This is not an open letter to President Obama
Because if it were, Mr. President, you’d already be reading a snarky comment about how the best way for India to get more respect from the U.S. is to either become a radical Islamic country that threatens American lives, or a communist oligarchy that threatens the American economy. We’d have such a compelling start to our open letter, you’d never guess our real problem: we don’t really want your respect, we want our respect.
Just as homophobia is a cover for latent homosexuality and religious piety for latent immorality, our shrill demands for respect are actually overcompensation for our own self-loathing. Maybe the U.N. security council permanent membership will help raise our self-esteem. Or maybe our problems are intractable. Maybe what makes India India is what makes India India. But it would be nice if we could, for once, be India.
You’d probably see right through our non-sequiturs, but Indian nationalists and right-wingers would retweet, like, digg, buzz and salivate at our open letter. They would never realize that every time they gaudily thump their patriotic chests, they betray their deepest fear: the fear that they do not respect India. Unfortunately for them, self-respect cannot be demanded; it must also be earned. But that is a discussion between them and their therapists.
We wouldn’t want to waste your time though, so we’d quickly move on to our next point: the U.S.—especially under a black president like you—should do more to curb racist attacks against Indian expatriates. We’d highlight only the cases where we need your help, i.e. against the white man, because we don’t need help in dealing with negroes, yellows, pakis and darker-skinned fellow Indians.
Somewhere in the middle of the open letter we’d compliment your use of Indian expressions such as “Jai Hind” during your speech to the Indian parliament, while hinting that dropping a Hindi phrase or two doesn’t alleviate our respect-anxiety. We wouldn’t bring up the fact that the English language and American culture are annihilating Indian traditions, because that—much like the American voter, apparently—is beyond your control. If Indian languages are being supplanted by English, it is because selfish Indian parents value the economic prosperity, global compatibility and future prospects of their children more than their duty to preserve Indian languages.
But Mr. President, the situation has become so bad that an English-language Indian author, best known for his award-winning open letter to the Chinese premiere, was forced to write an entire column lamenting the fact that, like the white tiger, the Kannada language is becoming extinct. You can read more about it on his Kannada blog titled, “Error 404. This blog does not exist.”
[It’s not all bad news, though. Cultural preservation is a numbers game, so for now we are using Indian taxpayer money to teach large numbers of poor kids in local Indian languages. The poor “verni” rascals will probably forever be at a disadvantage versus their rich, English-educated fellow citizens who will go on to become globe-trotting NRIs, but hey, someone has to preserve our languages. Also, how else would award-winning Indian authors get that warm, “awww this reminds me of my grandmother’s cooking” muse-y feeling when they visit India every six years (or whenever Singapore Airlines is running a special deal)?]
And finally, no open letter (and no U.S. President’s speech in India) would be complete without a reference to Gandhi. Just like your speechwriters, we’d have to search Wikipedia for an insightful thing to say about Gandhi; we barely remember the Gandhian philosophies they tried to drill into us at school. Thankfully most of us quickly recovered, or we’d never be able to succeed in corporate India, board a local train, watch TV, or use Microsoft Word. Those of us who didn’t recover spend their lives requesting their panchayat to grant them additional water rations. In perfect Kannada, of course.
We’d probably end with an obviously ironic line such as “Respectfully yours”. Or maybe we’d make a quip about about the United Nations being the best representative of our planet’s disunity. And we’d probably need an unexpected postscript too, where we saved the best for the last. You’d never guess that we chickened out from the hardest part of the open letter—where we define who “we” are. The truth is, there’s no “we” any more. Perhaps that’s what makes India India.