tried to deduce from the show was where, in today’s political spectrum would men like Jefferson, Paine, Hamilton, Adams and Washington have come down. The term States’ Rights is code these days for “I want to maintain the status quo and not give up my privilege”  white or male or heterosexual or whatever. Or a means to argue against universal healthcare. Back then it meant something though. Paine, Hamilton and Adams would have been today’s democrats in my opinion, being Federalists and all. Jefferson, Madison and possibly even Washington today’s republicans. Only these men would have had principles as opposed to the GOP of Paul Ryan. Indeed I even bought tickets to a discussion where I could, as a member of the audience participate in a debate in Monticello one evening where the topic was “Are we living in a more Hamiltonian or Jeffersonian world today”. Like the topic even needs debating. It is settled in my opinion that we are living in a Hamiltonian world. Then my ten year old insisted he *had* to get that fried chicken fast food at the train station and we missed our train to Charlottesville.

The the other parts of the show, the personal stuff, the Schulyer sisters, Theodosia, the Reynolds Affair etc. I didn’t quite care for, but I see how it is an essential part in a biography of Hamilton. Much has also been written about the stupidity and absurdity of duels so I’ll skip those parts too.

If you’ve managed to read this half-assed review of sorts, Thank You. Really. Or to close in the words of A dot Ham and A dot Burr.

I have the Honor to be your Obedient Servant.
L dot Har.

The Toughest Job in the World

DSC_0494Happy Mothers Day to all the wonderful moms doing the toughest job in the world. But especially to the three moms in my life. Three women who keep me on the straight and narrow. Three women who have loved and stood by me even when I was least deserving of their love and support. For seeing in me what I failed to see in myself and standing by my side offering support when I went through some turbulent times in my own head. In the throes of a deep and debilitating depression from which I scarcely believed I would emerge in one piece. It would be an understatement of colossal proportions to say I wouldn’t have come through but for them. They have unique personalities but there’s one thing the three of them have in common. You mess with their children only at your own peril. They will never make excuses for their children’s poor behavior or less than ideal character traits that sometimes show up in the most inopportune of times. But they are the rocks of Gibraltar that will stand by their children at all times. Proud but hesitant to take credit for their achievements and always ready to take more than their share of undeserved blame when their children don’t act or behave like they taught them to, wondering whether they could have done something better in raising them.  Their children squeeze every ounce of patience they have. They bend but never break. They love in a way such as only a mother can. Unconditionally. Even when you’ve been a horse’s ass. Every other kind of love, in my opinion, has a limit, a threshold beyond which isn’t possible to give more. A (or I should say this) father’s love does too, although I hope to never see that threshold or limit.

My mother is the kindest, gentlest person I have ever known in my life. If there was ever such a thing as an angel that walked this earth, it has to be Chitra. Pardon the hyperbole but she is my mother, I am biased and that is how I feel about her. I was not an easy kid to raise, by any standards. I have disappointed her numerous times but she refuses to see anything but the best in me. I haven’t exactly been the son of the decade or the year even but I promise to strive every day, to be worthy of the upbringing she gave me. Despite the challenges she faced as a woman in a deeply patriarchal and conservative society.

My sister is the only other person alive outside of my own self that is like our dad, The two of us together make quite the Hariharan. That a person with barely above average intelligence who never worked really hard at anything in life can have everything that a man could hope to have in life; a nice house, a nice car, a respectable job and a loving family is, in large part due to the example she set and the path she treaded before me. A path I could follow in. The firstborn of firstborns she set the standard for achievement in our family. It is hard to grow up the younger sibling of an overachieving woman such as her but I would have it no other way. She is, outside my parents the one most responsible for me having moved to the United States and making something useful of myself. She has encouraged my flights of fancy to be a writer, athlete, singer, photographer and a few other things I fail to remember right about now. I have never met a person that has such an incredible sense of good and bad. Of right and wrong.
She wears her emotions on her sleeve (not unlike me) but one thing she is not is insincere. In anything she does. But make no mistake, she will call my bullshit out every time. Like the one time I had taken to introducing myself as “Lucky” to Americans and Westerners because my name is a mouthful and I was embarrassed by it. For one, if you’re going to name me after a character in a Hindu epic why not first place Ram? Why second (or even third place behind the ever faithful Bharat) Lakshman for cryin’ out loud? The guy that got tricked into letting Ravana abduct Sita. Plus some others named Lakshman spell their names which means some people address me as Laxman in writing, which makes for an unseemly Laxative-man. Back to that one time, she waited until the third person departed and went, in a way only she and I talk to each other: “Abey, yeh Lucky kya hai?” Which loosely translates to “The f*** is this Lucky business?” In other words, never ever forget where you came from.

