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While we were gearing up for the weekend, I noticed that Monday, January 18, is Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth anniversary. This coupled with the overcast sky and cool winter day all conspired to make me sit back and reminisce about the events of the past few months.
Working from home, I have become accustomed to keeping my TV on mute, alternating between CNN and Fox News while I go through my emails, video conferences and other work routines. And that is when I saw the traumatic video of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and the massive demonstrations that ensued across the US and in other parts of the world. The Black Lives Matter movement rightfully gained immense momentum and soon #BlackLivesMatter became one of the most trending of all hashtags.
An avid tennis fan, I got to watch the US Open on TV this year, being played without any spectators. But I was most inspired by the young Japanese tennis player, Naomi Osaka who went on to win the US Open and decided to draw attention to the #BLM by wearing the names of seven black victims who were being memorialized by the BLM movement. She succeeded in persuading me to read more about the movement and many of the victims.
Cut to the present, we now have our first Black Vice President elect Kamala Harris who is of Jamaican and Indian heritage. Just the other day, my 90-year-old mother who is in Bangalore and is quite a political junkie, challenged me to name the Indian lady who was announced to be a member of Mr. Joe Biden’s economic committee. Convinced that my Mother was mistaken, I told her that Janet Yellen was not Indian. But she insisted and then I recalled that Ms. Neera Tanden has been nominated to head the Office of Management and Budget.
The Indian diaspora has been deservedly proud of the achievements of the Indian leaders in America – Satya Nadella, Microsoft; Arvind Krishna, IBM; Ajay Banga, Mastercard; Nandita Bakshi, Bank of the West & Federal Reserve Bank; Sanat Chattopadhyay, Merck; Niren Chaudhury, Panera Bread – and with Reverend Martin Luther King’s birth anniversary round the corner, I think it is opportune for us to celebrate the avantgarde Free thinkers, Disruptors, and Iconoclasts, who made this possible for some of this happen.
“In the morning, I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat Geeta, since whose composition years of the Gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial…The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges” (Thoreau, Walden).
In 1854’s Boston, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, derived a lot of their concept of Transcendentalism, Non-Violence, and Civil Disobedience from the concepts of Ahimsa and Dharma from the ancient Indian scriptures, the Upanishads and the Gita. They read this at the Harvard Library and wrote extensively about it.
In 1893, a man got thrown out of a train in South Africa, which led him to take on the mighty British and launch his Satyagraha movement to fight for India’s independence. His movement in turn was highly influenced by Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. That man, of course is known around the world as Mahatma Gandhi.
From 1954 to 1968, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists launched the Civil Rights Movement in America. He drew inspiration from Gandhi’s philosophy who has been immortalized as the Father of the Nation in India. This is truly a circle of ideas that traversed oceans and continents.
Today, we are all beneficiaries of largesse of the thoughts and visions of these great luminaries. On MLK’s birthday, Monday, January 18, I believe we will be well served to pay our ode to the Reverend and his fellow free thinkers John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and many others for their audacious vision, temerity, and currency of ideas and ideals – for these disruptors, iconoclasts made it possible for us to live the life of our dreams in America, a country that we have come to love and cherish.