If you are a fan of A. R. Rahman, or of fusion music, check out this video:
It made me cry.
The song is from the movie “Swades” and it captures an Indian living in America yearning for his home land (video of the song in the movie with subtitles is here).
I have had this feeling most of my life.
But unlike in the movie, my yearning hasn’t been for India. I left there when I was 11, just long enough to have the feeling for India in my bones and somehow not long enough (at least for me) to create an unshakable bond.
Since I moved to America, I have felt like a mutant. Half my body made with the soil of India, and the other half with the soil of America. That I am in my essence a trans-national and trans-racial being. That my being cannot be contained within national boundaries. That I am a being in search of that fusion soil which is my home.
Where the hero in the movie looks from America to India, I look from the present to the future.
To a time when my kind of fusion being feels grounded in a social fabric which self-consciously and openly nurtures it.
Is that future coming in a decade or a century? Or is that future what is called heaven or nirvana – which flowers not in physical or cultural terms primarily, but in terms of consciousness and spirituality?
Surely it is more the latter.
But still, the physical and the cultural are not nothing either. They can be powerful to lifting up consciousness.
That’s what I felt seeing the video of A. R. Rahman Meets Berklee College of Music.
Is everyone on that stage yearning for India? Maybe some. But not all. Many are Indian-Americans, who might be as in between worlds as I feel. Some aren’t even of Indian background. But they all share a common yearning, for a new mode of being, speaking to a hunger for going home.
Home – wherever that is for you. In whatever dimension or mode of consciousness.
It speaks to a growing global awareness – a new mode of cultural being. Where we can see that being fusion selves is not a new phenomenon, but has been the reality for thousands of years. Since the dawn of the first large societies, which were complex enough to have people of diverse backgrounds sharing a common life.
Does this mean I am against nations? Or that I am not committed to America? Not at all.
I am a resident of Maryland and also a citizen of America. My commitment to my city and to my state doesn’t take away from my commitment to my nation. Likewise, I am related to my family and friends in ways I am not to my neighbors.
That I have deep bonds with people outside America doesn’t take away from my bonds with fellow Americans.
Perhaps there is a guy born in America who moved to India when he was 11, and is now an Indian citizen, and who has the yearning for a global soil where the multiple sides of him can live together. I share something deep with that person.
But if I am trying to work on my country, I work with my fellow Americans. That only we can do together. I can do many things with my counterpart fusion guy in India . But I can’t vote for public officials with him, nor work as fellow citizens. Just as no matter how close I am to my neighbor, I need to first build my home with my spouse and my family.
Me and my fusion counterpart in India can share notes. Share life trajectories. Share ideals, hopes, dreams, frustrations. Share new cultures and modes of life. Share the dawning of a global spiritual awakening.
Even as we also wish each other luck in our engagements with our countries. I can be a fusion person and an American. Be a fusion person and be more – politically and institutionally – American and Indian. In fact, that is how I am. There is a lot of India in me. But also a lot of India that is not in me, that I lost or that never developed after I moved here.
There are many different dimensions to human life. To any individual life. Cultural. Familial. National. Intellectual. Spiritual. And many others.
The longing for home can sometimes feel as if all these dimensions have to line up into one uber longing – the longing which underlies and unifies everything. As if really the cultural, national and spiritual longings are all the same. As if being Western, Christian and American overlap into one longing. Or Eastern, Hindu and Indian. And so on.
I can feel the pull of this temptation. It has a certain centrifugal force which can take root from deep within one’s soul.
But it tramples over the intrinsic diversity within one’s own life. There are – and can be – many different kinds of pains, longings and joys. There is no need for them all to line up. When I listen to A. R. Rahman’s music, or read Tolstoy, or watch the Super Bowl, or hang out with my family, or am engaged at work – there is no one longing which all these have to meet. There are many forms of longing, joy, curiosity, puzzlement, sadness and reflection.
Being with that diversity within oneself and in the world is itself a way of finding one’s way home.
I love America. I admire America. As Bonasera says at the beginning of The Godfather, “I believe in America”.
Biographically, there is an obvious explanation. My father had a heart attack in India a few months before we moved here. A month after we immigrated, he had bypass surgery. To our great surprise and relief, New York State picked up the tab. I assume it was some version of Medicaid, and it was a heck of a welcome by the country. My father lived for another thirty years, twenty of them working in the Social Services department in Westchester County in the suburbs of New York City. Without America, I might not have had a father past my early teens.
But there is more to it than biography. When in college I read Enlightenment philosophers like Locke, Rousseau and Kant, my admiration of America increased. The American Constitution of 1789 was a bold experiment in liberal democracy, a living example of Enlightenment values. The more it sank in that America was the first modern nation to try this experiment, the more I was grateful to be here. The American dream for me wasn’t mainly economical. It was intellectual and cultural: to contribute to the experiment started by the Founding Fathers.
However, there is a major difference between the America of the Founding Fathers and the America I immigrated to in 1988 at age 11. Since its beginning, America was ethnically diverse, with Europeans, Africans, Native Americans, and later in the 19th century, Hispanics, Asians, and many others. But the governance and cultural self-representation of the country did not reflect this diversity. The liberal democracy experiment was limited to whites.
Naturally racism played a big part in this. But it’s worth noting how fantastical democracy seemed to even many whites at the time. Most Europeans then thought the colonists were crazy to try a government without a king. Many of the farmers who fought in the revolution might have been fine if George Washington became their king. But Washington wasn’t fine with it and that is his greatness. So democracy being limited to whites was like the training wheels used to achieve the balance of a representative government.
American history for the next two hundred years was the struggle to take the training wheels off. This culminated in the 1960s when, with the end of segregation, America became an explicitly multicultural liberal democracy.
This was the America I immigrated to. With the naiveté of a child I had first imagined that America was a completed project, one which I could simply benefit from. But far from being complete, America is continually evolving. The Founding Fathers did the hard work of establishing a democracy. Lincoln’s generation maintained that democracy. Martin Luther King’s generation transitioned America into a multicultural democracy. The current generation, like Lincoln’s, faces the task of maintaining and unifying the democracy we inherited.