“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
I landed in the land of opportunity, tired, not of oppression and penury but of a 24 hour long flight from Mumbai. I had huddled, but only to board local trains and in the queues outside the American consulate. I wanted to breathe free, not because I was suppressed but because my city was too polluted. The land of opportunity has no opportunities for the real tired and poor of my land. They have been made into examples for Americans to realize how fortunate they are. There are no more new worlds for them, only new rulers.
Obviously not all migrants to America from India are like me, many come from very poor families and work very hard to reach the promised land. But for many like me, America is an escape, an escape from the poverty that never touched but still stifled me, the injustice that I never experienced but tortured me in its mere existence. But there is no escape for India’s poor and wretched. They cant just move to freedom and opportunity, only to the slums of Mumbai. Some lucky ones might make it to the over-crowded quarters of Dubai.
But I am not part of Europe’s medieval feudal aristocracy. I am one of a billion. I am not singular, I am supposed to be the citizen of a very special nation. One that my forefathers had to fight very hard to obtain, one which was supposed to represent the best humanity had come up with. But often it seems that India is as ugly as God’s most beautiful creation can get. The shoulders of a billion sometimes lift me above the skies but then their arms pull me down to the depths of Earth.
But maybe I ask for too much. The past looms large over my republic. It tries to choke democracy with its stifling social order, it strangles freedom with its chains of tradition. I cant fight it alone. So seeking a brighter future I abandon India’s present and run away from its past. And why not ? Why subject myself to the dirty streets, the daily inconveniences, the corruption, scandal after scandal, the nepotism, the crowded everything ?
But I cant. I cant enjoy the super cool silence of the Austin winters. I cant appreciate how clean everything is. I cant admire the order of the traffic. I cant smell the clean air. My senses are trapped in the prison of my conscience. What about my family who sacrificed their comfort to raise me well ? The house-helps who made sure I lived in luxury. The soldiers trying to save a thankless me. The teachers who taught me everything I know. The little kids in the heartland who never learnt to read and write so that I could. One might say thats just how it is.
But who is going to save India’s strained environment ? Who is going to stand up to corruption ? Who is going to smash gender bias ? Who is going to build a better India for tomorrow ? Or even save whats left of it from the vultures that are circling closer than ever before ? Who is going to fight ? The grind of urban India can crush anyone in its mix of poverty, crime and corruption. But a way has to be found. If for nothing else, then just for my selfish peace of mind.
If India’s poor cant come to the new world, then the new world has to be brought to them.