There are times that she has needed me in the past few years when I, caught up in my own turbulence wasn’t there for her and was frankly, a grade A ass**** in the truest sense of the word. Or like my favorite television writer says “an unwiped ass”. I have not sensed one ounce of resentment from her. I cannot fix anything from the past but I do promise to be the brother that you have deserved all along.

Its been almost fifteen years since we married and it has not been perfect. Far from it rather, most of it being my fault. It was the summer of 2001 when I first saw the woman who would, for some inexplicable reason not only think I was good looking but fall for my personality. And I fell for her. Hard. Anyone that has spent half a minute with her knows that she is impossible to not like or fall in love with. To say that I am the exact opposite and not the easiest of people to live with would be another colossal understatement. Indeed, she could have had her pick of successful men to choose from. But she chose me. A man graduating with a Masters degree at the age of twenty five with no great prospects on the horizon for landing a halfway decent job. When I did land a job I made a measly twenty five thousand dollars a year but she still picked me. Over all the other doctors, engineers, lawyers, accountants, would be executives that would have lined up for her. She picked me and that is one of the proudest of my “achievements” in life. I’ve always said, only half jokingly, that if she had a do-over I wouldn’t be so lucky. But me? I would again, have it no other way. She has stood by me through thick and thin, through the calm and the turbulent, through the best of times and through the worst.
There is no one else I’d rather grow old with. She grinned and bore it when other women would, condescendingly ask her why she didn’t go back to work immediately after the boys were born. As if it were some kind of a contract. Women who would have their mothers from India as free day care for six months. Women who would have the mother in law come and relieve said mothers so their visits overlapped for a few days. You know, so their rhythm to go to work and make the extra eighty (or how many ever) thousand dollars a year isn’t disturbed. She is raising her own children at times as a single mother for all intents and purposes when I am out traveling for days at a time. I apologize if the previous sentence sounds and comes across as resentful. It does only because I resented it. Every. Single. Time. When we as a couple never told anyone anything about how they should raise their children or live their lives. Ever. Because how one raises their children is a deeply personal thing. What good character traits our boys have are all hers, all the defects mine. To her the only thing I can say is, quoting James Garfield as he wrote to his wife Lucretia:
” I hope when you,….balance up the whole of my wayward self, you will still find, after many proper and heavy deductions are made, a small balance left on which you can base some respect and affection.”

To these three incredible mothers in my life. I am truly honored to call myself your  son,  brother and husband.

Thank you.
Lakshman Hariharan
05/12/2018, Prosper, TX.

The Times They Are a Changin’

So go the lyrics of a Dylan classic. I started this post at three in the morning at SeaTac airport with three hours to kill before my connection. Just a forewarning that the quality and coherence of thoughts put down may be more suspect than is even usual for me. I wanted to write this as a follow up to the previous post where I presented my case that left is indeed right. As in, if one takes a position left of center on a social issue one will likely end up on the right side of history.

I had a conversation with a gentleman a few years ago that I remember still quite clearly. I mentioned how among the pantheon of great American presidents I admire Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and FDR. The gentleman I had this conversation with was a conservative, so naturally — or a wrong presumption on my part to assume so I suppose — he said he agreed that Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln were men to be admired but FDR not so much. What with the New Deal and Social Security and all. Which got me thinking about how, in their time and age, these men were likely derided, even ridiculed for some of their views. For example, I have heard several people argue with me about how Lincoln was the person most responsible for the Civil War and how I’ve bought into the popular myth about the Civil War being about slavery and the eventual abolishment of the inhuman practice. To illustrate my point better, consider, for example, Barack Obama. I realize there are many who would take umbrage at the mere mention of the forty fourth president in the same context as the first, third and the sixteenth, but hear me out for a minute. I heard innumerable times how, when there are so many important things to do, Obama was concerned about, for example, gay rights. But here’s the rub. There are always more important things to do. They said the same thing about ol’ Abe Lincoln in the mid nineteenth century. That there were so may important things to do, and this man here was worried about abolishing slavery. A view, if held openly today, would result in the person holding that view being held in near universal contempt, and deservedly so.

