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Going gaga about Bobby Jindal
November 17, 2003
Bobby Jindal and I went to the same university, Brown. Sure, I was there several years before him, but nevertheless, it's true: we share our alma mater. So given his sudden rise to prominence, I wonder: what should I be gaga about? That we both have Indian roots of sorts? Or that we were at the same school?
As far as I'm concerned, the right answer is neither. Yet if I really had to choose, the Brown connection wins, easily. After all, at least he and I had some tangible connection there -- perhaps we took courses from the same professors, maybe we both watched Brown lose football games. (Somethingeasily accomplished when I was there). That kind of thing.
But as far as his roots go, the man is really American: he grew up in that country, has been involved in American affairs and has just lost in a bid to become an American governor of an American state. "I am proud to be a Louisianian," he said as he conceded on November 15, "proud to be an American." Entirely as it should be.
I don't recall a single time that Jindal has shown any particular interest in India. Not that he should, not that that's any kind of strike against him. What I'm saying is, the man is like every other American pol who aspires to American office, and that's also entirely as it should be.
There's no need for him to speak about Indian issues. He doesn't. Simple.
Yet here in India we swoon over him. We hail his political rise -- his attempt to become governor itself -- as one more sign of a resurgent India. We tell ourselves that he "has put India firmly on the global map." (Sunday Times of India, October 26, 2003).
Hell-oo! What's going on here? I mean, I don't recall a single article about him in his own country that made much of his Indian roots, or pronounced that his election campaign had "put India firmly on the global map." So, applauding his success as a barometer of India's makes about as much sense as seeing Schwarznegger's victory as a triumph for India: apart from their names -- OK, their muscles too -- what's the difference between Arnie and Bobby? For that matter, it makes about as much sense as hailing Jayalalitha's electoral triumphs for "putting India on the global map." In fact, it's likely the lady from Tamil Nadu has done more to get India noticed than Jindal has.
No, what's REALLY going on here is our age-old obsession with America and the West. In this case, how we yearn for approval from foreigners, and specially American foreigners! How we long for them to recognize us as equals! Therefore, how we grasp for anything at all that can be put in that light. Even if it is nothing more than a young American's Indian name.
Hold on to that thought while I tell you about something else. By now, you alert rediff readers have no doubt heard about Mallika Sarabhai's troubles. The general impression is that she has been accused of trafficking in illegal immigrants to foreign shores. To many who know Sarabhai and know in particular that she has been severely critical of the Gujarat government over the last couple of years, it's clear what this is about. It's no more than a vendetta, a conscious decision to harrass the lady in retaliation.
You think I'm saying that because I have my own bias against the Gujarat government. You say, vehemently, the law must take its own course! Fair enough, on both counts. Nobody, least of all me, wants anything else than for the law to take its own course: it's by far the best way for all to see what this is about.
Still, what you might do is take a look at the police complaint filed against Sarabhai.
The complaint was made by a Manushi Shah. In it, she says she was one of Sarabhai's students and was scheduled to go on a dance tour of the US that Sarabhai's dance academy, Darpana, had arranged for April 2003. Darpana, she complains, "collected Rs 330,000 from [me] on the pretext of sending to America as per plan and committed a crime/fraud by breaching faith and cheating."
This, because the planned trip to the USA had to be cancelled as the dancers were refused visas by the American consulate in Bombay.
Did Darpana refuse to return Manushi's money? No, Manushi herself says that "Darpana had a written agreement [with us] that in case tour gets cancelled they will repay the entire amount deducting Rs 20,000." Later, she says: "We received Rs 310,000 and passport back."
Is Manushi complaining about the Rs 20,000 that was deducted? No, because not only does she mention the written agreement, she also says this: "This condition [about the Rs 20,000 deduction] was agreeable to all of us at that time and even it is agreeable today also. We informed Darpana through letter stating that we are agreeable for deduction of Rs 20,000."
So let's see: Manushi had an agreement with Darpana to go on a tour provided the visas came through. If they did not, Darpana would return the money minus Rs 20,000. Manushi explicitly says she found this "agreeable." The visas did not come through. Manushi got back her money, minus Rs 20,000.
So what is Manushi's problem?
Well, according to her own police complaint, she informed Darpana that "her engagement has been already done with a person who is settled in America and so she also wants to settle down in America." And since the visa was denied, "[my] bright future in America has got affected."
In other words, Manushi Shah viewed this tour as a way to reach the USA, so she could "settle down" there with her future, and already "settled in America", husband. Not for her the normal route of waiting for a husband-sponsored visa to arrive. (Why?) Nope: reading the complaint, the conclusion you cannot avoid is that she wanted to enter the USA on a pretext, and saw Darpana's tour as that pretext.
And when this scheme falls through, she accuses Darpana and Mallika Sarabhai of fraud.
Look at it like this. You and I sign an agreement by which you will drive me to the bank one morning. Your car breaks down that morning and we can't go. Suppose then I file a police complaint saying "I had planned to rob the bank that morning. Since he didn't take me, this man has committed fraud on me."
Suppose I even tell the police that "my bright future has got affected."
Laughable, you think? Well, in Manushi's case, the police are proceeding against Sarabhai.
But leave aside the absurdity of this complaint. Forget the venality of authorities who search for excuses to harrass someone they want to hit back at. Ignore the crassness of those who applaud this harrassment because of their own sympathies. Put all that away and ask yourself: what's at the bottom of Manushi's complaint, the thing that sets it apart from the car example above? The thing that makes it seem plausible, whereas my bank confession would elicit guffaws?
This: Manushi desperately wanted to emigrate to the USA. Think of it: would all this have happened had the tour been to Burma?
It's that obsession with America, again.
Now let's say Manushi got to the promised land via Darpana's tour, and went off to "settle down" with her husband. Let's say a little Manisha comes along after nine months. Let's say that in about thirty years, Manisha runs for governor of Idaho.
Will that "put India firmly on the global map"? And is that the "bright future" Manushi looked forward to?