in our lives
Hollywood flicks. MTV chicks. Mcburgers. Sandy Bergers.
Cola wars. Cold wars. Consumer greed. Terminator seed. We may love it. We
may hate it. We cannot escape America. It is willy-nilly moving into our
living rooms and lives. Ain’t it, asks Shobhan Saxena
on wintry mornings, Anurag Tripathi cycles through the virtual decay of
Varanasi. Slicing through the thick fog, he stops at a brand new hotel on
the Ganges, one built around a temple and brightly lit with Christmas tree
lights, and parks his rickety bicycle there. He looks at the tree and the
ghats and the winding city. Then he goes down to Assi Ghat below, ignoring
teeming hordes of beggars and sadhus. He makes a bundle of his white shawl
and unwashed clothes, keeps it on his books and plunges into the filthy,
toxic river. Shivering and humming Hanuman Chalisa, he emerges from the
water, puts on his clothes and pedals down to the Benaras Hindu University
campus. Tripathi spends the day on experiments in the physics laboratory,
reading science journals, making notes, and dreaming of going to the mit
When the evening mist begins to blanket the sprawling campus, he leaves
the lab, cycles up to the Lanka Gate and orders a burger at a small, squalid
roadside hole. Hundreds of flies buzz around him as he eats his burger —
a thick, greasy potato chop in a droughty bun with some rotten onion and
a thin slice of stale tomato.
Finishing his grub, he picks a ‘Miss Lewinsky’ ice-cream from
another vendor and moves into a narrow lane where they teach you to speak
English the American way. As darkness thickens, Tripathi gets out of the
institute and moves into a damp, cold cybercafe, assumes an oxymoronish
identity — coolfire21 — and begins chatting with ‘serenesoul80’,
a 24-year-old girl in Scottsdale, Arizona. She asks him about Varanasi widows
and burning ghats, he talks about the erroneous western view of Indian philosophy.
She asks him about poverty in India, he tells her why Bush is bad for America.
He signs off with a cyber kiss and goes back to his 10x10 rooftop room in
a small house in a slender gully.
America rules Tripathi’s life. He devours Resnick & Halliday’s
Fundamentals of Physics and the Berkeley Journal of Science; he dreams of
working on superconductivity in a Harvard lab; he saves money to eat burgers
and ice-creams; he tries to speak English with a Yankee twang; he reads
Dale Carnegie and Linda Goodman and old issues of Newsweek; he loves an
Arizona girl; he writes anti-Bush slogans on the palm trees spread across
the campus; and at night he takes out the five dollar bill sent to him by
‘serenesoul80’ from his rusty iron trunk and looks at George
Washington’s portrait till his eyes begin to droop.
Tripathi is not some freak case. There are millions of young Indian men
and women who are in love with America or the idea of it. With a sense of
eager innocence, they want to know everything about America. They want to
do everything the Americans do. In the so-called public schools tucked in
the Himalayan foothills, young boys walk like Eminem. They scratch American
profanities on their desks — ‘chemistry sucks, life f****’.
They test each others’ sat knowledge. Their vocabulary is peppered
with American slang. They know more about American politics than they do
about Indian geography. They pool in money to rent a fake CD of Michael
Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and watch it on television. Life is good but
it is not complete without a strong dash of America.
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