Racism


I have been asked if I faced discrimination for my color when I first arrived in this country long, long time ago. My answer has always been “no, never felt it!” I came with the naivety that in the land of the free racism is found in its past. I came with the belief that there was equality and camaraderie, solidarity and respect for all. The truth was, I was oblivious. I wasn’t aware I was being discriminated against because in India, where caste system still prevails, race was not something one worried about. The complexion mattered for aesthetic reasons(it still does), race did not. We were not segregated due to our race, we were however, segregated for caste. When I think back to some of the comments that I have received in US, with my new found sensibility of race consciousness, I believe I should have taken offense at them. I, however, incredulously pondered upon the ignorance of the person making such comments. I did not take her/him to be racist. As I said, I was naive.

I still live in a bubble. Or I like to think the world that I inhabit is full of people who do not judge me by the color of my skin, but love me for who I am as a human. I do not feel out of place among white/ black men/women because my skin is brown. I have ceased to notice skin color.

But racism exists in abundance. I discovered racism among my children’s peers. I found out it is completely acceptable for children of specific ethnicity to call each other by pejorative terms that is indicative of their race. Children of other ethnicity are not allowed. On a bus to a middle school New York trip with my daughter’s middle school, I flinched every time I heard middle schoolers of certain ethnicity calling each other with a derogatory nickname. I asked my daughter horrified. She explained it is acceptable to do that. As I see my daughter’s friends I find there is certainly a tendency for children with similar background to form a clan. That is not necessarily a negative as long as there is respect for all.

Recently, I watched a Folk tale Celebration of my Third grader, just before the culmination of his school year. As I listened to bright, energetic little voices singing this song with passion, a kaleidoscope of skin colors up there on the stage, I could not help but smile.

Some of us come from a distant land
Some of us come from nearby
But all of us carry a treasure chest
with things that gold can’t buy
And when we share our treasure chest
We all grow rich you see
The riches of our treasure chest
Are what makes you and me.

Holiday games and stories
Languages and songs
Faith and courage and wisdom
And ways to get along, and ways to get along
And when we share our treasure chest
We all grow rich you see.
The riches of our treasure chest
Are what makes you and me.

By Minnie O’Leary

If that song does not describe the essence of America, the great melting pot, then I do not know what does. We come from distant lands, we come from nearby. We all bring our treasure chests full of songs, language, cuisine, cultures and share among each other to enrich our lives, broaden our horizons and hopefully encourage acceptance and respect.

The schools in my community are doing such a terrific job of treasuring diversity. As I sat there and smiled at the enthusiastic third graders belting out this song with animated expressions, I wondered if they will carry the message of acceptance and respect for all as they grow. Will they spread that among the generation that they procreate? Will they, if necessary, teach their parents and family members, dogmatism and superiority hinder social equality and growth?

They filled me up with hope that one day racism will indeed be a thing found in history books. One day skin color will shed all its connotations and become simply what it is – color of one’s skin. Respect will usher in acceptance and solidarity. And the world will put away their guns because there will be no need to kill.

I am a dreamer, you say? Why don’t you join me? 🙂

The heart picks up…


I woke up to gentle nudges from my mother.

‘Uthe por. Khela shuru hobe, dekhbi na? (Wake up, the game is going to start. Won’t you watch it?)

I used to wake up, rub my eyes and turn my attention to the already blaring TV set. A football match between two countries was set to begin in a World Cup tournament. It was perhaps 2 or 3 in the morning, and most likely I had school the next day. Yet, she woke me up. Yet, she let me watch. When my father chided about school and health, she said, ‘There will always be school, but Football World Cup comes around every four years!’ I have seen very few football enthusiasts like my mother and thankfully, she has passed on her zeal for the game to me. I learnt the rules of offside, the different positions of footballers and other nuances of the game from her. Football, for me, is so much more than just a game. It is the companionship of my mother and sometimes father, sipping cups of tea in the middle of week night and watching athletes fight it out over the possession of a ball on the field. It is the resounding GOAAAAAAAAL erupting in the neighborhood at the dark hours of night when a foreign team scored (India never had a team to field in the global arena and still does not). It is the collective joy of our favored team’s win. It is the combined sadness of an entire community when our favorite team lost. Football was my first means to connect with the world without quite being aware of it. It certainly was a means to bond with my football crazy city of Kolkata.

