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On Patriotism

John Mathew

A few days ago, at the turn of the year, the hostess of the party I was attending was, to my amusement, being flagrantly flirtatious (it never ceases to surprise, how, with sufficient intoxication, even the most unlikely candidate can become the object of such attentive regard). All was proceeding most pleasantly when I mentioned that it was very important for me to identify strongly with being a person of color. There was almost an immediate chill - my hostess, failing to understand the wherefores and whys of my statement, proceeded to tell me how she had made it as a person of color and as a woman, she had believed entirely in herself, such that these attributes were not allowed, in any wise, to become disadvantages. She proceeded to say that she didn't believe that people of color had the right to complain, or to claim racism as an excuse - she'd done well, despite circumstances, and there was no reason that they shouldn't do the same. The impasse continued for a space; eventually, we were interrupted, and the conversation gratefully lapsed.

  The point I had tried to make, unsuccessfully, was that it was impossible to look to one's own example and extrapolate, willy nilly, in order to explain the underlying circumstances for inequities among so many communities in the social fabric of the United States. I was, at that point, drawing my examples most directly from the African-American community, but the implications for other communities of colour (relative to white Anglo-Saxon, that is), were clear, given the backdrop of the events of September the 11th and the subsequent transformation of the political face of the world.

  The fallout of the events of September the 11th are significant enough to merit a section of their own, and I shall accord them such later in this effort. It is my intention at this point to talk at some length of the unease that has marked the relations of the black person and the brown - I speak of the latter specifically in the context of South Asia and its diaspora. Let us accept that M. K. Gandhi was the most glorious outlier to the usual intercourse that our peoples have had. What is far more common in South Africa, and indeed, among South Asian Africans in general is their position of the middle-line - grovellingly subservient to the white person (the term brown-nosing assumes a particularly trenchant note in the pun), and ineffably contemptuous of the black. For quite some time, now, I have heard stories of Indians who are hated in the former British African colonies for their assumption of superiority, claiming the top of the peck order of dusk-tones. More recently, I was stunned to learn that the slave trade had not merely moved westward - Africans had been brought in bondage to Indian shores and given over to native rulers. In adopting my country, therefore, I have no choice but this, I must also adopt her shame.

  What grace it must take for a Martin Luther King, who, knowing all this, still has no trouble endorsing in full the methods of a remarkable Indian. Or a Malcolm X, who, in declaring the supremacy of the black race, still finds place in his scheme of affairs for other peoples of color as full dialogue partners. Or a Bayard Rustin who seeks methods of amelioration for the African-American condition by traversing the seas to work with untouchables in India. We have known African-American giants, and yet, when I left India for the United States for the first time, I was cautioned against going out late at night and to look out especially for blacks. All the stereotypes were laid out by well-meaning little-travelleds that had picked up and recycled the same story/fable and distorted it to fanciful effect a myriad times in the recounting. When I arrived in Virginia and made my temporary home with other Indians, the refrain was the same. “Man, be careful of kallus,” (a derogatory derivation from the Hindi word Kaala, meaning black), “Rod, he's nice and all, but he's a kallu,” and then the characteristic shrug of the shoulders indicating the obvious ‘so what else can you expect.’ Much of the antipathy, or if not so extreme, wariness, stems from lack of contact and corresponding ignorance. South Asians are famously inclined towards statistics and world news reports - a figure of high crime rates among African-Americans in certain areas immediately translates in the typical South Asian mind as an African- American predisposition for crime and general anarchy, no doubt fuelled by a misbegotten sense of genetics where the condition simply must be none other than a dominant inheritable trait, ranking with genes for basketball and the blues. To belabor the point would be to risk launching into a lecture on biology, so I shall pause and resist the temptation to digress.

