A kid by the name Mohomed Ahmed from Irvine Texas in the United States was handcuffed in his school when he brought a clock to his classroom, which he had put together as an experiment in science. It’s no secret that this young fellow who was handcuffed was treated this way because he was profiled on the basis of race. Racial profiling against Muslims in particular is rife, in the United States of America.
Not everybody who feels alienated in a new country can go right ahead and write a novel about why some of them cannot create science experiments with clocks, without being arrested. Writers of books or the authors of novels could also be arrested, but that happens rather rarely
Of course there was a major backlash, because social media took up the issue, and now the little kid has been invited by President Obama to the Oval Office and is being encouraged by Mark Zuckerberg the founder of Facebook, and Hillary Clinton, to be ‘curious’, and continue his science experiments.
This column is not about politics, but the story of this Muslim kid in the USA is a resonant reminder about how those who have migrated to the West from Asia or the Middle East, don’t always feel at home.
Jumpa Lahiri ,who was recently bestowed the National Humanities Medal by President Obama at the White House, has said that she never feels part of the United States or part of India, despite being born of Indian parents, and having grown up in the West.
However, she says she’s happy that her own kids don’t feel this way, and feel like New Yorkers and Brooklyners because they were born in Brooklyn New York.
It seems that Jumpa Lahiri’s children are comfortable being Americans. However, Muslim kids of Muslim fathers and mothers who grew up in America are not so happy, and then, even if they are happy, these days they’ll be made unhappy eventually it seems, because there’s so much racial profiling going on in the US at present.
Jumpa Lahiri sees that the alienation that she felt not belonging to any country, in particular, was addressed by her almost escapist resort to creative writing. She says things to that effect that she never in reality underwent the experiences that she wrote about. For instance, in the book Lowlands she writes about Naxalities being suppressed in Calcutta in the India that her parents were from. She had grown up in London, and she says that she became curious about the Naxalite movement in India because fellow Bengalis used to visit home when she was a kid of four years, and engage in passionate discussions about how the Naxalites were suppressed in India in the 1970s.
Lahiri is able to do this sort of incisive writing, and it appears that she had been listening to her parents very intently, because her narrative in Lowlands is a very authentic rendition of what happened during the Naxalite uprising. But there are Sri Lankans growing up in the West who do not necessarily have this kind of almost organic connection to the old country.
Though many Sri Lankans wrote about the war situation here, they also may be in reality have been attempting to get over that familiar alienation of not belonging to their new country, or the old country. But notwithstanding all of that, the fact remains that a lot of them either deliberatively or otherwise misrepresented what was happening in this country.
Not everybody who feels alienated in a new country can go right ahead and write a novel about why some of them cannot create science experiments with clocks, without being arrested. Writers of books or the authors of novels could also be arrested, but that happens rather rarely.
It is a reality that some of these people who feel alienated do not write about the ongoing politics in their adopted countries. Nobody seriously believes that the kid for instance who was handcuffed for a science experiment, would go ahead and write a novel about that experience.
There are many Sri Lankans who are now living in Canada or the United Kingdom who keep on writing about Sri Lanka and so called repression in the old country, but they do not put pen to paper to write about the kind of racial profiling that led to the handcuffing of this Muslim kid, Ahmed. So, it seems that this alienation that people undergo, propels Sri Lankans and other migrants to the West to write about something other than their own ‘here and now.’
Jumpa Lahiri wrote about Naxalites in Calcutta in the 1970s and focused her novel about the murder by the authorities of a young man, right before his own parents’ eyes. She says this was a real story that she heard from her father. This is the core plot of her novel the Lowlands, which was nominated for the Man Booker prize.
There’s nothing wrong with Jumpa Lahiri writing based on an anecdote or an incident that her parents used to talk about. However, it seems to be easier to take up all the causes from the old country, rather than what is happening in people’s new domiciles, and it seems the reality they face in their own lives, does not engage their imagination.
Perhaps some of these writers would have problems getting themselves published if they wrote about racial profiling in countries they have adopted as their own.
However, it is known that there are standup comedians for instance – Muslims in America – who attempt to address their anxieties and talk about their feelings of alienation.
African-Americans have addressed issues of their own harrowing experiences with racial profiling in many ways, such as by way of searching cinematic productions.
But it still seems easier for creative writers to look at the grass on the other side, and imagine that it is less green, when that doesn’t seem to be quite the correct picture.
Peculiar, wouldn’t you say?