Sunday, 14 July 2013

"I Have a Dream'


                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
When this paper carried a column last week titled ‘T is for tea party’ I had every reason to believe it was for the 4th of July. It wasn't.

It would be a good way, I thought, to commemorate how the American patriots divested 3 British ships of their cargo of tea and dumped the contents into the sea on a pearly night at Boston harbor on 16 December 1773. Three years later 13 American states declared their independence from the British on 4th of July 1776.

But except for the enthusiasm of my Allied students in the literature class who have opted for American Studies, there hardly seemed any fanfare over the event. Still, several YouTube videos perform ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ – the American national anthem -- and sites like www.history.com can take you where you want to be.

To be fair we are also following the fortunes of Edward Snowden. But history is about the past. Snowden is now. It is tempting to castigate the US for all the ills in the world; it is another thing to try to understand its past. Here is a people who shook off their colonial yoke and realized their yearning to be free. Through their writers and poets they articulated a new nation. ‘The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem,’ said Walt Whitman.

When we look at the 50 states that make up the US we are drawn to the individual and particular imperatives of people as human beings. We identify with the travails of a housewife in Connecticut, or sympathize with the victims of those targeted at the Boston marathon. When we speak of the US as a whole we usually imply US foreign policy – which could be very different from what the man or woman in Oklahoma thinks.

All over the world brave people are doing their bit to make a difference. When slide ruler Rachelle Van Zanten from British Columbia sings ‘Down to California’ in her sexy Texas drawl, the yearning for the land is felt by all. When she sings of the contaminated water in Alaska we remember our wells in the inner reaches of South Goa laid waste by mining. 

The American Civil War (1861-65) between the Northern and the Southern states established the fact that America – at least that part of it led by Abraham Lincoln – was willing to abolish slavery. Black poets like Langston Hughes contested the fact that civil rights were respected.  It took a Martin Luther King Jr. to rock America with his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in 1963. Both Lincoln and Luther King rose above themselves to strive for a better world.

In the recent ForbesLife India June edition Uday Benegal waxes eloquent on Woodstock 1969 in New York and how music – American music – provided the sound track for revolutions. Americans have always mobilized to keep USA as ‘the land of the free and home of the brave.’ Let’s hand it to them.
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Published in Gomantak Times Weekender on 14 July 2013. Pix of facsimile of Whitman's poem 'When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd' written on the death of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 from  http://edwardbyrne.blogspot.in/2009/02/abraham-lincoln-walt-whitman-and.html

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