Long Walks On Leafy Streets

3/11/2021 Montreal, Canada    
Thoughts about India -- Part 1.

Today was a beautiful day. After a relatively cold winter, and many days with temperatures under 50 degrees F, we had a very warm day when it almost got to 80 degrees. One could feel the collective joy, especially among children, as one walked outside. At the recreation center near our house that has now been converted to a vaccination site, a long line of people waited outside the building. There seemed to be a feeling of optimism and hope building up after a year of lockdowns and anxiety and half a million deaths.

In the morning I went for a run at the Coolidge high school track. I was tired from a night of inadequate sleep but still enjoyed a decent paced run in the T-shirt wearing temperatures and bright sunshine.
Later in the day I spent a couple of hours at my old house on Hobart Place NW. I had a nice conversation with the tenant while waiting for a maintenance worker. At first I got impatient and frustrated with the wait, but then sitting on the porch I started enjoying the sunshine and reminiscing about the days when I lived there. I even managed to think positively on my research problem, clearing out some mental cobwebs that had been obstructing progress.

After I got home Prashant wanted to go out and play. He had finished his virtual school for the day. Although I was quite tired I couldn't refuse, especially given that during the past few days I had had to force him to go out and play. We managed to kick the soccer ball around the field by the rec center and generally enjoy the fresh air and the almost summer like weather.

At night before going to bed he wanted me to read a story about a rabbit. It gets tired of its family and its people and wants to be something else. So it goes out and tries to be a bird, then a bear, then a beaver, and so on. It couldn't fly like a bird or hibernate like a bear or work like a beaver. So after trying many animals it decided that it was best being a rabbit. It made me think of my own life. When I first came to America it was not because I got tired of India or started hating my people. Like many young people at the IIT's I just followed an opportunity that presented itself. I didn't even know a lot about America. All I knew was a bit of mathematics which like music is a universal object. But slowly I developed a liking for America. Although I never stopped being an Indian at heart and I never pretended to be an American, I liked the idea of America. I really believed, and still do, in the idea of a place where people from all over the world could come to make a new life and change the whole world for the better.

Nevetheless, I wondered, is it a futile exercise for a human being to make a new life in a new place, like the rabbit tried to do? Then I started thinking about all the people in America who live in fear and suspicion of the world. People who have not had much experience with the broader world. People who have lived their whole life in one place. I also thought about all the people in India who have not had the experience of new ways of life, except perhaps through the television and the movies. I know what a narrow perspective that gives you, about life in other places. Growing up, the little bit I knew about America was from the newspapers and the movies (we didn't have television at home).

In the next several posts I hope to write about my own experience growing up in India, what that gave me, and the ways in which I changed and the ways in which I did not change after coming to America. I hope to give my American friends a little glimpse of how an Indian like me approaches and thinks about America. I hope to give my Indian friends a little idea about the things I learned about the world after coming to America. I also hope to write about my feelings of despair about the current state of affairs in India as well as my fond hopes and aspirations for India. I am very confident that the future of India and America, and the world itself, is going to be brighter.

I leave you with the following quote that I saw in Jhumpa Lahiri's book ``Unaccustomed Earth." The quote is originally from Nathaniel Hawthorne's book ``The Custom House." I do have to add the caveat that, there are also those who never leave the place of their birth yet become the lights of the world, like Ramana Maharishi. The point is that it is good for a society if some of its members go out to live in different places sometimes.

``Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth."

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