I grew up in those dark days of no internet and no cable. Our entertainments were limited to newspapers, magazines, and the limited shows that Doordarshan provided on television. But those were enough to fire up our fervor for football. After watching an early morning football game we would go to school and analyze each shot, each miss, each corner, each penalty. We would defend our favorite soccer player and berate the opponents. We read up the sports pages and spouted statistics to impress. During lunch and recess, we would take a temporary break from playing basketball and kick around a soccer ball pretending to be Zico or Zidane. We would talk of nothing else. What else was there to talk about when the World cup was being fought over in the global arena? We lived in football haze. And how we loved that. We would get home, finish our evening chores, get to bed and set the alarm for the next game. My mother, I remember, watched the game and cooked the next day’s meal before dawn so she could rest the following day. This became our routine for the entire month. We lived during the night and drooped during the day. We were football owls.

The road side dadas (local neighborhood boys) hung the flags of their respective teams by the roadside and set up shrines to their football teams complete with garlanded photographs of the footballers. Our paara (neighborhood) donned the yellow and green of Brazil. Our next paara sported blue and white of Argentina. There were trash talks galore:

‘Ja, ja neche neche goal debo toder!’ (Get lost, we will dance into your goals!)

‘Dekhe nebo, dekhe nebo toder!’ (We shall see!)

All good-natured, all in good humor. But these built up the ambiance and that whole month of the tournament was nothing like ordinary times. Most of my friends, family, acquaintances were caught up in football fever. Our schedules, lives, homework, jobs rotated around the schedules of our favorite teams. In public buses and trains complete strangers either bonded over Bebeto’s crib dance or exchanged heated words over Maradona’s controversial goal. There was either hate or love in my world, there was very little indifference. You were either a friend or a foe. There was nothing in between. There must have been folks who did not care for our frenzy. For us, they simply faded into oblivion – for that month. And after the Final game was played and the after the Champion team lifted the trophy, we walked around for a few days in a daze, lost, dejected and unsure of what to say when football talk died down. Commuters looked forlornly out of the windows in silence and snapped at fellow commuters, we picked up the basketball again in school, we lovingly looked at our scrapbooks full of pictures and statistics of the World Cup tournament till we put them away and forgot about them, our mothers became the dragon ladies, stickler for rules and disciplines. And life, for a while, lost its color. Till the next craze – local football, Wimbledon, cricket whatever. And the fan frenzy returned with a vengeance.

I am a middle aged woman now as Soccer world cup 2014 gets underway, living in a country where soccer is not a religion. I am a chauffeur, chef, educator, counselor, disciplinarian, hugs giver – or in one word, a mother. I don’t have enough time to indulge in football frenzy anymore. Yet, I can’t seem to help it. I have the schedule posted on my refrigerator wall, I have the games highlighted, I have time set aside. And thanks to Facebook, I get to watch the game with my fellow enthusiasts who are scattered all over the world. We discuss the game, we berate teams, we trash talk, we laugh together and we plan which games to watch together virtually. It is not the same as watching it with my mother in the middle of night and with the entire neighborhood, but it works quite well.

I surprise my new friends with my soccer zeal. Do you even know anything about the footballers in the Brazil team that you are cheering for, they ask! I do not know a thing! I do not have any statistics or any information on the players of Brazil memorized anymore, but does that really matter? The support for my team is not dependent on any of that. I say Brazil will win simply because I believe. Yes, they were the world champions five times, yes they play amazingly beautiful football but most importantly the faith comes straight from the heart. The heart does not care for numbers or reason. It just remembers the passion of the past, the moments that I have lived during past Football World Cups and it simply picks up from there.

