Something Personal

illinois-state-quad-north
Illinois State University. My journey in America began here. This is the quad where I saw my first snowfall.


After thirty years of living in the U.S.,
and going through countless experiences working with ordinary men, women and families from so many different communities, colors, religions, nationalities and lifestyles, I have developed a fair amount of knowledge and wisdom about this country.

I have worked with students and teachers in various parts of the country — both as a student and teacher. I have worked with many immigrant communities — both as a grassroots organizer and policy advocate. I have worked with big and small media — both as a journalist as well as someone their journalists spoke to. I have worked with NAACP, ACLU, Catholic Charities, NYPD (to help them work with innocent people, and also to bring dissent to some of their actions), big and small labor unions, peace groups, environment groups, poets, musicians, authors. I have worked with Hindu temples, Sikh gurdwaras, Christian churches, Muslim mosques, and Jewish synagogues. I have worked with gays, lesbians, atheists. I have worked with socialists.

I have supported Bernie Sanders’ candidacy when he ran for president. I found his message of democratic socialism the best possible thing America could have.

Not a single time, I have had any negative encounter that has left a bad taste in my mouth. Never with the ordinary people I worked with. I have gained countless friends, students, supporters, and well wishers.

Yet, I have had my share of explicit mistrust, hate and racism, and I have had my share of subtle dislikes and distances — as if I am never totally, completely, unequivocally “one of them.” If I criticize the U.S. foreign policy based on global war and exploitation coupled with media lies, some call me too un-American. Some openly ask me to go back to India; some others tell me that I need to know this country well enough before I opened my mouth. If I blast the U.S. economic policies based on international and domestic oppression and media lies, some people call me un-American; some others raise eyebrows about my allegiance to my new country.

Some frequently ask me why do I still have so much love and nostalgia about India, country that I left behind three decades ago? (And my Indian brothers and sisters question why I criticize India and Bengal so much: don’t I have any feelings left for them?)

Some question why I still speak about old history, and “fail to move on?” Why do I speak about Hiroshima, or the British partition of India, or slavery in America, or Vietnam, or Iraq, or the Bangladesh genocide in 1971? Why do I not forget about Modi’s massacre in Gujarat, or police brutality in the U.S.?

Ironically, most of my critics (fierce, outright critics and subtle, soft critics alike) are ordinary men and women, both from America and India. In spite of the fact that I keep repeating that my dissent and reservation are never about them. It is always about the elite, the one percent — the people in power.

The biggest and strangest twist in all this is that the one percent I save all my criticism for couldn’t care less about what I say. I have no name, no fame, no money, and no pedigree. I am no Noam Chomsky. I am no Cornel West. I am no Amy Goodman. I am no Victor Navasky. I am no Donna Lieberman. I am no Khizr Khan.

And the biggest irony is that I get all my overt and covert hate, mistrust and doubt and apprehension from the ninety-nine percent — people who I have always worked and spoke for.

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9 thoughts on “Something Personal

  1. Prophets are ever without fame – in their own time. Perhaps it is when you act on your conscience Dada, that you must also ask yourself, is it what the 99 per cent really want? Or is it your Leninist hubris, that you know what is best for the proletariat? The support of the Bernie Sanders candidacy, for example. It became so divisive, that the normal Democractic front runner, whom you consider the worst representative of the 1% had a real chance of losing. In the end, whom did it help? An even worse alternative – Trump. When you stay in USA and presume to tell us in India about the ills caused by our one percent – whose character never changes regardless of the particular ruling face or family – we all remember that you could not stay on here or even come back after you had achieved enviable qualifications and try to be and make the change you advocate. History and posterity have never been kind to those whom we call “Bhagowdas or Ranchhoddas” – the hero who runs away from battle to live and fight another day, even though they have won. Look at Robert the Bruce. A patriot who won in the end and who kept on running away – but remembered also for his betrayal of the patriot who fought from the front and paid the ultimate price, William Wallace. Even Krsna, who was a master strategist, had to bear that opprobrium. If you had stayed on in India and been the voice of conscience, or stayed in USA and confined yourself to the ills of your adopted and now own country, perhaps it would have been different. You belong nowhere, despite speaking the Truth as you say it, Dada. Sorry if this offends you. My honest opinion, even when I know that you know of what you speak of from personal experience and not through hearsay or by reading what others have written.

  2. Some years ago I criticized America’s attempt to globalize a desire to control the world. My American friends hated me bitterly-mostly saying I don’t understand. My friend Kishanda and I were only dissenters among our own Indian community when we critiqued Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld’s attempt to destroy Iraq as a simple grab of power and, of course oil. Some friends (Indian) called us ‘traitors’! When I argued with my Indian friends about ‘opening up’ Indian market for the sake of opening up will destroy social safety network I was called a communist (as if it is such a bad thing to be!), a fool who doesn’t understand and a scientist-what do you know of economics! etc.

  3. When you are born in this country and taught in this country about how great this country is, it is hard to accept the words of a foreigner. However, Partha, people are starting to wake up and realize that everything they think they know is an illusion. In my opinion, this is why it is so important that you continue to speak out. Your words are more powerful than you know!

    1. Thanks. But I have become skeptical how sincerely people — with any power — want someone like me to be in a leadership position of any kind. Diversity, yes. Tokenism, yes. But true leadership? Not sure, Neva. Will continue what I do. But that’s about it.

  4. The ironies would be a feast for satire if they weren’t so painfully true. The obvious distractive enchantment of the masses through sensationalism and intentionally blinded patriotism could be expected of a parasitic psychopathic corporate conglomeration focused upon ever increasing maximal profits and power, but the willing self infliction of those heinous circumstances upon ourselves, with virulent defense against rescue, is disheartening. Please don’t dim your light, this world is dark and we desperately need illumination.

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