Life is more than big houses, luxury cars and individual liberties. All these things have their place in life, but our being on this planet is for humanity. Life without love, compassion and humanity is not worth living even if one had all the riches that the so-called modern countries can offer.
I can add a list of other countries and places where I could never stay for an extended period of time. I cannot live in Bombay and Delhi for more than a month. I would be sick – literally and metaphorically. I am not attached to Hyderabad where I lived for the most part of my life. For all the years that I spent in this part of the world, I don’t remember feeling at home for a day in Hyderabad.
Feeling at home is a temperamental thing. A person can feel at home anywhere on earth without being able to fully explain the feeling. I have had students from the north and south of India apart from foreigners who like Hyderabad and keep telling me that it is one city that they would want to return. I assume that most of the time it is the kind of social and human relations that one builds that play a role in why we wish to call some places home. Or perhaps sheer habit as it is with me. One gets used to familiar ways of being and doing things and then the inertia sets in which makes movement unlikely.
Even if it sounds trite, I can confidently say that I could effortlessly live anywhere on this planet. Culture and political economy play a role in how people see the world; but, I refuse to accept that human nature is fundamentally different. There are bitter people everywhere just as there are people who respond to sweetness everywhere. To a great extent, it is up to you as a person how you relate to the world around. If you approach people with suspicion, I see no reason why they should not respond likewise.
Having said that, I know I could never live in the United States. It has the rare distinction of being one of the most boring countries on earth. It is one country where shopping is not a pastime but a way of life. The only social life available for the majority of people in the United States is shopping. You are always buying something or the other. If you have no buying to do you have no other way to use your time. This is pathetic to say the least. For someone like me whose idea of life is streets, I cannot imagine living in places where there are no people hanging around the streets doing nothing. This might be true of any western country and to be honest I could live nowhere on earth where there is no street life.
President Trump can say what he likes about immigrants and where they come from; but, day-to-day life in their countries is far more vibrant and lively when compared to the open air prison that we call the United States. People need a little more than a pretty landscape and a picture-perfect neighbourhood. People need the company of other people; that is why we are here on this planet, that we may be loved and missed by our family and friends; not just for owning a car, a furnished apartment and a neatly trimmed lawn though they have their own place as objects. I love my freedom but it does not mean I want to be alone. I share my freedom with others around me because that is the only way it could ever be meaningful in real terms.
This is what I find difficult to accept whenever President Trump makes his anti-immigrant statements and speaks disrespectfully of poorer countries. I also find it intolerable when the United States immigration keeps adding a new list of requirements to be fulfilled for the visa by citizens from developing nations. They are hysterically collecting irrelevant data from visa applicants while the truth is that more people are getting killed thanks to access that lonely, alienated school kids have to guns in the United States than any other factor.
I was torn with pity for the 17 year old who shot and killed ten people in Santa Fe, Texas. The very fact that the kid spared the people he liked shows that he wasn’t a cold-blooded killer. If the boy had been surrounded by a few more friends and adults who would be willing to spend time and listen to him, I am certain he would never do such a terrible thing.
It is not that these things would not happen in a third world country. As a boy if I had half the opportunity to do away with my teachers and administrators at school, with a little bit of guts I probably would: they were nothing but a bunch of Nazis without the uniform. But, thanks to support from my parents and friends, I would not do anything remotely close; this is what I mean when I say having people around you. In the US you simply don’t have people around you. It is an isolated world and the young are left to their own devices. Their violence, that is in fact unbearable grief, is a way of reminding the social order that they are alive and not yet dead.
I really don’t think that the issue is primarily either with the gun lobby or Trump and the Republicans as much as I dislike them. If there is so much loneliness and pain we need to address that with compassion. If you are a happy kid, having a gun in hand will not make a difference. If you are in pain, that is when the gun becomes a game changer. The issue is not the gun but the emotional state of the person using it. Violence is a social and a moral problem before it is a political problem. Just being the wealthiest country on earth where you can get everything on Amazon and Ebay does not put an end to emotional and spiritual longings. In the end it is those longings that make us human.
