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     Volume 7 Issue 25 | June 20, 2008 |

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Writting the Wrong

Embracing the Gray

Sharbari Ahmed

there is almost, almost no point to the following article. I am going through some sort of an existential crisis. Thank you for your patience. Plus this was sprung on me on short notice.

Life is not black and white, though the candidates in the recent American Democratic Presidential race belie that. Things humansare not neat, easily tied up in perfectly executed bows and placed in perfumed boxes with tissue paper and bubble wrap. Humans are messy, and at times, confused creatures, who struggle against their natures to make the “right” choices. This usually means they are railing against the very thing that makes them human, their instincts. As I become older I recently celebrated a birthday this is what is becoming startlingly apparent to me.

As I mentioned before I have just returned from Dhaka. I had not been there in three years. I am a tourist and an outsider. It would have been even harder if I did not speak the language. I just don't get to see Dhaka. I am shuffled from one well-meaning relative's house to another and stuffed with food. I salaam my elders (sometimes. Nowadays I pick and choose whose feet I am going to touch as I am tired of empty gestures in general) and answer the queries that are asked of me. “How is your son, how is your husband? What are you doing now? Sometimes I am not asked questions at all. I have a relative who loves to tell me how fat or dark I have gotten. And we all know for a woman, being dark is an egregious crime. I used to really dread seeing them. Now when they inform me that the bloom is off my rose, which they helpfully have been since I was fourteen, I say, “Yeah, but I am still attractive.” Not much of a comeback but since they were not expecting one at all, it proves interesting. This helps to keep me from throttling them while they stare at me slack jawed.

Why do I bring up Dhaka after writing a somewhat sensical paragraph on the gray areas of human existence? Because all I saw around me, all the time is people living in the back and white; denying the gray. Most people in this country need food a resource that is becoming even scarcer than before. I caught a glimpse of what may be to come. The day after the price of rice went up, I saw a line of people waiting to buy it that snaked down a street.

I went to a party once in Dhaka not this time where the women were dressed up like they were going to an awards ceremony in Hollywood and enough eye shadow to put a female impersonator to shame. I was in jeans. It hit me: what else are they going to do? Get mired down in the ennui? Apparently in some quarters here the way to combat ennui is mascara. A lot of it. But eye shadow, sparkly saris and in some cases unfortunate displays of cleavage at a third world garden party are just a way to combat depression. Who knew? Indeed, I think almost everything people do is a way to stave off despair.

The point is everyone is trying to make a life for themselves despite the gray, beige and mucky areas but by ignoring them or using them for their own Machiavellian purposes, people, not just Dhaka high flyers, but people in general appear to be sinking further into apathy. I blame the media specifically Fox news.

That brings me to the other extreme. Where many South Asians want to ignore the less neat and hermetically sealed aspects of their society the arbiters of mainstream American culture, the media, are only interested in the messy side of human nature because it makes for good TV. By all appearances one would think that Americans are sincere in their need to display their vulnerability ad infinitum. Not a day in the week goes by without some “Real” drama on “American Idol” or some weight loss challenge show where a contestant breaks into tears after eating a bag of potato chips and turning herself in to the producers. When Hillary Clinton supposedly showed a crack in her granite veneer by admitting she was tired and almost crying early in the campaign, her approval rating jumped up. But she knew that would tug at the heart strings of her constituency white, over educated graduates of Wellesley and Smith colleges who are so myopic that they think that just because Hilary is a woman she would make a good leader. I'm not going to talk about the man I love. We all know who that is. Mr. Obama. He has had a rough week. And ennui is one malady that he does not suffer from. He would never cry crocodile tears. You know, even as I write this I worry that at some point in the coming months he is going to do or say something stupid and I am going to stop loving him…no! Impossible.

There is nothing authentic about America's need to display the gray. Why are people so afraid to be really human, not just to win TV contests, but to be truthful? Why is failure or the willingness to be ridiculous a weakness and not an opportunity to grow?

The world is about to enter crisis mode in an unprecedented way. The US economy is plowing on but doing so with a limp. People cannot fill their gas tanks or their children's bellies. Israel is getting ready to bomb Iran. Actually everyone, except Russia and China are getting ready to do that. The most anticipated presidential race in US history has just begun and will actually determine which direction this crisis will take. And everything appears to be back and white. There are the good guys and the bad guys. The rich and the poor, the skinny and the fat, etc, etc. But then I am reminded of the way (ironically, you'd think they would take that into consideration before shooting unarmed Tibetans down in the street) the Chinese write the word for crisis. It is composed of two characters: one for danger, the other represents of all things, opportunity. Chew on that gray matter for a bit.

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