With a nod to Election Day. . .
The ballot envelope for sending in your votes by proxy arrives in the mail today and triggers a memory dating some 20-odd years back that I'd thought buried forever. Constitutional Law class, John F. Kennedy University, circa 1993. The class of 20-odd students engages in a passionate, vociferous debate about citizenship. I was the only Indian gal and new immigrant in that class.
"Why would you immigrate to the U.S. and not become a legal citizen?" they scoffed.
Chaos had ensued when I'd revealed I was a green card holder. There were gasps of disbelief and a dawning realization when I pointed out that becoming a citizen was not as easy as saying abracadabra. Even pre-9/11, you had to be a legal resident for five years in good standing before you could apply for citizenship.
"And I'm still conflicted about it," I said, "because India doesn't allow dual citizenship."
I had been a resident of the U.S. for only three years yet, and the memories of my homeland were those laced with longing and nostalgia. Did I want to forever abandon my native country's citizenship to embrace that of a foreign one. As I held my ground in the argument (albeit with a quaking voice and hands which shook) I could see my classmates exiting the class with a better understanding of an immigrant's dilemma than when they had entered it.
Two years later, the issue hardly mattered. I was steeped in my adopted country's customs and had felt so left out from the last Presidential election ( George Bush v. Bill Clinton) that I submitted the paperwork for citizenship as soon as I became eligible.
Another memory worked itself loose from the rubble of my subconscious and worked its way to the front of my brain. A trek to the lower foothills of the Himalayas undertaken from Hindu College, Delhi University, circa 1987. We were a co-ed group of students; and, we trekked through villages where no vehicle had gone through. Accessible only by narrow, dusty, unpaved roads, these villages functioned not on the system of money changing hands but by barter. We bartered our precious goods; sugar or medicines to garner a place to sleep for the night, usually a temple hall or a school compound, Exhausted and weary by our daily trek through the mountain paths, we would sit on our haunches, while our half-Sherpa leader went to negotiate with the village headman.
In my walk through the village next morning, I stopped to talk to a shy sari-clad woman covering her face with her pallav. None of the women had ever left the village, she stated, but every year they would line up in queues to vote.
The local politician, Hari Singh, had promised to deliver electricity, water, and maybe even a T.V. if they voted for him, she told me. I nodded silently, knowing at my worldly age of 18 that those promises were only hot air.
The shutters in my brain contract and expand as I look down at the ballot envelope in my hand. Hilary v. Trump for President of the United States. Each candidate promising to make America safe or great again?
All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others (George Orwell), I muse. . . are we any different from the illiterate villagers in Panchi Basti, Kathmandu, who were duped year after year by Hari Singh and his empty promises?