Thursday, November 06, 2008

So, why Obama..

There are lots of me pseudo-liberal, call me naive, call me an idealist...but today I heard a disappointed and dejected American woman say "Upon Obama's victory, I learnt not to be cynical and depressed." I went to Columbia University in NYC to listen to an election analysis by the common people of New York, and by some of the highly respected teachers at the University, and by contributers to papers like "The Nation" and "The New Yorker".

A white american woman sat there, beaming from ear to ear. For those of you interested in politics, this would be of interest to you. For those apathetic to it, I think you will still enjoy hearing what she had to say...

She started her talk by saying "Back in April, I'd placed a bet on McCain, and each time I was challenged, I only bet higher...I didn't have faith in the american people, and I believed that Republicans are geniuses of the manipulation of stupidity." She said she feared that not enough white people would vote for Barack Obama.

"But enough white people DID vote for Obama," she said. She continued by saying that Obama was a wonderful politician and communicated being a good person. He gave her faith that he had the ability to bridge the gaps between the people he agreed with, and those who didn't agree with him.

About the expectations the world had from him, she said "We've been a rogue-elephant country for the last 8 years...I don't expect the next 4 years to be as flawless as the campaign was. I expect him to just be a good enough president. I expect that he will undo or repair the bad things that Bush did. No one can know what's going to happen in the future. But WE have a duty to steer things a certain way too. We have a duty to make ourselves be heard to him. It's not just him...if we disagree with something, we have to make a big fuss about it. "

Other panelists spoke of the republicans like Colin Powell standing up for Obama being unprecedented, spoke of how his grace and poise capture the attention of everyone and put everyone at ease. "I'm surprised that I lived to see the day a brown skinned man becomes the president of our country," said Hendrick Hertzberg of the New Yorker, "We are very lucky to have stumbled into a presidency of the highest calibre we've ever had."

He's right. Obama is a Harvard Law Graduate. He learnt the law, as opposed to George Bush who only broke the law.

There are many reasons why I think Obama becoming the 44th president of the United States of America is a historical moment.

First, he is an inspirational figure to many. He's intelligent, he writes beautifully, intelligently and compassionately, he listens to what people have to say, he communicates well, and his oratory skills are remarkable (as opposed to their last president who said things like "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we" and "I promise you that I will listen to what has been said here, even though I wasn't here" and "I am here to make an annoucement that this thursday, tickets and airplane counters will fly out of Ronald Reagen Airport").

Secondly, he has changed the face of racial america. It's not that he is the first african-american president of America. It's the fact that he got the votes of a large percentage of the "race conscious" population of America. In other words, he forced the average mellow 'racist' to look beyond racial lines. He transcended race.

And yes, there will be 'black pride' in America. But why not. He earned the respect of the white people, despite the still existing racial undertones in the country. He had to watch every move of his to appear to be the perfect black man. Had he had Palin's family history, things wouldn't have gone down too well for him. (It was said that if Obama had a pregnant teenage daughter, it wouldn't have been met with the same understanding as Palin's situation was given. "That's not how they react to a black teenage mother", she said, "We don't say - Oh, its understandable. We say - You're the reason our country's going to the dogs!") Moreover, Obama becoming president has broadened the chances of other black presidents or a woman president, because we thought this was unthinkable and its happened!

His name - Barack Hussein Obama is also important. This sort of name, "which was a political liability will now become a diplomatic asset". He's not a 'secret muslim' as some Americans think, but even if he was, they elected him despite that. And that is also something!

Moreover, these elections were historic for America also because the youth proved to not be apathetic, the proved that their vote counts.

I know that many of us in India have been made wary of this man by certain remarks he made about Kashmir and Pakistan. For those still in doubt, you should read this - "Militants, not India, are the biggest threat to Pakistan" Either way, only time will tell how he shapes Indo-US relations, but everything about him points to the fact that he will listen, and won't unilaterally make a hasty decision. As Indians, we shouldn't fall into the trap of looking things from a narrow-minded perspective. EVEN if we don't like his policies about India and Pakistan, we can't withdraw support on that sole cause. That's being really selfish. This is the reason why Modi gets into power again and again. Because people are not looking at the greater picture, and are looking only at their own immediate gain (or what they perceive to be their immediate gain). We need to look at the greater picture here too. Obama is better for the world and better for America than anyone else in power in that country.

In the end, I have to say, being in the midst of all the apprehension, all the tension, the anticipation, the excitement, I see a new energy in America since yesterday. A happier and more hopeful America. For the first time, I've seen America as a victim. A victim of its own state, that is finally liberated from a reputation it has worn like a noose around its neck. A reputation of being a "rogue-elephant". Many of them hated themselves for 8 years, felt responsible for war crimes and felt disgusted and hapless and powerless. And today, I saw the hope of a new beginning in every American's eye that I met, on the streets of Manhattan.

