OPINION

Short Story: Whose Country is the US Anyway?

June 29, 2007
Vivek Sharma

I usually say: US started as the country of Indians, and it will end as the country of Indians. Jokes apart, the question is a very precise one, but the answer is quite ambiguous. The reason why I bring it up is because of something I witnessed in a Subway train in New York recently.

I was sitting there reading Train to Pakistan, Khushwant Singh's classic written in 1958. The scene is a village on the Indian border. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, who are related to each other by generations of co-existence, are responding to partition and creation of Pakistan, something they really don't understand or approve of.

I am immersed in the description of one of the most poignant events in history of mankind, which I always think deserves at least as much press, media coverage, poetry, fictional and non-fictional coverage as the whole Jewish exodus. I was half-hearing the proceedings in the train, the announcements of station, laughter of people, occasionally a sentence or two of traveling conversation. I looked up when I heard an African-American woman cursing.

An anorexic teenager was up against a white American, muscular and bald, and I thought he was quite intimidating to look at. In some ways he resembled Bruce Willis, so lets call him Baldy Bruce. He seemed to be an army veteran and a regular to gyms and pubs. A European guy, age around twenty, blond stubble, blond hair, white skin had walked into the train only a few minutes back. He wasn't like Borat, but looked Polish or Kazakh and lets name him Shy Borat. Shy Borat sat on my bench, and Baldy Bruce sat with us, while the girl was sitting facing us on the opposite side.

"I, no English," he responded to something the Baldy said.

The Baldy said, "Then go back to your country."

Our African American, say Anorexic Oprah, quipped, "How can you say that?" to Baldy Bruce in a shrill, angry tone, and "Sorry" to Shy Borat.

Baldy Bruce retorted, "I can say that because it is my country."

Anorexic Oprah flared up. "How can you say that, Asshole?"

Baldy Bruce sat like a growling dog, and woofed, "We all have one - Asshole!"

Anoresix Oprah: " Thats not what I said you dumb-ass. You smart-ass, this country belongs to none. Neither to you, not to me."

BB: "It is my country. I can say that and you, you are a stupid bitch. Just shut-up!"

AO: "You dumb fuck! You have no education, you asshole." She stood up in great anger while saying this. A Chinese couple next to her looked bewildered and somehow everyone in the vicinity seemed to agree with our own Oprah. "You ignorant fool, you're dumb, look at your stupid dumb face, you fucking ignorant dumb-ass, you go and get some education. You asshole, everyone in this country has come from somewhere. I am nineteen and I know it. You dumb fuck - you look stupid, you act stupid and you are so old. I am nineteen, how old are you? We all came from somewhere, you Asshole!"

BB (with a hint of middle finger projected out of his fist): "I didn't. I was born here, and so were my parents and everyone."

The Anorexic Oprah was trembling with anger. The Baldy Bruce looked grim, his muscles and fists seem tight, and if only she wasn't a women, if only it weren't a subway (his whole being seemed to say), if only it wasn't the Subway, he would have "silenced the bitch."

Oprah was just shooting abuse with increasing ferocity: "You fucking dumb fuck, you asshole, you look yourself in mirror. This country was neither mine nor yours. If at all, it belongs to Indians. You fucking retard, you asshole, you need education. Go join some college, you dumb fuck!"

Her voice softened a little, and in a motherly tone, apologized again to the Shy Borat, who watched the proceedings with a muted awe. It seemed he didn't know what was going on, he seemed to watch their faces like a puppy, trying to comprehend why a couple is shouting at each other, and every so often pointing a finger to him.

The Chinese couple looked amused now. I was clutching my book harder than before, occasionally looking up, pretending to read the lines from the book, where as luck had it, Muslim villagers in the Indian side of border were trying to comprehend, how they turned into non-Indians — Pakistanis — overnight. Who caused it, who imposed it? Who was this Jinnah guy? Why were trains and trains of butchered bodies traveling back and forth across the border? Wasn't Gandhi the government now? Meanwhile, like bullets, Oprah was shooting her anger onto someone who didn't care about this tirade against him.

