If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, 23 October 2016

The deepest pit and Michelle Obama

As we moved from the innocence of childhood to the confusion of youth, our conscience was partly shaped by one of the most asymmetric conflicts of modern history – the war in Vietnam. Children were Napalmed, small-built, skinny peasants were facing the might of the most powerful nation on the earth for no reason at all, and defeating them as much on the battlefield as in the theatre of global opinion. There were other theatres too … Salvador Allende murdered … countless cruel dictators propped up by the CIA at the cost of their peoples. Paraphrasing Salman Rushdie, it is impossible for a non-American to love the United States of America.

That impression is still valid, particularly after Iraq, but I got to see another, totally different face of the “Ugly American” when I stayed there for several months, and isn’t it an impressive face?

I was amazed by their efficiency, total absence of corruption in day-to-day transactions, their immense capacity for hard work, their free press, and most importantly, their respect for manual labour. A plumber in America often has a more comfortable lifestyle than a university teacher, and certainly less insecurity about his career. So, if I have to sum up the USA in one sentence: it’s a land of contradictions.

And contradiction is seen in every aspect of the American life. Its universities produce Nobel laureates in science at metronomic regularity, yet a fair number of Americans are arithmetically challenged. Americans dominate business in far corners of the world, but an average American is often astonishingly uninformed about anything beyond their borders. I recall, once, when I told a shop assistant that the Long Island potato chips she sold were excellent, she asked me, ‘Do you make potato chips in India?’ And it was not an isolated instance.

And as the world keenly followed the presidential elections in the US in 2016, it was amazing to see the deep pits to which American politics has sunk. Bernie Sanders, the only untainted person in the race, was too much of a leftist to be tolerated by the American establishment. He had to lose out. But the two major parties elected such terrible candidates with questionable pasts … it's almost incredible.

And yet, as the race progressed, one of them, Donald Trump turned out to be an utterly disgusting specimen of humans and as a consequence, Hillary Clinton has turned out to be the messiah who could save America and possibly, the world. Her numerous sins like the questionable sources of funds for the Clinton Foundation and her snugly warm relationship with the thugs in Wall Street have been happily forgotten. Oh God! Anyone but Donald Trump and his goons!

But it is America. A counterpoint to the murky politics had to emerge, sooner or later. And it appeared in the shape of a few speeches by Michelle Obama. In particular, her speech in Phoenix on 20 October 23, 2016 was spellbinding, but more importantly, it was stirring defence of values in public life. It was a political speech in support of the lesser evil in the election, but it went much beyond, it would have touched a chord in every human being who believes in gender equality in particular and decency in general.

If you haven’t heard the speech, please do. The following link also gives the full transcript of the speech:


Annie Perkins writes in the Guardian: “When she speaks, Michelle Obama doesn’t stop being the wife of the president, but she transcends it. She becomes the personification of the best of her country. … Who in Britain can make that nonpartisan appeal to ordinary human decency? Last night she spoke for everyone who thinks politics can be better than this.”

Replace the word Britain with India, or any other country, the statement would be valid, wouldn’t it?

(650 words)

Bangalore / 23 October 2016