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Obama, Mayawati and the people around me...

November 04, 2008

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I am following the US Presidential elections closely, even being so far away and even more importantly, not being American. I'm Canadian. A weird sort of Canadian who is shaped by growing up in Canada [Images] and the belief that the government should be for the good of the people, but one who left Canada even before her graduation ceremony.

I however did a one year job stint in Montreal afterwards, but having been sent there by the US head office of my company, I was referred to as the American even though my passport then and now was Canadian. Otherwise, my entire adult life has been spent in the United States and now in India. This is why I, who has met Pierre Elliot Trudeau [former Canadian prime minister] twice, a political junkie since childhood have never voted. I've always lived in the wrong country. 

However, my husband is American and he does vote and more importantly my children see themselves as being American despite the fact that the younger one has surpassed the years spent in the US with the years spent in India. 

Perhaps it's me reinforcing that they are American with statements like, 'you are American, you pick up your own toys, didi (our maid) will not do it for you.' It is through and for my children, especially my older one who aspires to become the 50th President of the United States, that I feel strongly about and have a stake in this election. 

It's funny because my son sees himself not as the first Indian President or some such hyphenated being. In his mind he just is American. Period.  Perhaps because he's not lived in America, he doesn't have to ever explain that he is brown because his parents are from India. He lives in India, because currently, his father has a job here, he will move there at 18 to go to college, then spend the rest of his life there afterwards. That is his reality.    

Politics especially this year is everywhere in the United States. All discussion revolves around politics as I found out over the summer in the US. My sister-in-law who will vote in her first election was campaigning for Obama. Friends in California were wedded to Hillary. Having lived in the Northeast and in California, I naturally don't know too many Republicans because where I live, there truly are not that many and if they are, they have probably been driven underground. 

Since I followed Canadian politics in childhood where I had lots of discussions with classmates about how we will change the world, I began drifting to American politics rather avidly a few years after I moved to New York.

I figured that while I'm in India, I should at least try to learn the bare minimum of Indian politics. I need to at least try to understand why Indian problems are so deep seated and who are the people actually doing something about them. For this I depended on newspapers since I cannot stand Indian television. I would try to read political stories in the newspapers finding it exceedingly difficult. After four years, I've still not gotten through the thicket of acronyms which the various political parties use. Politics here is very, very confusing. There are no inspiring speeches that I can really understand though I have to admit that my Hindi is quite limited. 

The more important reason is that Indians, particularly women are pretty divorced from politics. Government has so completely been denigrated and discredited that all politics is written off as corrupt. I've yet to meet anyone who is in any way, small or big involved with or even wants to be involved with democracy in India. On the historic day that when Dr Manmohan Singh [Images], the prime minister of India was staking his government on a nuclear deal with the United States, I flitted from group to group to hear what the mothers were talking about as they waited to pick up their children. Well it was the usual, the school, the kids, the servants and what the women did or more factually did not eat in their quest to control their bodies, their homes and their children's lives. Beyond that was never discussed.      

When I bring up Mayawati [Images], the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh [Images], who has quite a life story and openly wants to be the first Dalit prime minister of India, I literally get blank stares like, well what do you expect, poor people vote in this country, they determine the policies. This is followed by a quick change of subject like, 'who cares about politics. We have our life to lead.' I have to add that my husband's college buddies did spend one whole evening discussing the nuclear deal and what was at stake but that is the only political conversation I can ever remember anyone having in our years here. 

I try to talk to my in-laws, but after four years, I know that they think that the government provides too much for the Gandhi dynasty but I still don't understand what they actually believe in and which of the parties they think can actually accomplish that. I tend to read Vir Sanghvi in The Hindustan Times,, where he has a political column every Sunday, in addition to writing about food, and luxury lifestyles. That is probably responsible for the limited understanding I have. 

When I tried to explain to my driver who is from villages near Kanpur and the most in touch with politics on the ground, that Joe Biden, the Democratic vice presidential candidate who's been in politics for 36 years, had a net worth of less then $150,000 (about 66 lakhs), he said, well an Indian politician would have made at least Rs 1000 crores ($250 million) in that time. I'm sure in his heart he was thinking, what is wrong with Joe Biden? However, because he values his job he knew he better not say that to his boss.      

Kitty Chachra migrated from California to India in 2005.

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