  It is possible that I might immediately be challenged by aficionados of the printed page from India who will claim that their eclectic reading drew in equal measure of the literature of the suffering as it did from those who commanded it. I do not wish to debate this. No doubt, somewhere among the great wash of words that we have sought out in our time, ‘Uncle Tom's Cabin,’ ‘Roots,’ and ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ will take their place in the grand pantheon of the read. I might be so bold, however, as to point out that of these titles, only one redounds to the credit of a person of color; the others, to white authors, admittedly sympathetic, but nonetheless, white. I do not in any form seek to impugn white writers - I, for one, would have been impoverished without their kind, steady and often brilliant input through the years, from Enid Blyton through Archibald Joseph Cronin to Arthur Koestler; but it is also true that virtually all of my reading as sanctioned by school curricula was held to ransom by colonial hold-overs, hold-overs that would make their way into my household by simple dint of the fact that my parents had themselves emerged from such a context (both had been born before 1947, and my mother was a product of the Senior Cambridge system, taught, suitably enough, by British pedagogues in Bombay). It is hardly surprising, then, that I had never heard of the Harlem Renaissance until a year and a half ago, and that when I mentioned it to white colleagues, they would mumble a quick, “yeah, I read some of that stuff, back in school - we had a course or two,” or some other vague inanity. But what does astonish me is that my country, given its history of struggle against colonialism, has still not, fifty years into the post-colonial era, admitted to its reading curriculum the history of the struggles of others, especially those that are still ongoing. The titles we have been 'spared' in such grand oversight are telling – ‘Black Boy,’ ‘Nobody Knows My Name,’ and ‘Invisible Man.’ Indian readers of the Anglo-eclectic kind will seize upon the last-named, wonder where the prefixed definite article has gone, and mentally slot it into place in a double issue with ‘The Time Machine,’ both written by H. G. Wells. Now, Mr. Wells is by no means a mean author in his own right (I understate, he is rightly celebrated), but neither is he the bastion of black writing. And so it is that the book to which I refer is not that of Mr. Wells, but one written by Ralph Ellison, and which is a powerful evocation of what it means to be faceless when one is part of the social subsoil.

  Among the fiercest champions of the disinherited voice is fighting a more local battle these days - Professor Cornel West, University Professor at Harvard has recently been in the news over a reported and very public falling out with the new President of the self-same institution, former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Lawrence Summers. The reasons for the rumble, so to speak, are not germane to this essay, and I would invite interested parties to seek details instead from The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and the Harvard Crimson, restricting myself to only to a few snippets from a report in The Economist, dated January the 3rd, 2002, which was largely inimical to the renowned African-American scholar, even as it proved to be an exercise in the most mordant wit:

His (i.e. Mr. West's) rap album (sample lyric: No other people in the modern world have had such unprecedented levels of unregulated violence against them) indicates that the medium is best left to the likes of Snoop Doggy Dogg rather than Harvard professors. The section devoted to the rap album begins by stating that “In all modesty, this project constitutes a watershed moment in musical history (what on earth would the immodest version be?). It describes Mr. West as one of the most preeminent minds of our time and refers to somebody called Nietzche.” ’

  And later in the report:

  ‘This week Mr. Summers apologetically announced how proud he was of all the members of the department, and pledged to create an attractive environment for them (usually campus-speak for more money for less work). But before he records his next watershed moment, the talented Mr. West might ponder whether Mr. Summers had a point. Meanwhile, Tom Wolfe may just have found the subject of his next novel.’

  The implications of the excerpts are clear - Professor West has done a less than salutary job in an area of extension from his primary focus. Having listened to the 'offending C.D.' in question (which Professor West had very kindly presented to me for Christmas), I find myself in some disagreement. Even as I say this, I cannot help laughing at the resident humor in the article, but that is where it stands - like this essay, that report must be seen in the light of its own subjectivity. I do not intend to downplay the fact that Professor West is given to flashes of rhetoric - indeed, he depends upon it during the course of his lectures. But the regrettable thing is that too often, critics are too caught up in the form to credit the substance. If Professor West is to be judged by the cover of his C.D. (or more accurately, the introduction) alone, then I would recommend that we all submit to elided versions of music, theatre, and prose (no doubt MAD's succinct half-page sketch of ‘Gone With The Wind’ will more than suffice for the bibliophilic among us). That Professor West can be repetitious is a given; that he uses repetition, with rhetoric, as a method to channel his justifiable anger against historic and current inequities met to the black person in America, is unassailably effective in the communication of a resident and pernicious societal problem. Not for nothing does Mr. West command the second largest undergraduate course at Harvard University. And more significantly, in the C.D. so maligned, not once does he swerve in his commitment to the enunciation of that problem. We may fault the lyrics if we must, we may even raise our eyebrows at purported braggadocio, but let us not belittle the cause.