Monday, November 03, 2008

You've been selected!

I don't know what it is with America wanting to encase me in glass boxes.

My performance in Washington was the first time I was almost encased into a glass room, asked to perform in there while people watched from outside. That was just ignorance about Bharatanatyam, I guess. I politely refused and they obliged.

I had a choice there though. As I was leaving from Washington to come to Ottawa, I faced the glass box again.

After a lot of confusion at the check-in counter with tickets on account of their failing systems, my father and I, the last remaining passengers for the flight to Ottawa, rushed towards security. The last call for boarding had been made, and our luggage, which could've only just reached the plane, would be offloaded within minutes if we didn't arrive at the gate of boarding.

When we reached the security inspector, she was playfully joking with one of the elderly ladies infront of me in line, saying "let's let this little girl go through first". The elderly lady being the little girl. How endearing.

Then the inspection officer asked for our "passports and boarding pass please". She took one quick look at us and looked away, and said "You've been selected.. (for an upgrade? a free ticket to vegas?)...for additional security..please pass through that way." A fat red marker slashed two huge red lines on the boarding pass diagonally, slicing through my name and my seat number. I'd been marked.

"But we're in a rush, we..."
"Go and stand in that line, please" The nasal voice of the officer stung my ears.

Initially confused but getting increasingly infuriated, I walked to the 'terrorist' line and started taking off my shoes, my bangles, my earrings. I hurriedly put everything into the trays and started walking through the metal detector.

Another African-American female officer held her hand out, motioning for me to wait.
"Where's your boarding pass?"
"It's in the tray with my passport"
She looked irritated. I became even more irritated.
They fished through my things and eventually produced the boarding pass. Upon seeing the big red lines, they exchanged a look, and asked me to step forward.
I came through the metal detector. Nothing beeped. I started walking towards my things.

" can't go there. Please step into the enclosure, ma'am."

I hadn't even noticed the glass enclosure that stood slightly ahead of me. I saw my father already in there. I went inside and they closed the glass door.

I looked at abba and we saw realisation dawn in each other's eyes. This wasn't a simple random selection. We were in here for some other reason. We gave each other a sympathetic look as my father whispered, "They're going to do this once we get off at Ottawa too, aren't they.."

I looked around for about a minute while we waited. I was in a glass cage, and everyone outside of it was looking inside. I felt naked, humiliated and outraged. Other passengers with toy guns and lighters passed through, escaping the glass cage, looking at US as though WE had something we shouldn't be carrying. The lighter was left behind, but the passenger carried on to his destination. We were selected for additional security for carrying books on philosophy and political thought, and a dance costume with bells. Because we were brown. And my dad had a beard.

A white middle-aged officer walked up to me and frisked me. I had no problem with that, but maybe I should've. Yes, frisking passengers was airport regulation. But wasn't that neccesary only if the metal detector beeped? I believe that is the protocol in the rest of the world. I'm well travelled enough to know that. I started to walk out of the enclosure..I'd been in there long enough.

"No ma'am..please stay in there. I need you to point to your things"
"From in here?!?!"
"Yes ma'am."

I looked at her for a while, searching her face for some sort of discomfort or awkwardness. There was none. I stoically pointed to my things.

Then she moved aside and seizing the opportunity, I got out of the "enclosure". My dad was already somewhere else. I didn't know where. She walked to my things.

"Is this yours?"
I walked towards my laptop bag and reached for it.
"No, please don't touch anything...just point to your things"

Don't touch anything??!? Those were MY things! What the hell...I felt the urge to adopt the method of civil disobedience. I stopped talking. When they asked questions, I angrily pointed or nodded or shook my head, not making eye contact and without saying a word. Not that they cared, but I felt the satisfaction of fighting for my dignity in my own little way.

They carried my things to another enclosure. My dad was there, his hand luggage open and all its contents upturned. A fourth officer took my small suitcase and put it on the table and reached for the zip. It had a number lock on it. I smiled to myself.

"I need you to open this ma'am."
"I was told not to touch anything by that lady over there."

She wasn't too pleased by the defiance. But what could she do? Arrest me for obeying her senior? Hah.

"I need to look inside your suitcase ma'am. You have some bells in there?"
"Yes, I have some BELLS." She knew what was in there, but she still wanted it opened.
I opened the suitcase. She started rummaging through my things. I saw my toothbrush and one lone sanitary pad being tossed around. I saw curious by-standers peeping into my bag as well. A pang of hatred for the woman shot through my spine.

I turned to my father, "On what basis do these people decide who to select for additional security?" I said this loud enough for them all to hear. And they heard. I saw them averting their gaze from mine.

My dad told me to keep quiet, or we'd miss the plane. He did have a point. They had the power to make us miss our flight. And we had no authority to question theirs.

Once they were satisfied, they handed me back my boarding pass...a thick black line had exterminated the two red ones. My boarding pass now looked like a battlefield.