Adams, Jefferson and the rest were the men of the Enlightenment which made them extraordinary men for not just their time but for several ages. But for all their greatness, the first and third presidents are guilty of pawning off to the next generation a practice in society that fundamentally challenged one of the founding principles of the republic that “all men are created equal”, much as it ate at their conscience. America’s Original Sin if you will. If they had tried to address it however, they would have, in their own time been thought of as too radical.
Words like expert and scholar are bandied about so casually these days and are so overused that they’re almost cringe worthy. So far be it from me to claim any expertise on American history, but I’ve read enough of it and the men that formed a part of the founding to know this much. Washington was accused of being a dictator. The man who set the precedent for the two term presidency. Adams was an unabashed elitist and egomaniac. Adams, who was jovially nicknamed “His Rotundity” by one of his peers for the highfalutin titles he kept coming up with which the president was to be addressed.  “His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of the Rights of the Same.” was one such, before Washington put his foot down and settled on the simple, elegant and no less awe inspiring Mr President”.  Jefferson after all, was responsible in introducing realpolitik to the nascent republic, aided in no small measure by his opposition to the anglophile Hamilton. The Francophile Jefferson some would say. Lincoln of course was the “black republican”.

I guess all this is a long winded way of saying that the reverence we hold for our forefathers and their prescience would have been misplaced in their own time. I also tend to stay away from hearkening back to the good ol’ times. Because the good ol’ times were good for a select few. Not so much for the rest of what would have been us at the time. Sure there was a time when travelers on airplanes were treated to luxury but air travel was then only accessible to a select few. The democratization of the technology and mode of transport means that it is accessible to people of lesser means but not at the same comfort level and luxury. But the rich have to differentiate themselves somehow. So they came up with first class, which is fine by me. Sure the good ol’ times were simpler and kids could play outdoors without constant adult supervision but they were more likely to be run over by cars too. That’s probably not a good example, but the reader gets the point.

It particularly irks me to see social media memes and posts where millennials are portrayed as lazy, self obsessed, smartphone and social media addicts that can do little but Snapchat all day. Assuming Snapchat hasn’t yet been relegated to the un-cool parents and grandparents category. When in fact they are the smartest generation in a long line of smart generations with ideas that will change and in some cases with their embracement of  sustainable living concepts, save the planet we call home.
I guess my point is, and there is one indeed, if you were wondering, is that the good ol’ times weren’t that great and the very people we hold up as examples from that time were considered far from examples to hold up at the time. So before I dismiss someone’s opinion, no matter how young, to keep in mind that I should think long and hard before doing so. It also reminds me that just because I am forty something years old doesn’t automatically entitle me to the younger generation’s respect.

Thank you

Lakshman Hariharan
04/29/2018
Prosper, TX

Left is Right

Let me explain. What I really mean is that I believe if someone is left of center on a social issue, they will end up, more than likely on the right side of history. In what follows I’ll try to make the case of why I think so. On a side note, I made the title a bit catchy to capture attention, since I’ve started losing even the handful of regular readers I have. So if you happen upon this link, please read it. Perhaps I should be spending time in creating quality content than catchy titles.
Getting back on point. Driving the kids to watch a baseball game forty miles away, my best friend and I started a conversation, as is our wont. He is one of the few people I have long winded conversations about everything under the sun with. Politics, physics, biology, life, philosophy.  It also helps that we agree with each other on ninety nine out of a hundred topics.  Among other things we talked politics (surprise!).   We were discussing how the mainstream media is left leaning. Whatever the merits, fairly or unfairly, the person in the White House gets credit for things undeserved, just as he — not she, until we get progressive enough to elect a woman as president — catches flak for things that are likely undeserved. Kinda like the quarterback on a football team. For example, Barack Obama got bin Laden. Sure, he made the final call on the go no-go and it required major cojones  but did he really actually “get” Osama bin Laden?  My views on and opinion of the current occupant of the White House being irrelevant, I thought about what the media reaction would have been like if a democrat or a media darling like our previous president had been in office when the news came down about the North Korean dictator’s announcement renouncing (or suspending) his nuclear (nu-cue-lar, according to Bush Jr.) program. The media would be falling all over themselves in giving credit to the occupant in the White House. Also irrelevant is the fact that the current occupant of the White House will claim credit for bringing peace to the Korean peninsula even if the dictator doesn’t do any of what he says he will. A “fact” he would likely tout to and possible even get re-elected. That much most reasonable people can agree on I think.

