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.

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.