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Indian-American author wonders about ”the perfect candidate”

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By-Arun Kumar

Washington: T Dasu, an Indian-American author got a suggestion for the Republican Presidential front-runner Donald Trump: “Veer to the centre, and pick a positive, uplifting message.” His new novel is about a former spy who turned a politician.

“Fear-mongering can only take you so far,” says T Dasu, by day a research scientist working on problems in statistics, stream mining, and machine learning, and author of “The Perfect Candidate”, the second in her “Spy, Interrupted” trilogy.

“Also, pick a smart woman as a running mate,” she says on behalf of the campaign team of her novel’s hero, a former CIA operative with an Indian-American wife, running for a US Senate seat.

“No, not Carly Fiorina. Nikki Haley?” she asks, referring to former HP CEO, who has quit the presidential race, and the Indian-American governor of South Carolina.

“Intolerance of any kind should be rejected forcefully, particularly when it is institutionalized and turned on those least able to fight it,” Dasu said in an email interview.

“Politicians will say and do anything to get elected,” she said when asked about the intolerance debate in India and the kind of rhetoric heard on the US presidential campaign trail.

“And very often the media fans the fire by amplifying and repeating the most obnoxious and heinous words,” Dasu said.

“That’s why it was important to me that the hero, Stephen James, should have no part in it; his intolerance is turned towards people’s behaviour – for example, terrorist acts.”

In Dasu’s opinion, “there is no perfect candidate in the presidential race at the moment, not counting her fictional hero Stephen James, who “is principled, fearless and wants to save the world”.

Among the Democrats, Bernie Sanders “is impractical and too focussed on one issue, (Hillary) Clinton has a credibility problem, and the Republicans all want to take us back to medieval times”.

She, however, believes that Hillary Clinton is the most qualified and capable candidate in the field.

Dasu said she was inspired to write spy novels as “I have always been a fan of literary espionage, starting with Graham Greene’s ‘Our Man in Havana’, and the early works of John le Carre, particularly the Karla trilogy”.

“The focus is on characters and their motivation rather than pure plot developments,” she said. “And being a spy is such a rich and complex human condition – to deceive in order to defend.”

Dasu said her novels had more romance and social drama than spy craft because “I am curious about the lives of spies rather than their deeds or craft”.

“How do they relate to the people around them? How do their significant others ever trust them? What do they need to do in order to keep their professional habits from seeping into their personal interactions?”

“I wanted to write about the spy as seen through the eyes of the people close to them,” Dasu said. “And, I have to admit, I love Jane Austen as much as I love literary espionage.”

“So, romance and social drama and other situations faced by every thinking woman naturally creep into my writing.”

But she disagreed “strongly that the South Asian characters in the book are stereotypical”.

“First of all, most South Asian characters and writing focus on immigrant angst and adjustment issues – Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitra Divakaruni – the whole culture clash between Western and Indian values.”

Most of the South Asian characters in her book, she acknowledged, are “very well adjusted and happy, to the point of perfection”.

But the last book in her trilogy “is very different from the first two books,” she said. “It has a unique setting and an unusual story arc.”

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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Brown: The colour of toil but non-acceptance across the West?

"This is now our destiny as brown people. Our labour is needed, but citizenship is denied."

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Police Chief David Brown. Image Source: Twitter
  • Kamal Al Solaylee’s book Brown highlights the problems of ‘brown’ people in Trump’s rule
  • Donald Trump is often accused of malingering the image of brown people
  • this book cites many examples of discrimination which brown people go through

Title: Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone); Author: Kamal Al Solaylee

All our social development and our technological advancements don’t seem enough to eradicate our long-persisting atavistic sense of difference based on appearance, which though long-suppressed is now emerging free from its restraints — as proved by the recent intemperate comments by US President Donald Trump on immigrants from a certain set of countries.

Trump’s thinking, as seen in his off-the-cuff remarks, underscore that the questionable classification of race, expressed by the obviously evident and inescapable feature of a person’s skin, is well alive — and extends beyond the white-black binary. What about the yellow, or rather, the (as necessary for the global economy but far more exploited) brown?

Donald Trump is famous for his rude comments towards brown people. wikimedia commons
Donald Trump is famous for his rude comments towards brown people. wikimedia commons

Trump is only one leading manifestation of the malaise facing brown people — which include West Asians, Latin Americans, North Africans, and South and Southeast Asians — and far beyond the West too or from the “Whites”, says Yemeni-origin, Egypt-bred, Canadian journalist-turned-academician Al Solaylee in this book.

Trump’s victory “largely (but not exclusively)” rode on demonising Mexicans, galvanising sentiment against Muslims and championing white nationalism, the vote for Brexit was mostly pioneered by those with a restrictive view of Englishness, the record of Canada under Stephen Harper’s Conservatives — all these are obscure racial conflicts brewing in the US and Europe for decades now.

Also Read: Mexico can learn about dealing with diaspora from India: Claudia Ruiz-Massieu Salinas

“Examine these tensions closely and you’ll find a strong anti-brown sentiment at the core,” says Al Solaylee as he traces the response to, as well as the experiences of, the residents of Global South, who are forced to migrate to — and much needed in — the Developed North for various reasons, not least of which is the latter’s colonial record.

“Brown as the colour of cheap labour continues on a global scale… brown bodies undertake the work that white and older immigrant Americans refuse to do (and those black slaves were forced to do in previous centuries).

These are low-skill, labour-intensive jobs in unforgiving climates,” he says, but also that these are not limited to the Western nations but also in the more affluent parts of Asia itself too.

“This is now our destiny as brown people. Our labour is needed, but citizenship is denied; our presence as Muslims or religious minorities is offered as an example of the tolerant, diverse societies in which we live, but we continue to be feared,” says Al Solaylee.

And there is no difference whether this is deliberate or mistaken as he goes to cite the cases of the racist slurs on Sikh volunteers feeding the homeless in Manchester in the wake of the May 2017 terror attack, or the fatal shooting of Indian techie Srinivas Kuchibhotla in the US in February 2017 by an American who thought he and his friend were Iranians and screaming at them to “get out of his country”.

Al Solaylee contends we think of brown as a “continuum, a grouping — a metaphor, even — for the millions of darker-skinned people who, in broad historical terms, have missed out on the economic and political gains of the post-mobility, equality and freedom”. They are now living, he says, among former colonial masters where they are “transforming themselves from nameless individuals with swarthy skins into neighbours, co-workers and friends”.

You may also like: List of 50 People who have affected Hinduism in a Negative Manner 

And it is their story he tells — both in their homes from the Philippines to Sri Lanka and workplaces from Hong Kong to the Gulf as well as Western Europe and North America.

Al Solaylee, however, starts with first recounting his own childhood experience on learning he is brown after seeing an English movie featuring a white child and coming to terms with “brownness” in his journeys around the world and interactions with other browns (fairness creams figure largely as well as the concern that he settle down) as well as Brown’s significance in nature and culture.

He then takes up the human obsession with race, despite the concept being debunked, except in politics before his exploration of the experiences and consequences of being brown around the world.

A stirring travelogue, incisive social and political comment and a passionate cry to rise above unavoidable consequences of geography and genes, this invaluable work rises in importance beyond its subject to be a seminal guide to the world today — and what it will soon be — particularly the US. IANS