Saturday, October 22, 2016

It's 2016, and I'm Still Loving America

I have sent my aunt, an American citizen, not one but two messages over the last week, each of which can be summed up as 'Judging!' 

And what's not to judge? All countries have the politicians they deserve. And the United States, amongst its many millions, has not only thrown up a Republican candidate who is egotistical, self-serving, manipulative - and to be fair, these words describe anyone, anywhere, who is too interested in power - but is also a Bobo doll of vice, springing up after every blow to show you that not only is he racist, xenophobic and profiting from bankruptcy, but also a serial sexual predator. A country that brings such a man's political ambitions dangerously close to fruition, is a country in spiritual, moral, ethical crisis. 

But at a time when it's easy to be suspicious of America (so much easier than saying 'the States') and Americans, I want to talk about something else. I visited the US earlier this year for a much needed and much anticipated holiday. I didn't sightsee or travel much. Just spent time with family and close friends along the East Coast, soaking up three weeks worth of summer sun. And while I was there, I didn't notice the anger, the heat, or the vitriol we've associated with this election year. My lingering impression of the country was, and continues to be, one of expansiveness and abundance. Just space - lush, gloriously unkempt, in all its muchness - filled with sun, sky, cloud, tree. Posing a joyful contrast to the dense, tense, fraught veriticality of so many cities (particularly mine). 

Our spaces, our landscapes, are the making of us. I've written before about how Bombay can sometimes make it difficult to breathe. Everything that matters seems to be in short supply here - space, time, access and correspondingly, patience and kindness. We don't know how to concede a single inch, and we don't know how to stop fighting to claim another's. 

But to live in a country as expansive as America, as rollingly and extravagantly beautiful as I've known it to be, is to able to believe in abundance. To believe in abundance is to know that there is enough - in nature, in the world, in life - out there for you. There are chances, there are possibilities, they only need to be sought out and encountered. I think this abundance reflects in so many of the best things about the United States - the extraordinary ferment and creative impulse of its popular culture, art, fashion, music and cinema, down to the founding myth in Neil Gaiman's 'American Gods'; in the public sunniness and cheerfulness that is the status quo; in the belief that the country is to be enjoyed and explored, however one might choose to do so; in the capacious imaginations of anyone who believes that they can make it and do it - the enduring American dream that captivates us all.  

And yet this largeness, this spaciousness can be oppressive. It can fuel an unthinking wastefulness; it can lure you with false promises; it demands filling up with heart and soul and failing both of those, with stuff. The claiming of one's own destiny is a project for which circumstances and temperament render many people ill suited. And how can one reconcile with failure, or even succeed modestly, in the land of grand ambition? 

I think these elections have really been about these twin American narratives: more for many more versus the conviction that one has somehow been cheated and ended up with 'less.' The first narrative, this time around, has drawn its power from contrast rather than conviction. But I am hopeful that it will triumph. Because for all its wrongs, its questionable politics of convenience, its war machines and military-industrial-cultural complexes, its consumerist frenzy and inward gaze, the world still needs America to believe in the American dream.

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