By Aradhana Basu Das
The bell rang. Naina jumped up with joy stating, “Baba has come home. Maa, come fast it must be baba at the door.”
Megha rushed out of the kitchen, wiping her hands to open the door. It was indeed Manas. Megha could make out from the look on his face that he was very tired.
“Has it been an exhaustive day at work?” Megha enquired.
“Yeah…” Manas could barely speak out.
Naina rushed towards her father and embraced his legs with both her arms and started to rant out loudly, “Baba, baba… ”, to which Manas looked at Megha in an utter helplessness. Megha quickly came to his rescue and gently whisked Naina aside saying, “Nanu, you could talk to baba later. Give him some time and in the meanwhile, why don’t you complete your homework?”
And then giving Manas a quick hug she said “You freshen up quickly, I’m preparing some tea for you.”
After he had freshened up, Manas made himself comfortable on the couch. While reading the newspaper he waited for his cup of tea. Megha came in and took a seat beside him. While sipping the hot tea he spoke out, “I’ll have to go to the United States for a few days” and then turned his head to look at Megha for her reaction.
“When?”, Megha asked very coldly.
“On Thursday, next week”, Manas replied.
“Where in the US?”
“When are you coming back?”
“Yet to raise my travel request, at least a month”
After a bit of silence Megha smiled and looked at Manas, her gaze oozed with confidence. “Don’t worry for us, we’ll be fine. You just take care of things at your front.” She said in a reassuring tone.
Manas smiled back at her and holding her hand he said, “I know, you’ll manage well”. Manas knew very well that his wife was just trying to put up a brave face, in order to avoid putting undue stress on him.
Interestingly, unlike the previous generation overseas travel doesn’t make them feel over the moon. Far from excitement, Megha feels more constricted and stressed out. Due to different time zones and Naina’s routine, it becomes quite difficult for both father and daughter to talk more than fifteen minutes on weekdays. As a result Naina becomes quite cranky and unfortunately Megha has to manage things single-handed. In the middle of these conversations, Naina came running and jumped on her father and he in turn embraced her smiling.
“Nanu, have you finished your homework?” Megha asked her daughter.
“Yes Maa”, Naina replied.
Naina and Manas started discussing about the card making competition that was held at her school. Megha glanced at them and she saw her world… her family giggling and chirping happily around her and she thought to herself, “My small, cozy and blissful retreat in this big world.”
Unlike other mothers, she doesn’t feel left out in between a father and daughter. She instead feels an indescribable peace within, watching them together. Even though in order to claim sole proprietorship on her father Naina prefers to throw her mother out of the equation, but thanks to Manas, he never forgets to include Megha back in their merrymaking and also reminds Naina that her mother is part of the team.
After dinner, Manas switched on the TV to get some news updates. The news channels seemed to be flooded with updates on swearing in ceremony of 45th president of the United States, Mr Donald Trump. Manas switched from one news channel to the other in order to get better information. Different news channels discussed different aspects. For instance, if on one channel the panel discussed about the body language of the President and the First lady, then the other channel discussed about immigration issues and instability that would invariably get invited with the election results. The indian channels by and large engaged themselves in speculating the impact of the outcome of US presidential election on India.
Megha thought to herself, “Why, over the years Manas showed great interest in US presidential debates and now inauguration of Trump administration?”
“Why do you follow their elections so closely?” She asked aloud.
“Both India and the US are Democratic countries, besides they are the oldest functioning democracy, so I am just curious to know their way of dealing with things”, Manas explained.
But Megha on the other hand was trying to figure out the repercussions of the US presidential mandate in their life. If outsourcing policy of Republicans would affect their jobs or if hate crimes would increase in that region.
“Now that Trump is all set to become president, is that going to effect IT industry?” Megha inquired.
“Don’t know Megha, we have to wait and watch” Manas said.
“What about Debashish, Neha and Pradeep? Will they have to come back?” She enquired about her cousins who are already working there from a couple of years now.
“No, I don’t think so. They have work permits. The undocumented immigrants could face problems.” Manas replied.
His eyes were literally glued to the television set and he didn’t seem to be interested in talking at the moment. Therefore, Megha silently watched the news telecast. She wondered if such a radical thinking head of the state could add fuel to the otherwise latent right wing politics in that part of the world. While Mr Donald Trump was taking oath, Megha sat wondering to herself, “This man is representing a country which is known to assimilate people from varied cultures, from different continents and make them feel at home. Will he be able to keep the tradition, the essence of the country intact?”