So what does that have to do with left being right?
One of the laments I hear from social conservatives is that most media and comedians are left leaning or progressive or liberal, pick your word. I myself tend to lean left of center on most if not all such social issues. I want to be clear I’m not talking about fiscal conservatism, just social conservatism. Fiscal conservatism, small government, give people the means to making a living rather than handouts etc., sound appealing on the face of it. You know, the thing about giving a man a fish to eat will ensure he eats that day, but teaching him how to fish will help him eat for a lifetime. So in case there are any doubts, I am trying to make a case for why I think social conservatism is wrong, That is because when someone is left of center on an issue, they usually end up on the right side of history. That’s what I believe today. I could very well end up changing my opinion, because as F. Scott or Hemingway once said, and I’m paraphrasing and likely totally butchering the quote: “The man I am today is not the man I was yesterday.  The man I am today, I won’t be tomorrow. Because if I am then I am no man at all.”  The original quote was, I can guarantee you, much more concise and conveyed the same meaning much better with much fewer words.

When I go back and look at history (recent if you will, say sixteenth century onward) one thing becomes clear. What in that day and time appears or is deemed radically progressive or liberal  and is usually laughed at by the majority at the time, say a hundred years thence becomes the right thing to do. Recent examples that come to mind include women’s suffrage, abolition of slavery,  civil  rights, gay rights. I am very aware of the fact that some black folk abhor the equivocation of gay rights with the civil rights movement but that is a topic for another day.

So when I think back to, what a hundred and fifty years ago was considered radical: abolitionism for example, isn’t that radical today is it? Sure there have been the John Browns in any struggle but the principles behind those actions were anything but radical, viewed with today’s lenses. I can make a strong case that if I were to hypothetically transport back, a hundred and fifty years in time to the antebellum period, the very people that staunchly oppose gay rights or gender rights or those that oppose even the most common sense gun control measures,  would have possibly been the very same ones opposing the abolition of slavery. I realize what I said above comes across as accusing someone of racism or bigotry and those are two of the worst things one can be accused of. That is certainly not my intent and my sincerest apologies to anyone reading this arriving at that conclusion.  It is a hypothetical argument, we can’t go back in time. Not yet anyways, but that is my view.
I do understand the slippery slope argument: If we start here, where does it end? For example, if we remove all confederate statues, where does it stop? George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slave holders. Are we to take down their statues too? And rename the nation’s capital? To those making that argument I would say (and I read this part in a magazine article) that that is a false equivalence. The legacies of a Jefferson or a Washington are not defined by slavery. But a Lee or a Stonewall Jackson or a Jefferson (the other one, not my man Tommy J) Davis is defined by their support for a cause that was ultimately evil. No matter how principled and honorable the men themselves, as Lee is often revered in conservative circles. Revisionist historians’ views of what the Civil War was really about notwithstanding.

As a quote oft attributed to Abraham Lincoln or Dr. King goes: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” I say oft attributed to because Wikipedia informs me that it was a certain Theodore Parker that originally formed that quote. Wikipidea, a forum that incidentally is, according to the philosopher king Michael Scott “..the best thing ever. Anyone can write anything they want to about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information.”

Lakshman Hariharan

Prosper, TX

04/23/18

Of Legacies and Such

One of the complaints, or criticisms rather, I received about my previous post from two of the handful of regular readers I have was that the post wasn’t deep enough or long enough. One reader specifically said that just as she was starting to enjoy the post, it ended abruptly. Which, long winded as I usually am, came as a surprise. I figured that the atypical brevity would be welcome. So in this post I attempt to probe a deeper topic, one that is of intrigue to most of us. One that hopefully isn’t highfalutin, evoking eye rolls.

While I can’t guarantee what follows is profound, given the nature of the topic it won’t lack in the verbosity department. A forewarning though. If the topic depresses you then I suggest doing what I did last time to feel better. Eat a chocolate dipped strawberry. That will put an end to all such crises. Or just give enough time for the humdrum nature of everyday life to distract you. Trust me, it will eventually.