The tension in the room was somewhat stifling. Anorexic Oprah seemed to have realized that she was creating a big scene. We - men, we - foreigners, we - the mass, the public - sat cowardly and muted; nodding our head in agreement; blessing her without raising our hands or voice. For rest of the journey, we all kept quiet and avoided each other's gaze. I wanted to thank her, but wanted to thank her without the Baldy Bruce witnessing it. She slipped into the crowd before I could catch her.

Vivek Sharma is a poet, an engineer, a scientist and a writer. He is published in both refereed literary and science journals, and his poetry was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He contributes articles to Divya Himachal (Hindi newspaper in India) and online to himachal.us, desicritics.org and blogcritics.org.
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#1
Deepti Lamba
URL
June 29, 2007
02:38 AM

Earful of language and melting pot of righteous anger. If only more people thought like the Afro American and less with Lou Dobbs;)

PS: Liked the connection with Train To Pakistan- happens to be one of my all time favorites.

#2
smallsquirrel
June 29, 2007
03:11 AM

yes, nice story... really.

but just others do not get the wrong idea, you know in any given city you can change those races around and have the same interaction. in many communities there is no love loss between african-americans and immigrants, or whomever and whomever... the ugliest fight I ever saw was in a metro station in DC was an african-american taunting an african. the people who came to the african's aid included a korean and a huge white dude.

that is the best and worst thing about the US. you just cannot tell by looking at people. someone who looks like a skinhead might be the most liberal guy on the planet, and the well-dressed asian businessman might be the most racist dude on the block.

#3
Vivek
URL
June 29, 2007
09:31 AM

It is a quiet submarine, the feeling that even though you expect that the country where you live in and work at is your country as well, it is perhaps not so.

#4
smallsquirrel
June 29, 2007
09:40 AM

hey, listen... I was born there and I feel like that a good deal of the time because after 9/11 I felt like the country was taken over by right-wing, gun toting, george bush supporting, ultra-christians. many of us felt like that, and are only starting to feel relieved now that bush is getting ready to leave. we'll see what the next bozo brings.

#5
smallsquirrel
June 29, 2007
09:41 AM

hey, listen... I feel like that a good deal of the time because after 9/11 I felt like the country was taken over by right-wing, gun toting, george bush supporting, ultra-christians. many of us felt like that, and are only starting to feel relieved now that bush is getting ready to leave. we'll see what the next bozo brings.

#6
Deepti Lamba
June 29, 2007
10:32 AM

SS, just after 9/11 we happened to be the bozo territory I mean in Texas and they were darn friendly. Its funny that I faced racism in the democratic regions whereas the Southerns treated us with fairness and love:)

#7
smallsquirrel
June 29, 2007
10:36 AM

no one said the US made sense, yo! :P
actually, just after 9/11 the country was full of love. it was about a year after that the shit hit the fan, so to speak!

#8
smallsquirrel
June 29, 2007
10:55 AM

and oh, deepti... for the record... texas is NOT considered part of the south in the US. the "south" includes only SE states like alabama, mississippi, etc. texas is just on it's own. never tell a texan they are a southerner, they will have you for lunch. :)

also, texas has WAY more desis than most places in the south, excluding maybe atlanta which has a lot. but there are not a lot of desis in the deep south of the US (rural alabama, lousiana, etc.)

#9
Deepti Lamba
URL
June 29, 2007
11:18 AM

Surprising SS, coz they cracked a whole bunch of Civil War and Yankee jokes;) but yeah I do get it- Texas supposedly can secede from the US? ;)

I know a Sikh family in New Orleans and they talked about poor blacks facing crap and not the desi crowd.

Dunno about deep south but we have our own brand of racism here in India where blacks tourists aren't as well the whites.

Racism exists every where what we need to understand is that its not a reflection on the abused but the abuser and we should not judge the entire country by the acts of a few.

#10
smallsquirrel
June 29, 2007
11:50 AM

oh, well the civil war is whole different issue. and the texans don't like northern city folk, either :))

Every state in the US has a specific crowd they discriminate against most depending on the most recent immigrants... mexican, haitian, afghani... you name it.

