Short Story: Whose Country is the US Anyway?
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.
Short Story: Whose Country is the US Anyway?
- » Published on June 29, 2007
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Author: Vivek Sharma
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