While ordering some Chinese food, I heard this young man holler at he serving girl to hurry it up. He was being abusive and was intimidating the young girl,
I decided to turn around and take in the
scenario. He was a 20-something man
in black sweats and a cap pulled down
on his long unkempt hair. He was making it a bit difficult for the server and she
had gone in to call the manager.
I spoke with the young man, and
asked him to tone it down, he could not
care less and said, “I really do not give a
f@@@”. I decided to dispense with the
holiday spirit and retorted with few
choice words. He immediately quipped
back, “Why don’t you go back to your
own country, I am sure you came into
I have been in America for almost 25
years. I see myself as fairly well established and fully integrated into the
American way of life. I shop at Whole
Foods, discuss American sports and politics at the local country club and have
been involved in fund raisers for the
Republican candidates. In my mind’s
eye, I had morphed my appearance to be
that of an American. So this quip from
this young man was an interesting wake
I looked at him; I had no rancor
towards him. He was young, abrasive,
finding his way in life. But I could see
where he got his sound bite from. People
may think or say things about people
different from them, within their own
homes. But in the civilized and evolved
parts of the world, especially in the liberal parts of Princeton, New Jersey, one
is not accustomed to hearing such vitriolic and racist comments.
However, the climate and the pervading sense of xenophobia that has
been fomented during the Presidential
primary, has granted folks a license to
clearly air their resentment towards
the changing face of America. It has
become the par for the course. And
that set me thinking. One could forgive everyday folks, in different parts
of our country, to share their resentment or plead ignorance to the decorum of living up to America’s values. But it is absolutely
incumbent on the leaders to exercise restraint and promote America at its best.
It is important that our leaders use the platforms with
responsibility and accountability, because their nuanced
messages and “dog whistles” get amplified across the entire
spectrum of society, leading to far-reaching consequences.
Iwas born in a moderately secular Hindu educated middle-class family. My father is a doctor and was witness to the Hindu Muslim riots in Kolkata in
August of 1946. In spite of the inherent doctor’s piety, he
could not erase the memory of the mayhem from his psyche. However, I have the fondest memories of growing
up in Kolkata, Gujarat and Rajasthan with multi-faith
And here is the paradox — conservative Hindu parents
would have their children study in Christian Convent
schools run by nuns or Jesuit priests. And it was here that
our liberal and tolerant views began to germinate. We
played soccer with the Chinese twins Kato and Kai, shared
kebabs with precocious Syed from Kidderpore, celebrated
Christmas with the Lobos and would bring in grass to feed
the big goat that was being raised by the Faizal family for
Mornings and evenings would be intertwined with the
rendition of the namaaz, and yet we were well grounded in
our Hindu beliefs and rituals.
In Ajmer where I did part of my schooling, we had the
holiest of Muslim pilgrimage spots, the Ajmer Sharif
Dargah, very closely situated to the Holy Hindu pilgrimage
spot of Pushkar. Truth be told, as kids, we would sense an
uneasy truce between the Hindus and Muslims, but there
was never any overt or implicit rhetoric against different
religions. It may have been this multi religious exposure
that made us tolerant global citizens.
America has always been the beacon of hope, the
benchmark of tolerance and education. America fought
against an imperialistic Japan and Nazi Germany and
was able to provide safe passage to the persecuted Jews.
Under the philosophical leadership of William Penn
America received folks of various religious persuasions.
One of the great testaments to America’s open society is
that the CEOs of Google, Microsoft, Pepsi, Mastercard,
are from India and two second-generation
Indians have gone on to become
Governors of two Southern states.
This past Christmas, the birthday of
Christ, was also the birthday of Prophet
Mohammed. This has happened after 500
years. This could be viewed as a fortuitous
event, or we could have viewed this as a
divine intervention, especially with the
backdrop of the mayhem that is being
unleashed in Syria, Iraq, Yemen etc. But we
need to build on this blessed coincidence
and promote tolerance, accept folks with
different beliefs and cut through the jingoism,
malediction that is being promoted under the
guise of nationalism and patriotism.
This liberal humanism and secularism
are something new in the Western world,
but the Upanishads, Vedas and Buddhism
have been promoting tolerance and
acceptance of the alien for many years.
And this is the platform of tolerance, that
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
could internalize and show a new way: a
path that is polar opposite from the sentiments that are being espoused by Marine
Le Pen, the leader of the Ultra Right party
in France, or the sentiments that are being
promoted by some of the Presidential
hopefuls in America. Modi can promote
the culture and legacy espoused by
Gandhi, Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava, all
religions are equal.
Once the genie of dissent against different faiths and communities is uncorked, it
just cannot be put back in the bottle.
There is never any end to people trying to
promote their own sect, their own belief
and foisting it on others. Throughout history, we have seen atrocities meted out to
minorities. The Jewish tribe and their
belief in one God, has led them to be persecuted by the Babylonians, the Assyrians,
the Egyptians and then the Roman and
this went on till the 1930s and 40s in
Europe; the Zoroastrians had to fled
Persia; the Bahaai’s were ousted from
Iran; and today the Yazidis and Kurds
have been victims of ethnic cleansing.
There is a thriving Islamic religious
movement, called Ahmadiyya movement,
He promoted education, reform in traditions and wanted to propagate Islam through peaceful means and
established the superiority of the pen over the sword.
However, it is most unfortunate that this more evolved
and forward looking Islamic movement has been
deemed non Islamic in today’s Pakistan.
Modi is setting an example through his efforts to promote
Make in India, but he can leave a real, long-lasting legacy
behind, if he can promote the platform of tolerance and
build a strong bond with our neighbors, Pakistan. This
effort of his will go a long way towards assuage the nervous
sentiments that are pervading many in India. He can showcase India as the country where a true secular government
with tolerance for all, stands as a beacon of hope for the
world to see. n
Sumit Ganguli is the CEO of GAVS Technologies and is
a General Partner of a PE firm, Basil Partners. He has
been an Adjunct Professor at Rutgers University, teaching International Business and lives in the Princeton,
New Jersey, area.
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For Sumit Ganguli, who has been in America for
almost 25 years, this salvo from a young white
man was a wake up call. It drew his thoughts to
the idea of tolerance in his home country as well
as his adopted country.