Thursday, November 06, 2008

It is a good time for writing the future. A day when history redeems itself is definitely a good day to begin creating a new world. America has begun taking a few baby steps towards undoing historical wrongs by electing its first multi-ethnic president. I get the same feeling I did when Deep Blue won a chess match against the then Grand Master. There were ways and ways you could take that outcome. You could see it as the triumph of machine over man or, more optimistically, as the edge collective brains got over one brain. Much has changed from then to now. Even the preparations for a game of chess, at that level, are no longer a single brain trying to outdo itself. Now, it is a team trying to outdo its previous execution.
While these changes were happening in sports and other arenas that touch my life only via the media, we cannot vouchsafe that many changes were happening in American foreign policy. The first American election followed carefully by me was the one that put Bill Clinton in the most coveted seat in the US. And I was a teenager in a small town in Andhra, a town that had gone to sleep sometime during the Independence Struggle and was shaken out of its slumber by the mighty roar of globalization. In one such somnolent household in that town, two teenagers would get permission to watch TV beyond 9.30 pm every Thursday, to see an “informative” program called The World This Week, or as it became more popular TWTW– probably the first TV serial to be called by a diminutive. The suave Pronoy Roy would track Clinton’s progress every week. We were ecstatic when Clinton won. We would have been hard pressed to give a reason for the euphoria. We now joke that he won our admiration over his rival probably due to his looks. Anyway, it didn’t make much of a difference to India. At least a young Indian cannot give an intelligent summary of the Indo-US relations through the Clinton years. Then, Clinton had sex (at least in the new age definition of the word, if not his own) with a girl who was probably a couple of years older than I was then and nearly lost his spot in the White House as well as his home. The younger Bush with an already dubious nickname got in there after an appallingly messy election. My jaw dropped at what was possible at the mast ship of the new world. And my American acquaintance’s jaw dropped at my knowledge of their election system. I got it clamped back by telling her I did political science as one of my main subjects for my bachelor’s degree but started contemplating on the reasons behind our being a lot more informed about them than they are about us. Is this a subaltern thing? Very soon, 9/11 proved the pointlessness of being informed about their ways. This time around I decided to chill through probably the longest campaign in American electoral history. Believe me, Indians saw YouTube videos of the Democratic nomination debate in June 2007! I, on the contrary, started discussing the surprising and controversial but momentous nomination of a woman to head our country. That debate sort of fizzled out as all India debates tend to among globalised Indian youth and I, in my pig-headed way, decided to ignore this ‘history-making’ in the US of A.
I was pleasantly surprised that Obama did win, (yes, after 2000 I knew all that could go wrong and the newspapers informed me about the added woes the Obama camp faced). Being utterly jobless at the moment, I spent the most productive hours of the day lolling in bed, nursing a backache and reading everything the world knows yet about Barack Obama. That is not the best way to begin a day for any young person in the developing world. And surely not the way to creating a new future for oneself!
Obama’s rise from a black child in a completely white Texan family to waving as the president-elect of the largest democracy of the world with his unabashedly African-American family joining him on the podium is very inspiring. It gets people dreaming. We have Indians talking about the first Dalit prime minister. And also speculating on who that could be. Of course, at such moments of optimism we don’t want to talk about how we have already had a Dalit head of state who was just as good or as bad as any other head of state our country has had in the past 58 years! We still have primary school teachers painting caste names on plates to ensure that they do not commit the ‘sin’ of serving the free mid-day meal in government schools to children from upper caste families in plates ‘contaminated’ by children from lower class families. We still have mothers in upper caste household giving their daughters a dose of untouchablity for three days every month when the daughter goes through the physiological process of menstruation. And we still get Bookers for writing about dire poverty, impossible dreams and immoral means of climbing barely two rungs of the ladder: from poor to upper middle class. Munna alias Balram Halwai can give himself the new name of Ashok Sharma but his being murdered is not going to give rise to the extinction of an entire family. Outsourcing can get him a few cars and some designer clothes but will never make him the Stork.
Yes, I am talking about The White Tiger. I read a pirated copy picked up by my brother from the footpaths at Fort. Yes, I am against piracy and yes, I don’t buy pirated copies of books. People gift them to me and I accept gifts of books. Despite being part of the liberalized economy, albeit indirectly, with a husband who is an alumnus of both the Mecca and Medina of India’s role in globalization, I am, at heart, a liberal arts student who is proverbially short of cash. I tried participating directly in the new economy. About two and a half years back I got myself a job in a business processes outsourcing company. One of the best employers in the world, I was constantly reminded; while I was working for it and for six months after I had said my final goodbyes to my colleagues and bosses there. People were appalled when I called it quits there and I managed to save myself from being called a freak by taking support from a rather strange quarter – patriarchy. I suddenly transformed into the good old Indian woman by quitting a lucrative job to be with my husband. People swallowed that without a glitch while they would have choked if I had stated the real reason – sheer boredom at being treated as a processor rather than a person. And that job is one of those jobs that were heralded as the future of the country, nearly a decade back.
Recently, a few Indian academics of the 21st century got together to write the future. Or that is what they called their conference. Although my future is at its foggiest best at the moment, I wish I was there to listen to their speculations and discussions rather than be homebound with my bad back. Well, the bad back is the pound of flesh the liberalized economy extracted from me. What with bad postures using oh-so-convenient gadgets like laptops! Technology may grow in leaps and bounds and there could be as many Deep Blues as one may care to have but technology will never beat the human ability to dream. The MS Word program on my computer, the 2007 version , proved that to me. MS Word still does not recognize the spelling of either the first or the last name of the president-elect of the United States of America! There Obama, your work is cut out! You’ve got to get them to put your name in their mobile dictionaries! You are the White Tiger who has to prove that they are not anomalous but are variants. And my prayer for you is that you will do it with more morals than the fictional White Tiger.