Over the next one week they both were busy preparing for travel. Manas was busy preparing his ‘things to do and take’ lists, packing his bags, completing travel formalities at office. While she along with Naina had preparations at the emotional level. Manas was not traveling alone as one of his colleagues from Bangalore was to join him at New Delhi. And both of them would together take a flight to Chicago and thereafter a connecting flight to Olathe. This time, Megha was feeling a strange fear of uncertainty while seeing off Manas, something which she didn’t experience earlier. She repeatedly said, “Things are no longer the same there. Just stick to hotel to office and back to hotel schedule. No need to go anywhere”
Manas laughed and replied,“I’ll try to. But is that practically possible, Megha? You take care.”
“Keep me informed, have a safe journey!”, were the words that she said before bidding goodbye to her husband.
She could feel a lump in her throat. Her vision got blurry with tears as the cab drove out of the scene. She no longer had to put up a courageous face which was trying to portray from the past one week. While walking back home, she was trying to figure out when exactly they would be able to talk. After taking off from Delhi till the time Manas reaches his final destination there would be no communication what so ever.
For almost three weeks, both mother and daughter were going about their everyday life. One morning, after sending Naina to school, Megha sat with her morning tea in front of the television. While switching it on she thought to herself, “It is already 8:30 am and Manas didn’t call home yet. Anyways, just one more week to go and he should be back.” She chuckled quietly as she imagined Manas at the door with his luggage. While listening to the news, a breaking news suddenly caught her attention. She was horrified to read – Shootout at Kansas bar, an Indian techie killed. Her heart sank, a series of thoughts popped in her mind “Did I read it correctly? Maybe it’s Arkansas and not Kansas… Where in Kansas has this incident taken place?” She was trembling with fear, she fumbled here and there for the remote in order to change the channel. She was shell shocked to read the headline, “Racial attack at a bar at Olathe, Kansas. One dead and two injured.” She could feel her heart beating fast. She searched for her cell phone and tried to reach out to her husband. To her dismay, he didn’t answer the call. In desperation, she tried his number couple of times but in vain. Megha thought to herself, “Why is he not calling?”
Deep inside she knew, Manas being the kind of person that he is, in case he get to know about this incident he would immediately call or message home to inform that he is safe. She found it difficult to distance herself from negative thoughts. Her cluttered mind couldn’t give her directions. If she started searching for his colleague’s phone number from previously received messages in whatsapp, then the very next moment she started searching for more information on the net. She came back near the television set and was trying to figure out what she wanted to do next. That’s when the phone started ringing. It was Manas on the other side. Megha picked up the call without delay, squeaking out loud “Manas! Are you okay Manas?”
“Yeah, is Naina fine? Are you both okay? I saw so many missed calls, what’s the matter?”, Manas asked in a confused tone.
“No, we are fine but…” saying which Megha broke down. She was overpowered by a peculiar combination of emotions like love and longing for her husband; relief on finding him safe; fear of separation and disbelief for what happened just now, which made her to cry incessantly on hearing his voice.
“Megha, now you are making me scared. Why are you crying if everything is okay?” He questioned with a streak of impatience. In between sobs she asked, “Where were you Manas? I tried your number several times. I had really got scared for you… for all of us”
“I was in the washroom, so couldn’t hear the phone ringing. But tell me, what’s the matter?” perplexed, Manas replied.
“Do you know about a shoot out at a bar in Olathe?”, she asked.
“No…”, he replied. He sounded surprised.
Megha continued, “A racially motivated attack at a bar took place some time ago. A white American has mistaken two Indian techie for Arabs… and attacked them with a gun”. While she was speaking she could hear some sound at the other side of phone. Manas had switched on the television at his end.
Manas murmured, “Two injured and one…” There was silence at his end.
“Manas, the people from subcontinent look different from Arabs or middle easterners, why can’t the Americans differentiate an Arab from an Indian?” Megha enquired.
“But is it fair to be prejudiced against them in the first place? Not all Arabs are terrorists after all” Manas said and then continued, “Megha, one must understand this… innocent people irrespective of where they come from should not be targeted.”
“Manas, do you think all the senseless talks by Trump during his election campaign triggered some sort of white supremacy sentiment and as a result such acts of bigotry are taking place?” Megha asked.
“Could be possible. The fact is it takes ages to install positivity among people, to keep them glued together. But negativity and distrust are like wild fire, they spread in no time” Manas replied.
“ … and why are guns easily available there? Can’t the US bring amendment in their laws in order to check untoward incidents such as this?” She angrily added.
Manas interrupted, “This bar is around seven kilometers from where I am put up.”
Megha became speechless. The sheer thought of the proximity of the crime scene to the hotel sent a chill down her spine.
“Megha… are you there?”, He asked her after getting no reaction from her side.
“Hmm… tell me”, she said while still thinking deep.
“Every cloud has a silver lining”, Manas said sensing his wife in a disturbed state of mind.
“So, how do you install hope in a family which has lost the very purpose of living?”, Megha questioned.
