Vantage point

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Love and let love

In the flight from San Diego to Minneapolis, I was seated next to a 70-plus couple. The overhead luggage compartments were full, and they helped me stow my stuff away under their seats. That's how we got talking, and then the conversation lasted for almost two hours, and was delightful.

I told them they worked for IBM and the husband(Paul) got very happy. He said he was a loyal IBM user because he knew that his Thinkpad was the best goddamned laptop in the market. He said some of his friends owned Dell and they repented going for Dell just looking at the prices. "You tell the folks making Thinkpads they're doing a fine job.", Paul said. But then he stopped and said "Of course, you fellas aren't gonna make Thinkpads anymore. Why is that?".

So I gave him the standard IBMer's answer for why we sold off the PC Division to a Chinese company.

Then the wife, Loraine, told me that they had visited India in the mid-nineties and they had a wonderful time. At one point of time the husband started complaining about some long queue for some customs formality, but Loraine shushhed him saying "That could happen anywhere."

Next Paul asked me a question that I always love to answer. He said - "When America was a very young country, India used to be very rich. How is it that India is so poor now, even though all the Indians we see are so brilliant and hard working?"

After that for about fifteen minutes, I gave him gyaan about what I thought were the reasons for India's poverty. To make him understand my points, I often gave him references to the American story. As i was speaking, it was also an educational experience for me, articulating in words the miracle of Indian poverty. I am going to write it down and post it on my blog in a couple of days.

Then Loraine told me something that I had read in Indian papers a lot. She said she thought Indians were the "best immigrants ever". Explaining further she said - "The Chinese, well, they just want to beat us economically. The Muslims, some of them are terrorist sleeper cells. The Mexicans and all, they refuse to learn English, and want us to start speaking Spanish. The Indians however are smart, speak english, and don't commit any crimes. You are the nicest people."

What she said was ridden with cliches, but since none of the bad cliches was directed at Indians, I accepted the compliments on behalf of the billion of us.

But the most striking part about meeting this couple was the affection they showed for each other. In India, we have this weird illogical hang up against PDA - Public Display of Affection. Everyone and his uncle becomes a moral police. Here I saw Paul and Loraine displaying their affection in such cute ways. They kept holding each others' hands, gave each other pecks on cheeks, and were very expressive about their love. It was amazing, not just because this affection was alive even after 53 years of marriage, but also because how freely and openly they were doing this. I can't imagine a 70-plus couple doing this in India. If there is one thing I hate about India, it is how we just get too sanctimonious about what others should and should not do.

Love and let love, I say.