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May 18, 2004

politicians

Just when I think I have seen it all, life throws a spin; Sonia Gandhi rejected the offer to become India's latest Prime Minister. Perhaps there really are altruistic politicians out there, who just want the best for their country and are not swayed by promises of power. According the New York Times, Ms Gandhi is just following her "inner voice." She also may be considering the feeling so her children who fear another assassination or the threats of the former ruling party to boycott her leadership. By declining to lead the country officially, Gandhi might be making her unofficial leadership stronger. The Hindu quotes Jairam Ramesh, "A long line of renunciates have dotted India right from the days of Gautama Buddha to Mahatma Gandhi; and, Sonia Gandhi has now joined this pantheon."

Ms Gandhi is not related to the famous Gandhiji, nor was her husband, Rajiv. Rather they are descendents of Nehru, India's first Prime Minister. Sonia Gandhi fell in love with young Rajiv when the were both attending school in Cambridge in the '60s. Neither of them desired or anticipated entrance into the political life, Rajiv's older brother Sanjay was being combed for that position. However when Sanjay died in a plane wreck, the future of the family and its political party fell on the younger brother's shoulders and like a good son, he rose to his duty and continued to do so after his mother, Prime Minister at the time, was assassinated in 1984. Like mother, like son, Rajiv was assassinated seven years after his mother, while he too was Prime Minister. It took years of solitude and pleading by the Congress Party before his widow came out of hiding. She claims she only did it for the good of her adopted country, to help remove the Hindu fundamentalists from power.

Looking at Ms. Gandhi's approach to politics and I can't help but think about another woman who entered the political arena first through marriage, then through elections. I doubt Hillary Clinton will become a renunciate any time soon (though it seems that Al Gore has) and I don't blame her. This is not India; we do not have a history of valuing those who reject the cloak of power. However, I find it interesting that India, with such a reputation for misogyny, does not blink at the thought of women politicians or a woman Prime Minister.

May 13, 2004

cultural adjustments

I am thoroughly back in the U.S., though India still haunts my dreams. More disconcerting is the way it haunts my habit patterns. I get a slight thrill from brushing my teeth with tap water (and it feels weird not to be paranoid about accidentally drinking water in the shower) and I still don't feel comfortable eating uncooked green vegetables. I keep thinking that it will be easy to get clothes made, altered, or mended. And life with out cheap trains, auto-rickshaws, and restaurant food (never mind beer!) is a difficult adjustment. It is always a surprise to have hot water available with out having to switch on the hot water heater a half hour in advance and I am still not used to outlets not having switches on them.

Human relations are other strange cultural differences I keep pondering. I know that many people are frustrated with the way India treats its women (worse than cows) but somehow I never saw this side of the country. I always found people to be friendly and polite. While there were a few whistles or comments, I am so adept at ignoring them I rarely noticed without some one else's commentary. Despite my obliviousness, I still felt that in India I possessed a rock star quality. People were happy to speak with me and I always felt beautiful. Here I am so ordinary it seems only the lonely and the freaks see me. Not that I am crying for attention, so far I enjoy being anonymous. It is just interesting to go from being a novelty to a nobody. However, I worry I will catch the habit and not only judge myself as a nobody but start seeing other people that way too. While I know that dangerous people exist, so it is wise to be cautious, I also know that you can make friends in the strangest places.