“Megha, don’t underestimate the indomitable human spirit. They should be able to gather strength to cope with this unbearable pain and gradually find a purpose in life. Racial attacks of any kind should definitely be condemned but let’s not forget to uphold another American, who risked his life in order to help stop this incident”, Manas said.
“Yes, you are right. What is the time at your end?”, Megha enquired.
“It is almost 11 pm”, he said.
“You should have your dinner, we could talk later”, she said. And she continued, “You should be very careful”
“Yeah, I will. Bye.” he hung up the phone saying this.
Megha kept the phone on the coffee table. She went to the kitchen to fetch some water as she was thirsty. After she had quenched her thirst, she went and opened the window in her bedroom. The soft breeze touched her sweat drenched body soothing her senses that made her to close her eyes. She was getting flashbacks of happy moments that they have spent together. But her unstable mind took her to those dreadful moments, which made her to open her eyes. She thought to herself, “This was so close. Just a chance, who is present at the scene in that unfortunate moment. With guns rampantly available in the US and not so strong family bonds to anchor young minds, everyone is at risk.” she thought to herself.
Later in the day in between her work, she tried to gather more information related to this attack. That night, while Naina was fast asleep, Megha’s eyes were wide open. The images of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, the victim of Kansas shootout; his wife Sunayana and his friend, was floating in front of her eyes. She was thinking deeply about the life that these innocent souls have spend together or rather the life that they could have spend together. And how their togetherness has been cut short by a shameful and senseless act of an ignorant person. Megha had a lot of unanswered questions, which were troubling her.
She thought to herself, “Is color of a skin responsible for these mindless acts? Is race so big that nothing beyond that could be seen? If a man of European origin would have been sitting at that bar instead of an Asian, would this incident have taken place at all?”
These thoughts made Megha restless. She could no longer hold herself in the bed so she came in the living room and sat on the sofa. Her thoughts drifted back to the time when she first came across this phrase ‘The land of free and home of brave’. Many years ago when Megha was a kid, one of her cousins Pritha, a second generation American citizen, had sent a letter from the United States after vacationing in India for about one and half months. In that letter she had mentioned, “Glad to be back to the land of free and home of brave.” Being born and brought up there, she unquestionably owed her loyalty to the US. Megha thought to herself, “Would Pritha think the same way even now? What if someone questions her sense of belonging?” For the first time in her life Megha looked really concerned for the safety of her relatives settled there. As if something from within urged her to reach out to them. As if her blood was thrusting its way into an invisible stream, flowing to merge in the vast ocean of belonging that kinship provides even though she was not in touch with them of late. For a while, she looked for their profiles on different social media sites. Her uncles and aunts, mostly academicians, were the first generation settlers who were successfully lured by the United States from their place of origin by offering lucrative offers while they were still studying. The second and the third generation settlers, apart from the profession which the family traditionally opted for, diversified into varied fields. Megha came across a few videos of her niece Neera, an upcoming ballet dancer. Also couple of videos uploaded by her cousin Piyali, who happens to be a pianist. Megha took pride in watching Piyali playing piano alongside her French husband. Even though the husband and wife duo have performed and achieved prestigious awards the world over, but India can’t claim Piyali as her own. She thought to herself, “Is Piyali not bringing laurels to her country, the United States? What if one fine day she’s told by an insane person – ‘Go back to your country’? Piyali might think, ‘But this is my country!’ Ironically, being born and brought up as an American, except for her name and looks there is nothing Indian about her. Why then some whites are under an impression that they are more American than other races? When the fact is no one except for the ethnic red Indians have their roots in the American soil.” She wondered.
Due to various reasons, people from different parts of the world had hit the American shores. They not just built their lives there but also contributed their bit in building a great nation. Some of these dreamers have become American citizens and some are aspiring Americans. Why should they be attacked she failed to understand.
Suddenly, she thought about the time. She got a jolt after looking at the clock. She told herself, “It is 2:30 in the morning, I should get some sleep”
Quietly, she went into her room and sneaked into the bed. Her eyes obeyed her immediately and closed it’s doors, but her disobedient mind wandered in the wilderness taking her to an array of thoughts. Childhood memories of an image of the colossal statue of liberty and the last lines of the famous sonnet by Emma Lazarus came to her mind.
“Give me your tired, your poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Though this poem was written for a different reason and the statue of liberty had a different significance, but gradually they were perceived as a symbol of the American dream thousands of immigrants, irrespective of their races came hoping for.
Megha thought to herself, “Have the American leadership become off-track and forgotten the very ethos upon which the nation was built? Can’t we stop fragmenting this world on the basis of color? Why does a section of people assume that outsiders are taking away their jobs? When the fact is everyone is entitled to get equal opportunities there, it is upon an individual how he/she chooses to utilize it!”
Slowly Megha drifted into deep sleep. But these questions still remain unanswered. Someone needs to address these issues before the American dream turns into a nightmare.