Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Confident, Unsure, and Caught In-Between

In the late 80s I ran into this brother from India who decided to study at a university in Indiana. I was working on finishing my master's degree in political science and he was beginning one in computer science.

His name was Rajeev and he had an uncanny ability to describe indecision and being caught in-between knowing and not knowing.

We got to talking one day after I offered him a ride to the main campus from the graduate student housing where we lived. I asked him why he decided to study at a school in Indiana.

He glanced up briefly and sighed, then he looked at me and said, "Because Indiana sounds a lot like India."

So that was that. I later found out that his Graduate Record Scores(GRE) were near perfect and that his grades from India could have gained him entry to any of the best Ivy League schools on the east coast.

But he decided on Indiana. "It does not matter where you are when you can get to nowhere from anywhere", he would say.

Rajeev soon found out that nowhere in middle America is somewhere 'non-whites' from anywhere should avoid.

One evening he walked into my apartment and sat down at the table that stood in the middle of my lounge area. He started talking about this and that and then he said, "I have to make a decision".

I asked what was up. He then started to tell me that he was walking back from campus when a car full of white men shouted hurtful obscenities at him.

"I did not take much of it to heart, but I am quite confused because those men told me to go back to my f*cking country and they called me a black bastard and a nigger."

"I have a mother you know", he said. "I have a mother and a father and a sister and you and this is just my skin", he added with heartfelt emotion.

I looked at Rajeev for what must have been too long while I fumbled through my words to console my brother. There were tears in his eyes. One eye seemed to cry for the indignity he suffered, and the other for the dignity he left behind in India.

Instead of muttering meaningless words about stupid white men and racism I asked him about the decision he mentioned.

"I need to decide if I can live here in the US until I finish my degree or leave and rejoin my life in India ... I know I must go ... I am confident and unsure of this."

His words reached into me and brought out a deep appreciation for being caught in-between.

I am at one of those moments, again.

When I close my eyes I can see Rajeev across from me with his thick brow and gentle yet forcefull presence.

I lost Rajeev over the years as our lives moved beyond Indiana. My father tells me that the phone rang here at number 11 in the mid-90s and it was Rajeev calling from New York (perhaps even from New Delhi, I just don't know).

He said he was calling to find out if I had finally made it home or whether I was still thinking about returning.

"I'll call again", he told my father. But he never did say when.

I wish our paths will cross again. Somewhere. Anywhere. Nowhere, or in-between.

I want to tell him that I have worked on measuring the space in-between being confident and unsure over the years since Indiana.

I am confident now, as I was then, that the space is real.

But, I am also even more unsure whether it means anything in the unstable balance that is life.

Onward!

9 comments:

Erica said...

Life is unsure Ridi. No reasoning or bargaining. I don't think we were meant to understand.

Ridwan said...

Thank you for your comment Erica. Yeah I have given up on the
"reasoning" part for sure.

Be well there in the Carolinas.

Peace and struggle,
Ridwan

Dade said...

Ridwan, my friend, I think this may very well be my favorite post of all that I have read on your excellent blog. It touched my heart.

Rajeev's experience was heart-rending. Believe it or not, my family, third-generation Americans, have been subjected to similar slurs. One can only shake one's head. There is no answer.

Also, I can relate to your longing to reestablish a connection with your friend. The human river just flows along, and you hope that the current carries you into contact with those people that you love and admire.

Take care, my friend.

Ridwan said...

Thank you very kindly brother Dade. I value your opinion very highly and I am happy to know you connected with this post.

I have thought about Rajeev over the years. I wonder what his life may have brought as the "human river ... flows" (like you say here and on your blog).

At the very least I hope that he remained engaged and hopeful about life and its challenges.

I believe you when you say that three generations later you and yours face slurs in America.

It is sad brother but we can't be stuck on bigots too long.

There are too many things to do as we struggle for meaning and justice.

Thanks again my friend. You made my day!!

Peace,
Ridwan

Chelsea said...

Hey Ridwan, it's been too long! Just looking in after an age and couldn't tear myself from this post--I sometimes wonder if people choose certain things (paths and perspectives) just to avoid being in-between. But it seems sometimes that "stuck" can happen just as much, if not more, when you're on one end or the other. I hope you are well, wherever you are!
Peace,
Chelsea

Ridwan said...

Hey there Chelsea it i great to hear from you. I was just thinking yesterday that we have not chatted in a long while.

I trust you are well up there in the northeast.

You are right that some folk can get by on the notion that they are 'moving' because they choose to do so.

Life to me is bigger than the agency of the individual(s), and moving often means standing still.

I think that is what Rajeev captured in the big scheme of things.

Be well and holla when you can.

Peace to you too,
Ridwan

Chelsea said...

There is so much in that story, and what you just said. I don't think I could really comment any further, except to sit with it quietly. Thanks!

profacero said...

Great post. Gorgeous writing.

(Side note 1: Hi Rajeev, I hope you Google Ridwan and find this blog! Hi India! Bye U.S. which is marching to Armageddon, anyway!)

(Side note 2: The U.S. is uncivilized and that is why if you are there, you have to hide out in its civilized pockets. Indiana is not one of these.)

Ridwan said...

Thank you ever so kindly Profacero. Your words are greatly appreciated :)

I hope Rajeev will Google and I do so hope he is living well and in India.

These are such sad times. All that planning and dreams ... poof.

I am not even going to look at what my 401(k) plan looks like.

So much for the compound interest of capital life.

Do you think Marx is smiling now?

Peace to you,
Ridwan