And yes, india has issues, just like everywhere. when my mother in law learned I was american her first biggest fear was that I was black. ugh.

#11
PH
URL
June 29, 2007
12:39 PM

Vivek,
Enjoyd the story. Esp weaving in Train to Pak (a personal fav)on a subway station.

#12
Aditi Nadkarni
URL
June 29, 2007
04:07 PM

The second to last paragraph was my favorite part of the narration...the way you blended the Train To Pakistan events with the ones in the subway. Train To Pakistan is the only book by KS that I liked, to be honest. Nice touch, Vivek!

In a similar incident involving a friend of mine, there was a drunken squabble among his office buddies at a company dinner. When things got heated, a white American man poked an Indian guy in the chest and said "Why don't you just take your shit and go back to your country". The Indian guy, very calmly sipping on his drink replied: "Atleast I know I could go back to India. If I tell you to go back to yours, you won't know which country to go to, will you?"

The other day, on a morning show, Robin Williams joked that he wondered at times what would've happened if the Native Americans would've had stricter immigration policies when the British arrived :)

I wish people would realize its a nation of immigrants and get over it already. Racism is just a bundle of inconsequential and misdirected hatred.

#13
Vivek
URL
June 30, 2007
07:55 PM

Thanks for the comments and discussion folks. Wow! Aditi, that was quite an answer by the Indian, and Robin Williams and other comedians (Bill Meher) are so smart, so satirical, so wise that sometimes I am surprised that the things they say and get away with .

The Civil War divided the country only a century back, the Indians were eradicated only 200 years back, Blacks became African Americans only three decades back - perhaps what is required is "education". Literacy is not same as education and must not be confused with it.

What grieves me is the fact that no matter how advanced a culture is - Indian social system is perhaps one of the most advanced and yet it crumbled in 1947; Similarly US has been a nation of immigrants, and yet some people forget their roots. Why? The first generation immigrants are always willing to work harder, and pose a risk to people before. What one tends to forget is, if the economic supremacy is not sustained by constant influx of highly motivated workers, the economy will rot like an aquarium with lots of food and fishes, and no way to add fresh water.

#14
smallsquirrel
July 1, 2007
01:38 AM

vivek... you missed a KEY point about the US here that is integral to you argument. it is not so simple in the US to remember your roots in a lot of cases. Most people are not first generation immigrants, and it is very unlikley that their parents have roots from the same places. So if you say to someone "what is your heritage?" it is a complicated question. Most people are a mish-mash of at least 3-4 different things.

Once people move to another country and stop marrying solely within their culture, this is bound to happen. I am not sure this, in and of itself, is indicative of some greater cultural blight. So while I understand the comment that the Indian made to the rude-ass white dude in Aditi's comment, in some cases it is simply not applicable. And then does being newly immigrated somehow make you better? Certainly neither case is best... these things are what they are.

#15
Vivek
URL
July 1, 2007
07:43 AM

Observation: By being a smallsquirrel, and not being a chipmunk, you chose a less Americanized name.

Key point: I wrote a short story. I left it there. The reader will respond with the key points if he or she sees the context for it.

I write fiction, not necessarily from personal experience, and am trying to master the art of storytelling. (I gave my secret away. As always, it is a path of perseverance.)

Smallsquirrel: I thank you for pointing it out. The mixing of cultures and losing nationality through marriage is perhaps an integral part of my question (Whose country is US anyway?) and with little more thought, I could have made context and argument for it.

#16
smallsquirrel
July 1, 2007
08:54 AM

vivek... hunh? me no get it. squirrels are *extremely* common in the US, so how is it a less americanized name? it has been my nickname in the US for a dog's age now... not sure of your point there! :P If I wanted a less americanized name I would have chosen the nickname my indian friends call me, or even the one my family in italy uses.

There was no clue for me that this was fiction. Even if it was, the story had a point, a moral, and that is what I (and indeed others) were.
reacting to and commenting on.