  What of President Summers? During the early part of this century, Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell was known to be vehemently anti-Semitic at a time when the last thing Jewish people needed was more hostility. As elsewhere, the Jewish people have weathered that storm, and today occupy pride of place as the largest minority at Harvard University. It is ironic, therefore, that a member of a once oppressed community in this academic setting is suddenly seen in the light of being oppressive in his turn as President towards another minority, the African-American. On the face of things, history seems to be delineating a particularly reprehensible circle. There is, no doubt, far more to the issue, and to his credit, President Summers has been making strong overtures to the now prickly department, not least Professor West, and it is very likely that the storm will blow over. But it does leave the African-American student, in the wake of the affair, asking where he/she stands in the gamut of things, when Mr. Summers on the one hand speaks of a need to declare one's patriotism these days in unequivocal terms, and on the other, can take on with seeming disregard, a department dealing with an ethnicity that has historically faced the ignominy of deracination. I do not believe that President Summers is racist, at least, not more than the rest of us (and by us, I mean the general Joe/Jill, who would much rather live and let live), but it is imperative that in public office, he take care to ensure that he does not send out mixed signals. It is hard to feel particularly patriotic when you dwell upon the fact that with status quo, you may always be a second comer.

  My flat-mate Geoffrey and I have a standing joke between us - it deals with the platitudes of United States President George W. Bush of which we have systematically spliced five, to fashion what is a reasonable statement of redundancies: "Truth be told, and make no mistake; at the end of the day, when all is said and done, one thing's for certain." Reading this back to myself, I am reminded of the cliches our former, and tragically assassinated, Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi used to employ – “Humain umeed hain” (we believe), “Bharat ki sanskriti parampara” (India's cultural heritage), “Desh kay konay konay mein” (In every corner of the country) would be doled out to us day after day over that television channel to which I have referred early in this essay. Mr. Gandhi had something of an excuse, he was not immediately familiar with the use of public-speak Hindi - while fluent in it, he had never been called upon to make speeches in the language, certainly not in his previous incarnation as an Indian Airlines pilot. Mr. Bush has no such defence - apart from being the son of a former President, he has served long years as Governor of Texas, been around diplomacy since childhood, and most significantly spoken nothing but English all his life, including stints at Yale and the Harvard Business School. Yet we are subjected to nothing but studied ramblings ranging from the trite to the downright absurd, as alarmingly enough, the most powerful man in the world, whose governership includes a record for the most executions held in the state of Texas, yet who lets fall a tear (not entirely unlike Peter Ustinov as Nero in ‘Quo Vadis’), and refers to himself as a 'loving guy,' spearheads a self-styled war against terrorism. The result has been a ravagement of the country of Afghanistan, and a stand-off along 1,100 miles of the India-Pakistan borderline.

  Our minds were set aswirl on the morning of September the 11th, 2001, as we watched a plane ram into the second tower of the World Trade Centre, plain as daylight, on national television. At first it was like a trance - the dream of sheer unreality which could not, did not admit the staggering implications of the magnitude of such horror. Each of us coped the best we could. And the people of New York en masse, emerged as heroes for our time.

But the President of the United States, despite current popularity ratings, has not.

  And in so many ways, neither have the people of the United States.

  I remember waking up at 4:30 on the morning of September the 19th, after a fitful sleep, after hearing of the umpteenth attack on and discrimination against people of West Asian and South Asian origin here in North America, and listening on-line to Mr. Tony Blair speak about how the ‘civilized world’ needed to stand together. Trembling with anger, I found myself transcribing a poem. Entitled,  ‘In the aftermath,’ it said three things. It asked if attention would be paid to the potential victims of the wreaking of American vengeance in the national media, it wondered if there would be another memorial a la Vietnam to American soldiers who fell outside Kandahar, and finally, it inquired whether, despite all cosmetic assurances to the contrary, the ‘civilized world’ would merely transfer its animus from the features of one disfavored group (such as in the internment camps during the Second World War) to another. The poem ended with the bleak words (from an earlier refrain): History is, but opinion's press, writ yesterday.

  Three months down the line, those questions have been answered. There have been long articles in the popular press about Afghan refugees in Peshawar caught in beautiful just-so poses of stark helplessness on photographic film eagerly acquired for the National Geographic. Incessant aerial bombardments following the most arbitrary targets, from T.V. stations to a Red Cross Building (the latter, three times, and counting), have spared the use of two many ground troops, which immediately obviates the need for the war memorial, at least for now. As to how the ‘civilized world’ is treating its own citizens who may inconveniently derive in time and generation past from the same region, or within a thousand miles east or west (to the average citizen, it doesn't really make a difference - they're all Third Worlders, anyway), as the terrorists targeted by the Government, the incidents speak for themselves. A Pakistani-American shopkeeper is shot in Arizona, the same fate befalls an Indian-American in Texas. A Muslim woman has her hijib torn off in Harvard Square, a Saudi Arabian is stabbed in Boston University, an aide to the President Bush is denied emplanement on a U.S. Airways flight because his origins happen to be West Asian. Racial profiling is alive and well in the heartland of democracy.

