developing definitions

Take a few minutes and read two things today:

1. “India Is,” a lovely poem by a friend, who is maintaining a highly entertaining blog. She sees things about my parents’ country of origin that I saw when I visited there as a child of 10. She makes me wish my visit to India had been when I was old enough to process it with a bit more grace. (I have not visited India since then, which is about 33 years. I have reasons, none of which are good.)

2. “Ayn Rand is for Children,” an epiphany of sorts written by David Sirota. Bottom line: Ayn Rand acolytes probably haven’t seen much of the developing world. I find Ayn Rand’s work to be… silly.

When I was 20, my roommate and I took a goofy 1-credit course in college called “Human Development and Awareness.” At the time I had come to the conclusion that I wanted to study political science and social welfare policy, and there’d been an exercise in the class that required each of us to go around the room and explain a “defining moment” that we believed shaped who we were as students.

I knew immediately what it was.

The moment came in India, in 1981, as we walked through the streets of New Delhi, and children, my age or younger, would come to me and ask for money. I’d see babies relieving themselves in the street. I’d see not-poor people angrily shooing “untouchable” people away as easily as they shooed away stray dogs. I can still see all of their faces. I can still smell all of those smells and hear all of those sounds.

It was a terrifying place for an atypical 10-year-old. For example, I had seen at age 7, in 1977, “Roots,” and at age 8, “Holocaust,” two television miniseries about some of the very darkest times in recent history. (Friends in grade school had not seen these shows.) I knew that people were capable of being and too often proved to be unfathomably evil, cruel, and unjust.

I knew that, as a child. And then I saw it, as a child. In India.

Couple that with the fact that my father took his wife and new daughter (my older sister) away from India, and to the United States, all on his own, to pursue his education, on his own merits.

It defined me… or at least, a key part of me.


2 thoughts on “developing definitions

  1. Just as I asked “what reasons?” I proceeded to section 2. Glad I did. I am trying to find a way to sift through our times in India that recognizes the density and complexity of the place, and doesn’t sound like complete BS to folks who are from there, live there, have been there. Your post inspires me to keep it real — and makes me think we would have had some really depressing slumber parties if we’d met much earlier.

  2. I think you’re right about the slumber parties… And I think “real” is certainly how you keep it… And I know India is a very different place than it was in 1981. Different and better and worse. Much like the United States… and every other place on Earth.

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