Anyway, you can write any way you see fit! It was a good story. I was reacting to what Aditi said in response and then your response to her comment. These posts are organic... you write them with one thing in mind and comments change the flow. Aditi made a comment in one direction, you responded, but then when I respond to that it's moving in the wrong direction? Hmmmmm, I don't buy that.

#17
Vivek
URL
July 2, 2007
08:09 AM

There is no wrong direction miss squirrel; I thought you said I missed a Key point while writing the story, but I see what you said makes perfect sense. Thanks for clarifying: I was still caught up with my own words, while the whole essence of my words initially was to let reader talk about it.

:) Another blogger responded to this question (Whose country is US anyway?) with "Jiski Lathi, uski bhains" (Who wields the whip, owns the buffalo)

#18
Aditi Nadkarni
URL
July 2, 2007
10:01 AM

#14: SS: In response to your comment to my comment :) I would'nt have subscribed to the Indian guy's comments if he were to have made that comment sans provocation. But his rebuttal to the rude brickbat, I thought was an appropriate one. The whole mish-mash theory that you spoke of is the reason why the comment is probably applicable to most Americans. There is no single heritage one can trace their roots back to, its a pot-pourri. There is no question of being better or worse, really. I concur when you say its just how things are.

Like stand-up comedian Russel Peters once said, "One day the world is going to be all beige" :)

#19
smallsquirrel
July 2, 2007
10:50 AM

aditi... and RP is right! :)

#20
Die Hard
July 3, 2007
02:46 AM

SS, Please get over 9/11 already...It is 9/11 everyday for us folks who live in Karacchi, Lahore, Kashmir, Jafna etc. Do you hear us going on and on and on and on about it?

And please STOP blaming George Bush for everything. It is the people of US of A who voted him in for the SECOND time...So let the citizens take some blame for the so called "right-wing, gun toting, george bush supporting, ultra-christians" tendencies!

Vivek, as always a job well done! Particularly if one's favourite book is Train to Pakistan.

#21
smallsquirrel
July 3, 2007
06:35 AM

Die hard... oh go to hell. I never mentioned 9/11. and why should I NOT blame Bush? I did not vote for him, no one I KNOW voted for him, and as far as I know he effing stole the election. I will blame the people who did vote for him, but I am not one of them. So shut the fuck up.

#22
Deepti Lamba
URL
July 3, 2007
08:57 AM

Die Hard, are you saying that the frequent loss of lives in your country no longer impacts you at a human level?

#23
Vivek
URL
July 3, 2007
11:45 AM

Thanks DieHard.

I agree with you about 9/11 to the extent that it wasn't the only terrorist event that happened in recent past. By focusing attention to it only, we deny the importance of non-Americans as human beings. What happened was unfortunate enough, what resulted in Afghanistan and Iraq has killed many more, and there is terrorism across Asia, Middle East, South America and Africa that deserves at least some thinking, some media, some enterprise.

As always, I don't blame just the leader, but the political and social conditions of the country.

Could Hitler have been a Hitler without accomplices? Did it matter when a large majority of Muslims disagreed on division of India? Did Palestinians not lose their homeland? Why are there so many refugees still in Bengal, in Middle East? We need to know whats happening, and we also need to understand what cultural, economic and historical issues surround the events.

World peace require an understanding, culture of "live and let live" and ability in each one of us to shed our biases and egos. Is that possible?

#24
smallsquirrel
July 3, 2007
12:39 PM

But the point is what in hell does 9/11 have to do with this? DieHard accused me of focusing on it and I never said a word about it. He's just baiting. He's creating his own argument out of NOTHING. Who is focusing on 9/11 only. No one. And no one said it was the only terrorist attack in the recent past.

Ya wanna get off track? Fine. Maybe we should talk about why an Indian was just arrested for being part of the plot in Glasgow.

#25
Die Hard
July 4, 2007
02:06 AM

Deepthi #22,

Frequent loss of lives in my country has a very deep impact on me. How can it not? When very close family and freinds are directly affected by the conflict. When I have LOST family and friends to it. But, we (on both sides of the war) do not whine about it. Life goes on...