  And all the while the clarion call to patriotism around the country is sounded loud and unmistakably clear.

  The question is begged, however, patriotism to what?

  I remember reading at the time of a sum of several thousand dollars being raised by a small but affluent community of Sikhs in California towards relief efforts in New York, soon after random acts of violence were committed against Sikhs in the mid-west and the north-east (it being incidental for perpetrators of such mindless violence to confuse an Afghan turban for a Sikh's). The sad part of it all was that the community seemed compelled to express its sense of solidarity with the United States, particularly since its own Americanness was being called into question, i.e. it needed somehow to be seen as overcompensating for a crime it had never committed in the first place, when, if anything, it was being sinned against. Other such collections were made among Arab-Americans. All of a sudden, the specter of double consciousness was being raised from the roof-tops. Ironically, in the identification of such, black Americans were suddenly embraced as part of the national ethos, leading to considerable suspicion - at one panel discussion that I had occasion to attend at Harvard, an African-American student pointedly asked why it was that she and members of her community were suddenly being greeted with smiles of an open fraternity that had been conspicuous by its absence before the attacks. Was it, she enquired, because the focus had shifted to particular other communities, that it was now acceptable to be black and American? I walked away realizing, for the first time, what togetherness meant in vulnerability. For this moment, I, as a South Asian, was vulnerable. In time to come, that moment would pass. But for the black American, it would not, at least not in the conceivable future. And recognizing that my fear-situation was temporary, I reflected upon what it must mean to be looking over your shoulder, every day, wondering when things will change for the worse, hoping for just a few hours more of a chance, never unfettered, but better than later?

  I was invited to a rally for peace in South Asia yesterday at Park Street. The rally was organized by several Boston-based groups - the South Asian Center, the Alliance for a  Secular and Democratic South Asia, the Pakistan American Congress, PAKSMIT, Sangam, Boston Global Action Network, and Solidarity. Accordingly, I made my way via the Red-line T from Harvard Square to Park Street. When I arrived, a full 40 minutes after the scheduled commencement of the program, no one relevant to the rally was in sight on the Boston Common, so I contented myself with receiving a protest paper from the outlawed Falun Gong movement in China, and looking through it desultorily. For a while I watched some of the practitioners, most of whom appeared of East Asian extraction, move chameleon-slow from one exercise posture to the next, and wondered why anything so undemonstrative could ever strike fear at the heart of the most populous country on the planet, so as to generate the hostility that it had received. No answer was immediately forthcoming, and I wandered away.

  Part of me was glad that I had missed the rally. I had, confessedly, come out with some misgivings. With Pakistan so obviously harboring the elements that had launched the recent attack upon the Indian Parliament, I was feeling far less charitable towards our western neighbor than I customarily was wont. It wasn't so much that I would have missed too many of the politicians in the Lok Sabha, had things gone horribly, horribly worse (indeed, we might have been significantly better off with fewer of them on the political scene), but it was the fact that democracy itself had been attacked that had raised the hackles of Indian citizens across the country, and abroad. I was also grimly delighted that India was not, at least overtly, buckling to U.S. pressure for de-escalation. President Bush, in his inimitable style, had earlier called for India and Pakistan to "stand down, now, and perhaps forever," while American operations were still afoot in Afghanistan, lest such tensions complicate America's ‘war against terrorism.’ This, coming on the heels of Secretary of State Colin Powell's issuance of a ‘wish-list’ to Pakistan, had begun to bear the rather alarming ring of colonization about it all over again. Finally, India had appeared to show some spine and the United States, as a result, was suddenly doused with the cold water of sense that a patent double standard would not wash too well, especially if the modus operandi involved throwing one's weight around in the process.

  And yet, as I walked away from the Falun Gongers, I reconsidered. For all the sabre-rattling, far louder now than in three decades, we simply could not afford to go to war. It wasn't that we didn't have the wherewithal; we did, and plenty of it. And it was almost inevitable that India would win, eventually, if not at a canter.

  But is that what we wanted?