If the US is one country I could never live in, it is because I cannot bear the thought of being unhappy inside for the mere comfort of being part of a system where everything works on time. It is the cancerous loneliness of the United States that scares me. I am willing to forgo the petty comforts of a system that works well in exchange for a life where people matter. Maybe it is a perfect system compared to how things work in any third world country: but, it is hard for me to admire a system that has no place for human weakness.
My soul would be much more content in Mexico and Ethiopia rather than in US or Germany. I have a sense of belonging on the streets of Addis Ababa and Mexico City which I would never have in Washington DC or Berlin. I could never bear the Kafkaesque coldness of the so-called well-organised countries. Any day I prefer the all-too-human disorder of the third world to the mechanical, clock-like order of the US and other first world countries. By the same argument as much as I love Japanese writers and filmmakers I could never live in Japan either. But as an Asian I am much more myself in Japan than in Denmark or Holland.
Most people who go to the US especially from the third world do so only for the work-related opportunities. If their own countries were in a slightly better condition I feel there would be at best people traveling to the US out of curiosity. Most postcolonial countries are yet to overcome the devastating impact of colonialism on their economic and social institutions. Thanks to the visa applicants, American consulates world over make billions of dollars. This is money that is literally for no labour of theirs. The number of people who actually get the visa pales in comparison to the number of applicants.
America is one country where you can be a completely average person and make it to the level of top leadership. It is a country that has taken the notion of democracy literally; every American is made to believe that they have what it takes to be the president or the chief operating officer of a company. This is the reason why my sympathies are with suburban white kids: they have been indoctrinated by the system to believe that the world could be theirs. This “save the world” syndrome, which is peculiarly a feature of American popular culture (you can see “dumb” charade versions of the same in Bollywood) is the high point of mediocrity. It is one country that in the name of democracy has put an end to the notion of genius. America is not going to produce a genius for a long, long time. The last great minds were born before the Second World War, not after.
It is not Trump’s offensive comments on third world people that bother me much because he is entitled to say stupid things. What bothers me is the fact that there are people who voted this man to be the president of the US. If their thoughts are anywhere close to how Trump looks at the world that is indeed worrisome. I am not a supporter of the anti-American lobby, which is fashionable in countries like Iran. On the contrary, I admire the American sense of well-being, which is both about being free and about making the right kinds of choices as far as one’s own self is concerned. It is an important lesson that we need to learn from ordinary Americans.
The people who elected Trump, I want them to know that we don’t want the American army and weapons in the third world. We don’t want their airplanes and drones murdering innocent people while supposedly trying to make the world “safe” for Americans. How about making the world safe for the Afghans, Syrians, Yemenis, Palestinians, Iraqis, Iranians and the North Koreans! We don’t want American companies that are looting the third world poor. We don’t want the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank giving loans to governments, money that never reaches the masses; while it is the masses who have to pay back those cruel, horrendous debts. We don’t want poisonous lifestyles imported from the west that are imposed on the masses through elites in the third world who are running dogs of imperialism.
For all the talk of freedom nobody in the US ever gets to criticise Israel or American foreign policy in the third world on any public platform. One other reason why I could never live in the US is the disastrous state of the race relations where the blacks and whites are caught in a sickening entanglement and no sincere effort is made on either side to come out of it. Immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America refuse to be bothered with the race problems in the US; the former are caught in more mundane concerns related to the future of their families. Unfortunately, it is very hard for me to be indifferent where I think bridges could easily be built between blacks and whites.
I remember a friend telling me: “you can live in the US but you cannot die there.” I don’t think I could live in the US and I certainly would not like to die there either. Like I said at the beginning of the article, I love people. At the point when I am old and helpless, I still would like to have the company of people that matter. Autonomy is meaningless where there is no love and friendship. I acquired this tremendous piece of wisdom watching the movies of the Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman.
Despite the fact that we need to develop and grow in every sense of the term, my experience of life has taught me that wherever there are poor people, there is some space for human consideration. The poor are people like any other people; I will not romanticise them. Though, both in principle and in practice, I believe in working towards a world without poverty, it is where there are poor people that I experienced moments of intense humanity. If there is one good reason why I would like to live in a third world country and not in the US or any other first world country, it is because I cannot imagine what it means for me to be myself without that sense of humanity.
* Prakash Kona is Professor at the Department of English Literature, School of English Literary Studies, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India.