 All of us, at some point or other in life, have to come face to face with this. This topic has  intrigued me and I must say, have been scared of, ever since I was six or seven. Since that time we buried the family dog in my grandmother’s backyard. It was then that it hit me for the first time, like a ton of bricks that Tabby (as he was named) is dead, gone forever, will soon be forgotten and everyone will go on about their usual businesses.
Of late as I try to expand the range and scope of what I read, I’ve been reading about the universe, the space time continuum and such. Which has resulted in me having thoughts around the legacy I will be leaving behind. One other possible reason for these questions is that I hit the forty year mark in 2016, which makes me forty two around the time of writing this post. Reaching forty in itself is no achievement to speak of, let alone celebrate. The astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson says that the main reason we celebrate milestones of decades is because we count in base ten. If we counted in, say hexadecimal (base sixteen) we would celebrate anniversaries of sixteen, thirty two, forty eight, sixty four years and so forth. When put like that, forty or fifty then just become insignificant numbers. Agree or disagree with the thought, it did bring to my attention how many years I realistically have left on this earth and what I want to do with those years. If I go my father’s or grandfather’s way, I have nineteen years left, because my father didn’t quite make it to sixty two. Say I beat the odds and make it to seventy five. I then have thirty three years left on this earth. Either way you skin it, if life were plotted on a graph with time on the x-axis then I’m well into the latter half of that. As I look back at my four decades thus far, a few words and phrases come to mind but none of them are flattering. Mundane, conformity, run of the mill, garden variety, mediocre, average. The reader gets the picture.

So I’ve been a bit philosophical of late. As my ten year old asked me the other day: “Why do you have to turn everything into a lecture?”

One example of said lecture that comes to mind is when my six year old, innocently and impulsively said “I will break this.” I went on a sermon about how nobody remembers or thinks highly of people that break things, and how breaking is easy but building is hard, and so forth. Which, needless to say, evoked an eyeroll from the ten year old.

I would like to, put down here, a story from an ancient text.  What follows is a verbatim reproduction of Swami Vivekanada’s views on Vedanta.

<begin>
In one of the Upanishads (the Katha Upanishad), the legend of Nachiketa goes thus. The young boy went to Yama, the lord of death. The closest analogy in the Judeo Christian realm I can draw for Yama is that of the Grim Reaper. So the young boy goes to none other than Yama himself and asks: “Some say of a dead man. ‘He is gone’; others, ‘He is still living.’ You are Yama, Death. You know the truth. Do answer me.”

Yama replies: “Boy do not ask of me this answer.”

But Nachiketa persists.

Yama again replies: “The enjoyment of all the gods, even these I offer you. Do not insist upon your query.” But Nachiketa was firm as a rock.

Then the god of death said: “My boy, you have declined, for the third time, wealth, power, long life, fame, family. You are brave enough to ask the highest truth. I will teach you. There are two ways: one of truth, one of enjoyment. You have chosen the former.

Now note here the conditions of imparting the truth. First purity — that a boy, a pure, unclouded soul, asking the secret of the universe. Second that he must take truth for truth’s sake.
<end>

My interpretation of it is that since most of us mortals aren’t capable of seeking truth for truth’s sake, we must die in order to find the ultimate truth. And what child, however prodigious, can seek truth? So it stands to reason, according to my interpretation of the above story is that most of us who do not possess the intellect to pose such questions while a child and pure, and do not possess the purity when we are grown up, we have to be dead to learn the ultimate truth. It is a lay person’s interpretation of one interpretation of the original text, so make what you will of it.

When I was younger I thought If I were to die and the world were to simultaneously end, then I don’t have a problem. I’m not missing anything because there is nothing else to miss. The world has also ended. As I grew older I realized how incredibly selfish that notion was. Thinking in terms of legacies and such it makes for a less selfish more holistic view. Or so I think.
If you made it thus far, thank you for reading.

Lakshman Hariharan
Nashville, TN
04/19/2018

Nachiketa
Overused words, choose wisely
If I were to die and the world were to end..
Older the philosophy the deeper and more complex
Children, what we leave behind
Humdrum life takes over or a chocolate covered strawberry..
Eulogies and embellishment.