SurferSpeak: Mother India and Uncle Sam
Our masters of the past, the British, rarely figure in our mental frame, barring vis-à-vis cricket. Pakistan dominates our mind for all the wrong reasons, including cricket.
George Bush too has said something about cricket in the context of India, but that's not what he will be talked about. Rather, the last three days of his visit and several weeks of build up in print, prime time and amidst the public, prove beyond doubt that no other country straddles the Indian psyche as America does.
Of course, perceptions of the US vary. The emotions could range from admiration for its liberalism to suspicion of its double standards to emulation of its fads, fancies and fashions. But for an Indian, be he a politician, businessman, student or a family man, there is no escaping America. In no other country is the American obsession as broad-based as in India. And it is not a 'bond' engineered by the establishments of the two countries, as with, say, US and Pakistan. If anything, our two regimes have only been at loggerheads all along.
Rather, to quote from Newsweek, it is the two societies that have now brought the two States together. People to people relationship between India and the US is legion; it survived the cold wars, Pokhrans and sanctions and has outlived all of India's other friendships, most notably with Russia, officially touted as our greatest comrade for over fifty years. How many of us know the Russian way of life as we do the American? The Iron Curtain was impenetrable, while the US was an open book.
For the wards of VIP politicos and big-ticket businessmen here, the US had long ago replaced Oxford and Cambridge as the most favoured educational destination. And, for every zealous aspirant, in academics or business, the US was the promised land, a haven of opportunities where hard work and talent could take you places. The software revolution in the silicon valleys in the late eighties converted this trickle into a deluge, with young Indians inundating that country. The US, which was hitherto a delight of only the elite, thus became an accessible dreamland of the burgeoning Indian middle class. The dollar now was not something that just hung from the neck, but could stuff the purse and fill bank accounts too.
The Indian establishment had a role, if at all, in all this only in a pervert sense. The IT boom came as a boon to the 'rejects' of the pernicious reservation system under which one had to become backward to move forward! This geek gen, instead, made US their home and India's brain drain was that country's brain-gain. The American Indians, now numbering over two million and still counting, are a major pressure group that cannot be ignored. This diaspora is the best guarantor of US's sustained support to India on issues vital to our interests. After all, many of them are voters too!
The prosperity, prospects and prestige associated with life in the US for an Indian has grown by leaps and bounds. Indian mothers and mothers-in-law, who can give you directions sitting here to negotiate the lanes and by-lanes of American metros, would vouch for that!
Little wonder that, over the two decades, visa status, green cards et al have become compulsory players alongside the planets on one's horoscope! The long queues and the longer wait before the US consulates are deemed, well, worth the wait on the fast lane of life. Tearful farewells and joyous reunions outside Indian and US airports are familiar sights. To many here, 'US relations' must probably mean a brother or a cousin out there! Nothing diplomatic about it, stupid!
America is familiar stuff even for those who have never set foot on its soil. US is the mascot of the West and all the associated virtues and vices alike are attributed to it. While its pop stars are icons here too, Hollywood is as much the back of your hand as Bollywood or Kollywood. From malls and marts, burgers and peanut butter, Gates and Windows, to diapers and democracy, America comes to you in every form, good, bad and ugly. You may hate it or love it, but it's got under your skin, for sure.
And it raises your hackles as much as it makes you happy: A decadent culture but a decent livelihood; a heartless hegemon but a democracy at heart; the demonic dollar also the currency of the biggest donor; a bomb-happy bully but a champion of freedom; sound standards for everything domestic, but double standards everywhere else; world's biggest spender and borrower, yet the richest too. Capitalism's capital, but always coveting the wealth of 'other' nations. Armed to the teeth, but busy disarming the rest of the world; in short, a well-oiled self-serving system, but woefully short of oil. Alas, the last determines its motives and manoeuvres.
Little wonder America evokes extreme reactions from its audience. And no one has brought those extremes into such sharp focus as our recent guest. May be it is the sign of these terror-stricken times or the character of the White House's current tenant. As the world and India are yet to come to grips on what to make of this man, Bush himself looks unfettered and undeterred by the flying brickbats, again typically American. With Bush around, does America really need all those nukes?
We are told that Bush has a soft corner for India! Now what would that mean? The paranoid Mullah-Marxist combine would call it the wolf's concern for the goat; star wars-struck Singh would deem it a privilege; prime time pundits would swing between suspicion and sycophancy. But the ordinary sons of Mother India would want to thank their Uncle Sam for more visas, more jobs and of course, more dollars.
Going to America, anyone?
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