My New York tour this weekend was a well deserved one. The complexities and contradictions that map the country are so defined in this city of countercultures that it’s amazing to notice them visibly, despite the manufactured calmness.
The hungry and homeless in Manhattan scrounging for leftovers in trash, the piles of human defecation and unattended garbage in New York Central Park, and the street beggars singing different tunes have always characterized the city of the Trumps and Rockefellers.
Ground Zero, my cab driver laughed at us when we could not figure what to say about the venue my friend Biren Mohanty from Orissa wanted to check out. Obviously the driver was either a Muslim or a victim of post 9/11 racial outbursts. Or both. He did not even talk to us properly after we showed how much interested we were in visiting the site. “Do we have any other noteworthy place close by?” Silence.
The other cab driver, from Punjab, India, clearly took us to one Indian restaurant over another. “That’s great food, but too much money,” he pointed out to Jewel of India, “I will take you to Curry”. Off we went to the working class restaurant. The rich Indians and the Whites go to Jewel.
Apart from religion and class, the race equations were interesting as well. The cheapest bus tours are conducted by Chinese between DC and NY. And unfortunately this time, the bus had a mechanical problem for a couple of minutes. Three co-passengers who were African Americans burst out with all racial slurs they could in those 10 minutes of silent midnight to crack jokes. One passenger while excusing himself out was shouting “excuse me in English and every other language I don’t know so that you know.. hehe”. I was wondering if all of them were conscious of Ghettopoly vs Tsunami or it was just commonplace.
The crash moments of new york bare themselves everytime we have headed there. Yet that’s the best city of the country. The multiculturalism has not been normalized. The city sees the differences, understands the differences, even celebrates them, albeit some lacunae here and there. When in a Chinese restaurant I asked what curry was best for the dinner, the man answered, “Spicy Chicken Curry in Indian style”. That’s New York.
Two co-passengers were impressed by my invitation to them to share our cab in the wee hours of morning. I said if we all could share our stuffs, we would have a better community. Off the couple came up with a flyer to ask us to join them in protesting against Chinese govt for cracking down on individual liberties. Missing the whole point, that’s New York too.
The American political turmoils lend themselves to the awful representations that they manifest in. Amidst the billboards at Times square where companies smoke out billions of dollars every year just for exhibitions, do we need the poor trenchantly going hungry? With hundreds of skyscrapers inside the city, do the homeless need any place else to look for (incidentally they close down all the public toilets at 7pm)? Are these people who have tolerated the administrative indifferences thus far to let the world note NY as the biggest city ever devised, not the ones who have worked helluva lot to uphold the torch of human liberty for the humankind? In their silence lies the global presence of NY. The mute statue might just be symbolic!