  Earlier this morning, the latest round of talks of the SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) summit were concluded in Kathmandu, a brave convocation of heads of state, given the looming nimbus of war. President Musharraf of Pakistan sprung a tremendous surprise at the start of things, when, as rediff.com described it, he gladhanded Prime Minister Vajpayee of India. The Prime Minister responded with a faint smile, but proceeded, during his speech, to launch a blistering attack on Musharraf's offer of 'a firm and sincere handshake of friendship' by calling on Pakistan to back its words with action. The subtext was clear - India was livid, and it would take a considerable amount on the part of Pakistan for tensions to subside. Effectively, the ball was squarely in the court of the latter.

  The SAARC summit was also notable for another aspect - a remarkable speech delivered by President Chandrika Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka. President Kumaratunga, who has lately initiated a drive towards a lasting peace process with the separatist Tamil elements in her country, had this to say, and I quote,

  “We have to join our hands, at least now, more honestly and with more dedication, to fight the wave of terrorist politics that is sweeping across our region. To do this, it may not be sufficient to say, that we will hunt down the perpetrators of terror and their allies. We must attempt to understand the deep-rooted causes of this most unnatural, de-humanizing phenomenon very specific to the 20th century.

  Violence -- social, political or physical -- perpetrated by the state or the agents of the state, against other states or its own peoples is the womb of terrorism, humiliation its cradle and continued revenge by the State becomes the mother's milk and nourishment for terrorism.”

  The wisdom resident in the words above cannot be overstated. It is a message to our times, to our people, to our world. It is a message to our people and our world for all time. And it is imperative that we listen.

  Were we to cast our minds across geopolitical boundaries, such as they stand right now, we will find too many cases of nations compromised in the formation of states. In some instances, the divisions are less fraught with animosity that might have been imagined - the Arab nation, for example. But when we think of the Basques, the Pashtoons, the Kashmiris, the Kurds, the Bengalis, the Punjabis, the Palestinians, and the Irish, to name, but a few, it gives us significant moment to pause and wonder what, through short-sighted convenience, we have done in dividing houses.

  This is why, along 1,100 miles of borderline, it is critical that even when our forces see the whites of each others' eyes, we hold our fire. For the hardest battles ever fought are for peace. For peace, despite the hyperbole of rhetoric, is not popular. And we do not need more widows, more grieving parents, more shell-shocked children. And we do not need more lingering bitterness.

  This is why it is crucial that a forum like SAARC succeed. More than the economic imperatives of ASEAN or the European Union, far more than the surface chatter of the Commonwealth, or the near moribund status of the Non-Aligned Movement, it is SAARC, politically, that holds the key to the future of our times. For if we can defuse for ourselves our tensions, and make to ourselves a promise to develop as a region, we have so much to give. We could be a model. We could wrought change. Together.

  And I was ashamed. Ashamed that my feet had been slow to reach the rally I did not get to attend. For the reluctant can be persuaded in a way that the implacably opposed cannot. And it must never be that inertia make the difference between hope and horror. That, above all, is unforgivable.

  When this present darkness has passed, and I am confident that it will, immigration strictures will relax, and one of the things I must consider is whether I want to stay.

  I am, naturally, conflicted. The United States, has, by and large, been good to me. It has offered me a generous assistantship. It has permitted me to reside at one of its most prestigious institutions of learning, if in a visiting capacity. It has, within its own circumscriptions, afforded me a sense of freedom.

Over six years, I have come to accept my status as a non-resident ‘alien.’ I am not so affronted when, under racial distinctions, I take my pick between ‘Asian/Pacific Islander,’ and ‘Other.’ And I keep a straight face, when, after I've parked a car at a meter a tad too long, I find in bold letters the word VIOLATION stamped in blue on a tell-tale envelope across one of the front wipers with an injunction to the 'offender' to pay $10 to the nearest parking office. I've come to understand that for all its talk of political correctness, the United States still needs to come to terms with the words politeness and sensitivity when framing official language.

  The moment is imminent when the Ph.D. under which I have languished for six years and a third, will approach its conclusion, and I have choices to make. A green card, and thereby, ‘resident alien’ status, is a possibility in good time. But a passport?

  It is hard for me to forget that my father took early retirement from his professorship in Tripoli, Libya, as a consequence of American bombing. It is hard for me to forget that the United States had no qualms in slapping a Super 301 trade ban on India in a bid to force it to open its economy. Commodore Perry, indubitably, must have smiled.

  There are other considerations. When one takes up American citizenship, one is obliged to ‘renounce and forswear allegiance to all foreign potentates.’ This is serious business. Friends of mine who have become citizens in recent times assure me that it is really for travel purposes, and that nothing else has changed. If that is true, the adoption of the American identity is nothing but an exercise in the grandest hypocrisy.

