Memorial Day Thoughts

🇺🇸I had only been in the US one year when I went back to India for a short trip. On my way back to the US I was wearing my blue Michigan hoodie with the big golden M on the front. In my mind I was still feeling more Indian, reflecting on the trip as I dozed off on the long flight. When the flight landed and I got up, this man a few rows from me had his face lit up and he smiled brightly as he made eye contact and yelled “Go Blue”!

I was taken aback. A little confused initially. And then it all came back that I am in the US now and I go to school at the University of Michigan. And this person felt kinship with a complete stranger based just on either the sport team or the alma mater.

You see in India that would have not happened like this. People are way more likely to feel kinship based on religion or where you are from than where you study. Which is why when I meet an Indian I’m more likely to feel a lack of connection because of the baggage that creeps into how people relate. Maybe it’s different for people who don’t grow up as minorities in India. But in the US as a brown Muslim person I have felt more accepted by every day people than I ever felt in India.

Capitalism sucks and has its vices. But in the absence of that we usually end up with some form of tribalism; which sucks even more.

I am very proud to call the US my home. A lot of Americans, especially on the left, tend to focus so much on the negative aspects of the US that they genuinely start believing that it’s worse than other countries. It’s good to be self-critical else we can become complacent and stop making progress. But the US is also (likely) the most transparent country in the World (by my subjective standards). And the effect of it is captured in “familiarity breeds contempt”. What has happened now is there’s a false perception, relatively speaking, that the US is evil. I challenge people to find me one country that isn’t “evil”. And if you can name it, be prepared as I will embarrass you for your ignorance.

The US has a lot to offer the world. And I am in the camp that it has been a net positive for the world. Yes, I’m absolutely not blind to all the bad that it has also caused or participated in. But high impact turns up the volume on everything – good and bad. The US experiment can definitely improve; just like anything else that can always be improved.

The recent war has been a good reminder of how 1) avoiding conflict but 2) being ready to fight when needed are both equally important to protect everything we value. I thank everyone who is willing to give up their lives so that others can have theirs. There is no right or wrong in the absolute sense when it comes to any conflict; just that most of us would prefer not to have to fight.

But the Bhagvad Gita – one of the most revered religious text in India – is literally premised on war to help us make sense of it. Its central character is a warrior who finds himself on the battle field facing the enemy army that is commanded by his own uncles and cousins. He feels an existential crisis – how can I fight my own brothers, uncles and teachers? He says he’d rather give up his arms and get killed. His charioteer is Krishna, an incarnation of God. That’s when he starts to speak to him. He promises him that he will show him the true nature of reality to help him in that situation. That’s the Bhagvad Gita. Their conversation on the battle field.

I won’t summarize the result of the conversation. Because that’s the point. Knowing the duty and performing it comes from a deeper and higher sense of Self / lack of Self than mere reasoning.

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