And non soccer enthusiasts? I love you deeply, I really do but you simply do NOT exist for me till July 13th 2014. I hope you don’t mind. It is not personal. 🙂

‘Let’s do something for the Underprivileged’


Parents cease to be infallible to children once they cross the magic years of childhood and enter the murky waters of preteen. It is a confusing age, an age where the boundaries that parents set seem cruel, meaningless and restraining. Parents become the beloved jailers, loved in many ways but hated in some. I felt the same way towards mine while growing up yet at some level, I always knew two well-meaning, kind-hearted people who gave birth to me have also bequeathed me their legacy – kindness.

As a child, I have seen my father spend hours next to his aging, bed ridden relative by marriage, listening to his tales of yester year glories. His gift to the lonely old man was a patient ear and his time. He was, and still is, the hero and savior to all stray dogs and cats in our neighborhood. He instilled in me the life long love for animals. My mother, not only indulged me in all kinds of madness with animals, which included, but wasn’t limited to assisting my cats birth their kittens on my bed and saving and nurturing countless dogs and cats during my entire childhood. She turned a blind eye as I donated generous portions of family rations to alm seekers who knocked on our door. Well, she couldn’t have stopped me anyway. I still remember witnessing the tears in the eyes of our domestic help as she took off her gold earrings and gave them to her for her daughter’s marriage.

After I grew and moved away, my parents found a sudden void in their lives. With me gone, they suddenly did not know what to do. Their lives revolved around our visits to them and vice versa. Then came the grandchildren. Their joy multiplied, but when it was time for us to part, so did loneliness. They waited for phone calls, visits. Life became a long wait.

My father, possessing an inquisitive mind, started tinkering with my old computer. He taught himself enough to land in his first social networking site – Orkut. After a first few shaky steps, he discovered a different world in there – one of online friendship. He dragged my reluctant mother into this and an addiction was formed. My mother came into social networking kicking and screaming, but she was fascinated by the expansiveness of the world it presented. The barriers of sex, age, caste, creed fell away. Her gregarious, jovial and spirited self was just perfect to attract a large number of online friends. They both started spending hours interacting with individuals they knew through Orkut and Facebook, exchanging ideas, talking about Tagores’ poetry, quotations, songs. Gone were the days of lonely sighs and long waits. Life took on a different meaning.

I was happy at the distraction the social networking site provided since I suffered from the single child guilt. At the same time I was alarmed at this addiction which I feared may take a toll on their health. Well, I was wrong and how!

Hours of chat on Facebook gave birth among some like-minded friends, the desire to do something for those in the lower strata of the society. They talked, discussed, debated, planned for hours and created a community called:

LET’S DO SOMETHING FOR THE UNDERPRIVILEGED

Their ultimate goal is to reach a position where they can help people change their lives. They are not there yet but they have put some precious smiles on some precious faces. They have collected money and given out school supplies to elementary school children in slums of Kolkata, India. They are planning their next project, which is to donate clothes to the needy before the biggest festival of Bengalis – Durga pujo. They have pooled their own resources but they can not help as many people as they want without donations. So they are reaching out to you to help their cause by donating money/ time to help their efforts.

I humbly ask you to please visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/LetsDoSomethingForTheUnprivileged.

See what they are all about. If you like their initiative, please like their Facebook page to tell your friends about this community. If you are able, please donate money and/or your time. If you are local, feel free to join in their efforts and further their cause in bringing a change. They are a group of well-meaning people but new at this venture. They will certainly benefit from your advice and expertise. I request you to know this community and support their efforts in any way you can.

I am immensely proud of my parents that instead of looking inwards in their twilight years, they finally found the time to do what they wanted to do all their lives (and did in small ways) – give back to the community. I am thankful they found a group of friends who share their zeal to make a difference, no matter, how little. I salute this endeavor and I hope they will continue to grow and become a bigger organization to help more and more people in their community and beyond. I also hope you will join me in giving them the support they need.