  Perhaps the reason I take the issue of naturalization as seriously as I do is because it took me so long to find my own sense of country. In many ways I consider myself interchangeably Indian and South Asian - I can hardly speak any of their languages, certainly with no degree of fluency, and yet, they are the repository of the people I have learnt, double consciousness notwithstanding, to call my own.

  Would dual citizenship be an option? The question is hypothetical* – India is resolutely opposed to it, preferring instead to hand out, for a fee, certificates bearing the name, Persons of Indian Origin, which afford the holder benefits in India that other passport holders do not. It is easy to understand India's hesitation - were dual citizenship to be allowed across the board, regulation would be hard, and it may be possible for elements who seek the destabilization of the country, such as it exists today, to become citizens towards some nefarious end. But it does mean that for those who choose to stay Indian, there will continue to be long waits in long queues at consular offices and airport terminals.

  Sunil Khilnani, in his compelling book, ‘The Idea of India,’ devotes his last chapter to the perplexing question, Who is an Indian. I returned to this chapter in a bid to encapsulate his thesis for the purposes of this essay. I realize that much of what I have alluded to is enshrined in his approach. But he undergirds them with dichotomies - federalism versus regionalism, centralism versus pluralism, secularism versus religious fundamentalism. In all of this, he speaks constantly of the various layers that comprise the concept that is India. “Indianness,” says Khilnani, “was constituted out of internal diversity, but in Nehru's vision, it was equally an international identity, a way of being in the wider world...The Indianness outlined in the two decades after 1947 was an extemporized performance, trying to hold together divergent considerations and interests. The result was a highly unusual nationalism that resists summary in clear or simple doctrinal statements. It tried to accommodate within the form of a new nation state significant internal diversities; to resist bending to the democratic pressures of religion; and to look outwards...It did not reassure itself by relying on a settled image of the culture, nor did it try to impose one. That was its most important trait: it did not monopolize or simplify the definition of Indianness. For all the political vexations visited upon it, it could claim success: India, an ungainly, unlikely, inelegant concatenation of differences, after fifty years still exists as a single political unity.”

  There is about me almost a child’s excitement in belonging to a region that is still emerging. With the industrialized world, excellence in various fora is a given. But for developing countries, to succeed at international levels, despite the odds, is a soaring achievement. Our heroes are few and far between, and this is why they are revered. Badminton ace Gopichand, batsman Sachin Tendulkar, chess wizard V. Anand, athlete P.T.Usha (in her time), writer Arundhati Roy, actor Nasiruddin Shah, and economist Amartya Sen are names resplendent in a pantheon that is disproportionately sparse in relation to a national population, the vast majority of which has little to cheer in its daily life.

  For each of our heroes that has stayed, there is another that has left. Hargobind Khorana, Nobel Prize-winner for Medicine/Physiology in the late ‘60’s was, early in his career,  denied a lecturership at Saurashtra University. Faced with the unpleasant scenario of unemployment, he emigrated to the United States and was to win the Nobel as an American. Subrahmanyam Chandrasekhar, Nobel Laureate in Physics, was also an American when he was announced winner. Rohinton Mistry has won the Governor-General's  Prize for fiction in Canada as a citizen of that country; the Booker of Bookers for ‘Midnight's Children,’ has gone to a British subject, Salman Rushdie, who was born an Indian in Bombay. As a citizen of a country whose living gods, so to speak, are few, there is a sense of wistfulness that children of our soil must win their awards as citizens of other lands. But it must be recognized that in many cases, they were left with no choice. And even if they had one, their departure must not be begrudged. It is only that they are missed. So it is that my hope remains that when political heads of industrialized states continue to harp on the need for the 'civilized world' to stand together, they internalize the fact that to their overflowing coffers of talent have been added the finest of countries they are wont too easily to dismiss. That our loss contributes to their continued sway of influence. And in that knowledge, may they, at least, spare one moment for what it may mean to be humble.

  *Hypothetical no longer. Almost as if by way of a gibe, a news-report appeared on rediff.com  a day after this essay was completed indicating that India had taken a historic decision to pave the way to legislating dual citizenship with selected countries, including the United States.

(John Mathew reads Ecology at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA and has been a visiting graduate student in the Dept. of Organismal and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University since 1998. A native of Kerala, India, John has a passion for theatre {most recently co-founding the Boston based South Asian American Theatre (SAATh) company}, the written word, and {with varying degrees of success} writing it. )

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