Several times a week after work, as the fading sun gently paints pink-golden hues on snow-capped peaks like sweet peaches n’ cream, I waltz down to my neighbor’s smooth, cool marble porch for Hindi lessons. Gargi Ji (as I affectionately call her) and I have graduated from reading children’s stories such as “The Boy Who Cried Tiger”(!), and recently we have been enjoying the variation and challenge of newspaper articles. Gargi Ji dons her pearly, owlish lenses, shakes out the paper with a snap, points a weathered finger to an article and says, “Read this!” She usually chooses articles about the U.S., which I eagerly begin to decipher. The hardest words are the English words written in the Devanagari script, such as “Mais… Maisaa.. Maisaachuu… Maisaachuusetus??… OHHH….MASSACHUSETTS!! Massachusetts… gav… gavan… gavanar? Err…GOVERNOR!! MASSACHUSETTS! GOVERNOR! MITT ROMNEY! ” As you can see, there are many small pronunciation-induced celebrations, which can sometimes leave me feeling as winded as trekking up a craggy hillside.
Several articles have been regarding the whirlwind – circus of the U.S. presidential primary, such as the article pictured about the Florida primary. I feel a little relieved to be away from the hyperactive 24/7 media coverage and analysis of the primary season full of slip-ups, sudden surges, scandals, sound bites—all like snapping flames licking at dry fodder– that seem to take our collective attention and energy away from other pressing matters. Yet these short articles lead me and Gargi Ji to discuss politics in both of our countries. “In the U.S.,” Gargi Ji says, “it seems like elections happen in a fair way. Here for local elections, politicians give people things for their votes….like watches, sometimes stoves, or goats!”
“A goat for a vote?!” I stammer, incredulous, and Gargi Ji’s burst of laughter is like releasing a jarful of fireflies into the night. She slaps my cheek affectionately (which I find endearing) and chuckles.
I laugh and make my India-acquired tongue-clicking sound that means, “What a shame,” and shake my head. “But in the U.S.,’ I tell her, “we have corruption, too. Maybe not… like one goat for one vote, but people who have lots of money and power have… a big voice. Even for elections, look how much money they use for TV ads! Millions and millions! That money could do so much good.”
We continue lamenting the influence of money and Gargi Ji tells me, “When people win here, then they suddenly get big houses and buy property. There are some good people, but no one who makes sacrifices for their country…like Gandhi Ji. He insisted on the truth.” This leads us to marvel at the legacy of Gandhi Ji and wonder how leaders can be revolutionary in this day and age. I’m so grateful for this exchange of thoughts, experiences, and perspectives that inspire me to be revolutionary in small ways.
Curiosity drives me to crane over the newspaper, carefully scouring the Devanagari script and pronouncing unfamiliar words. These words hew the rough edges of windows that reflect my country, and they challenge me to overcome the boundaries of language in order to listen, laugh, and learn from my neighbors.