Vivek, you have said what I was trying to say...You know, I feel as if people of the world think that our conflict is insignificant and we are 'less-people' than Americans. The terrorism in our land and the loss of lives due it is totally ignored whilst 9/11 is still being blown out of propotion. (pun so intended)

It is the first time in a long time that the USA was exposed to an act of terrorism of 9/11 magnitude and in my opinion they are taking an awfully long time to get pass it...its kind of annoying.. y'know when we go through it everyday.

SS, please don't use profanities. May be that is how you communicate, but I take offence.

May be you should read your own post 4/5! The point that 9/11 has on this discussion (sans your profanities) is very simple. Post 9/11 living in/travelling to USA has become even more difficult for foreigners in general and people of colour in particular. May I remind you that Vivek's story is about a foreigner, a black woman and a white man.

I didn't say you should not blame GWB. I said you shouldn't blame GWB for EVERYTHING. Are you saying that the election was rigged? Please.. people did vote for him. People of the USA are responsible for the actions of their government.

Yes, I do think that we should talk about "why an Indian was just arrested for being part of the plot in Glasgow". I recommend using the word 'allegedly' before the words 'being part of the plot..'.

#26
smallsquirrel
July 4, 2007
02:23 AM

DieHard, yeah, well, you don't talk down to me like I am some small child and I won't cuss at you. Your superiority act, like you have somehow lost more than anyone, is tiresome. You have no idea what I might have suffered on 9/11, and whom I might have lost. I will remind you that I lived in DC on that date, and I had relatives living in NYC and working in the WTC. You want to push ugly buttons, you're going to get ugly responses.

I may have mentioned 9/11 somewhere else, but not here. What, I am not allowed to mention it? I certainly do not dwell on it.

YOu have no idea what it is like to feel hijacked by your own president. There are many people in the US who fought against his re-election, fought against the war, fought fought fought and we still do not understand how we find ourselves dragged into a global mess by this man. Yes I AM saying the election was rigged, and why is this past your understanding? Many people have said it before and it has been discussed widely. His relatives ensured that many people were not allowed to register to vote or that their voter registrations were lost... and this happened in areas where GWB would not have won. And how can I be responsible for the actions of my government? I have NO control over them whatsoever, no matter how much I struggle. Do you have control over your government?

Anyway, you seem intent on blaming individual citizens such as myself for what is going on, which is wildly screwed up. You don't know me or what I stand for. But you hate me nonetheless because you know I am a white Jew from the US.

#27
smallsquirrel
July 4, 2007
02:26 AM

Ah, yes, OK I did mention 9/11 here saying that post, the country was taken over by people that I cannot relate to. But then why would that prompt your comment that I need to "get over 9/11" ???

#28
Die Hard
July 4, 2007
03:50 AM

SS, I haven't 'somehow lost more than anyone'. Almost everyone in my country has lost someone to the 30 year conflict. I was answering the query posted to me by Deepti # 22. It was not meant as a show-off of my so-called superiority on loss. If such a thing is possible.

You used profanities on me and you are accusing me of talking down to you? You are priceless.

True, I don't know you and I don't know what you stand for. Where did I say I hate you because you are a white Jew from the US? I just found out that you are one! (Mmmwaa..XXXOOO..I am so happy for you)

I am so full of hatred and I can't handle the love and affection coming from your end. It wasn't me who told a fellow blogger to go to hell and shut the F* up!

#29
smallsquirrel
July 4, 2007
04:47 AM

whatever man. you bait me and then you're surprised when I get pissed off. then you try to paint me as something I am not. what's funny about this is that you haven't taken the time to understand a damned thing I have said.

The superiority of loss thing... you just keep saying over and over to anyone who will listen that you are living 9/11 every day and yet you do not whine. That in and of itself is whining.

You know, if you would stop being such a baiter, you might find that I do sympathize with you. but you're so busy with your stereotypes, your rhetoric and your bad assumptions about the US that you simply do not listen.

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