It has been a while since my last post. I have been in the United States for the last month, and while I thought I would be going home, canvasing for Hilary Clinton, sharing her victory over glasses of wine with my mom and writing a bunch of quippy posts and coming back. But only the first and last of those things happened, and in between my life has been a strange and polarized mix of horror, pain and fear for my country, and the euphoria of being home, of seeing so many people who I love, of reveling in Ramen shops and bakeries and amazing coffee and good red wine. I am grateful that I was home in the United States for this, I am, because being in India would have been so much worse on some level for me, so isolating, at least, that’s what I think it would have been like, I suppose I’ll never know. So I gave a lot of money (relative to my life, of course) , and signed a lot of petitions, and had long talks filled with tears and anger and rage and pain and laughter with some of the smartest best people I know, and made action plans and called my senators and called Paul Ryan, who somehow is now like the most reasonable person at the table, remember how that happened? Me neither. I saw theater, life affirming joyous theater about the Vietnam War, and Drag Queens, and Alexander Hamilton. I went to museums and spent time with objects from ancient Jerusalem that have seen empires rise and fall and watched the tides of history foam red with blood, looked at paintings that were the sole voices of the Mexican revolution, marveled at pretty gowns from the 17th century and vases from Ancient Greece and serpents from 13th century Mexico and tried to remember that life is long, and the world, somehow, miracle that it is, keeps on turning. I met babies, and the parents of babies, some terrified, some hopeful, but all in love with their wobbly noisy messy piece of the future. I met my editor, and my agent, because oh yes I suppose I should mention that I sold my first novel and it will be released in the spring of 2018, stay tuned for updates I guess. But I haven’t been writing, really. Not here, at least.
When speaking with my friend Sarah about the helplessness you feel when you can’t control the future, and everything that is happening feels terrifying and out of your control, as it does right now in the current American political situation, we were talking about how we could contribute to anything we believed in. Period. And she said, well, you’re a writer. So I guess you’ll write about it. And I thought, I guess I well.
Years ago my husband, Mr. India, back when he was just some dude I was dating, gave me a book called The Home and the World. It’s a novel set in Bengal in the early 1900’s, and it’s a love triangle set in the context of the Bengal independence movement. A husband educated in the West, his provincial wife, and the charismatic local rebel leader, all dance around each other, and it’s wonderfully done. But the thing that struck me about it recently is the way the husband and wife want impossible things from each other in very real ways. She wants to experience her husband the way she expects to, the way she’s been trained to see him, as a god, a provider, her authority and master. He wants a modern wife, someone who will be his equal, his partner. They both want the same things for Bengal, but it’s the ways the things they don’t understand about each other that destroy them on some level (oh, spoiler alert I guess). At the time, I liked the novel, and Mr. India and I talked for a long time about the paradigm of marriage within it. The title is one meant to polarize, to call into contrast two parts of life, private and public, and the way one is infiltrated by the other.
But this is 2016 and I am not a traditional Indian wife, I’m not an Indian wife at all. And our lives are infiltrated by the world, in fact, that’s how we often pick partners now, the way we chose to approach the world together. And there are challenges, to being vastly different in your backgrounds, believe me, there are. But this November, now December, I feel very grateful that I am with someone who thinks very differently and as an extension has different expectations about the world. In fact, I’m even grateful to be living in a place that conceives of the world so differently than the United States. Hard as it can be to come back, and it is hard, really, the transition is the hardest part and I dread what thing will enrage or sadden me before I get used to India again, I do, but India has given me a perspective I never would have had, and Mr. India has given me a way to think about this post-Election world that I feel lucky to possess. So I will share this with you, just in case it helps. And if it doesn’t, thanks anyway for reading.
When I was sobbing and despairing, which I still do, ps, I’m sure most people who feel this way will for a while, and that’s alright, it was initially difficult that Mr. India didn’t feel the same way. But then, I knew, how could he? After all, I didn’t have the same emotional reaction to India’s recent efforts to eliminate black money and double down on corruption the way he did, how could I expect him to be living in the same kind of anguish I was? Anguish is, by the way, someone told me recently, a kind of moral responsibility, and if that’s not the best term to describe this, I don’t know what is. But beyond the initial alienation I felt, the how-dare-you-not-feel-how-I-feel which, of course, is insane, because no one ever does, and can’t, and shouldn’t, an outside perspective did a lot more good than harm.
Because the one thing Mr. India told me that reminded me of something I sort of understood but hadn’t realized until I’d come to India, was that the United States has a democracy that is firm and robust, made strong through years of existence. Living in India, a fragile democracy if there ever was one, I still forget how young the government here is, how old my own is, how much we depend on checks, balances and precedent. The United States is the oldest colonial democracy, the longest running show on the political Broadway of life, it’s the Fantasticks, Phantom, Book of Mormon someday. You don’t run this long without figuring out how to deal with bad cast members, shitty directors, old costumes and bad crowds, right? Mr. India’s confidence in the American system, an outsider’s confidence, came at the time I most needed it. I need it still. And he reminded me of that thing I had been so conscious of on a small-scale in day to day life in Mumbai, that systems here very rarely work, at least, in contrast to a system in the West. For example, if you tell your congressman something, he’s legally obliged to deal with that. That’s a real part of the way things work. If you tell a politician something here, well, cool story bro. You get the representation you pay for here. Now, you could say that in the West too, in the US, but it’s not so excruciatingly literal, and for some reason I take comfort in that.
Another lesson I’ve learned, which is one that made me feel stupid, horrible and small, is that I really think that the United States was better than India, in terms of hate, prejudice, polarized living, awareness, all of it. I thought somehow our foundations as people were built on something different, better, really. And we aren’t. No one is above hate, or prejudice, and I shouldn’t have thought that we were. That was my own prejudice, my own ignorance, and I’m most ashamed of that.
India is a country that has known for long time that every section of society is living in a different reality. I guess that’s probably how most large countries feel. And that’s clearly how the United States works too, but I didn’t know that. And I know it now. And the biggest lesson I can take from that is that we need to do better, we cannot be complacent in that. Because a few Americas will turn into a thousand. There are and always have been a thousand Americas. And India is working, slowly, slowly, but all the time, to fill that gap. So must we.
Usually I start these posts with a quote. Today I’m ending with one, from a New Yorker article about cleaning the Ganges.
“India is a land of discouragement. If you’re not discouraged by the harsh summers, then you are discouraged by the cow eating your plant, or the motorbike or tractor or car that is running over your plant, or the neighbor who is plucking the leaves from it just for fun as he is going by. If you can’t deal with discouragement, India has no place for you.” – Navneet Raman, the chairman of the Benares Cultural Foundation
Perhaps the reality is the world has no place for the easily discouraged, for those who give up. I am living in a place that is full of problems, problems on a scale beyond those of the United States in very real ways, they just are, but there is still the work, the people who believe in it, work for it, who refuse for be discouraged. If nothing else, I am glad to be here, and to have learned that. We have no right to be discouraged. I have no right to stop writing, silly nothing it might be to put out into the massive void that exists. Discouragement is a trap. India knows that. So must we. So must I.