|HOME | NEWS | COLUMNISTS | GUEST COLUMN|
|October 3, 2001||
America - The last meritocracy
One Friday many years ago, we were on our way back from the office at Bombay's Nariman Point. My colleague and I were looking forward to the weekend with our families. The 6.30 fast stopped at Dadar. A couple of rough looking men got in.
They were probably on a political party's payroll. They wanted to know our names. Narayan, my friend said. Venkoba, I improvised. Both of us were from a small town in South India. We were probably just lucky that day because they moved on. I had not stopped to buy a copy of the latest Tamil weekly that I usually tuck away under my arm. They were Shiv Sainiks looking to beat up the so-called 'outsiders' in the 1970s.
A couple of years later, I was transferred to Madras. As a Madrasi I should have been content there. The language issue had lost its steam. The imposition of Hindi was probably stalled with all the agitations in the 1960s. Slowly but surely in all the professional colleges the ruling party allotted seats to students based on caste quotas. This was all very well in principle but it left only a small percentage -- for the so-called 'forward communities.' I urged my children to study harder and started putting away every rupee just in case they did not make the grade in their home state.
The next promotion took me to the heart of Bihar. The casualness with which rules were broken there every single day would make any law-abiding citizen despair. Add to this the gap between the haves and have-nots. The poor did not have the benefit of any socialistic or self-respect movement and everyone lay steeped in their age-old prejudices. Just functioning from day to day in that heartland of corruption as an honest outsider was an unrelenting battle.
Then a terrible event occurred. Indira Gandhi, our prime minister, was shot dead by her Sikh bodyguards. As a banker I could see it meant the imminent ruin of small businesses run by people of that community. By now we all know 'When a great oak falls' many will be crushed in the process. Innocent bystanders and hardworking able-bodied people who had nothing to do with it would not be spared either! I could not deny loans to these men in the truck business just because of their turbans!
I moved up the ladder and enjoyed some serene years. My children did make to the prestigious academic institutions solely based on merit. They passed all those competitive exams. I was at a stage in my career where I was more or less buffered from the hard knocks of life. I was back at the bank's headquarters -- the financial capital of India, but this time I was chauffeured around.
Around this time the Babri Masjid fell. Riots broke out. The Bombay blasts... All of this irrevocably tore the cosmopolitan fabric of the city. This also coincided with my children taking steps to pursue their studies abroad. As a father I have always wanted nothing but the best for them, so what if they would not be around in my old age? No sacrifice was too big to make for their sake.
Having fulfilled all my duties I retired voluntarily and moved back to Tamil Nadu. My wife and I visited them and got the grand tour of the US. Of course, New York was an important city in this tour. The Statue of Liberty. Ellis Island. The tall buildings and the busy streets strangely reminded me of Bombay and its vibrancy. Walking down Wall Street I posed there with the fallen bear of the stock exchange depicting the bullish trend after the recession.
My children would always be happy. No ugly sectarian violence. I truly believed they were in a safe haven where they could lead a life of dignity. To give you a commonplace instance even the dogs kept as household pets don't bark at strangers but are willing to play and invite you by wagging their tails!
This was until I saw the events of September 11. The tragedy of the airplanes crashing into the World Trade Centre, destroying the monumental building and killing more than 6,000 people belonging to 63 countries working under one roof instantaneously is something unheard of in human history.
Has life no meaning at all, is nothing sacrosanct? The perpetrators of such calamity would never be forgiven. I am horrified for all parents like me in India whose childrens' destiny is in some far off nation. Inevitably, everyone is going to be reminded of where they come from, what faith they were born into and what language they speak. They may be perceived to be 'outsiders'.
I weep for all the parents whose children died that fateful day. US President George W Bush has said terrorism would be put down at any cost with the active participation by peace loving people the world over.
I am hopeful world leaders will not precipitate matters and make the September 11 devastation a cause for another World war.
A Venkatraman is a retired banker.
|Tell us what you think of this column|
ASTROLOGY | NEWSLINKS | BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | GIFT SHOP | HOTEL BOOKINGS
AIR/RAIL | WEDDING | ROMANCE | WEATHER | WOMEN | E-CARDS | SEARCH
HOMEPAGES | FREE MESSENGER | FREE EMAIL | CONTESTS | FEEDBACK