The Doors: Out Of The Box Thinking
"Is This An Obama Party?"
I showed up about 10 minutes late, I was planning to be on time. It was a Sunday, makes no difference to me if it is a week day or not. My workstyle is cloud group dynamics. I take time off when I take time off. And that is pretty random. You are looking for bursts of work. So you actually end up putting in more hours. Earlier I had gone for a walk in my neighborhood. And tea at Kabir's Bakery. Then I watched two different versions of a Himesh Reshammiya song a few different times before I dressed up and left for the party number 4. I decided to put on a white shirt.
There was this one elderly white lady sitting in the corner at the Bakery. I was sipping through my tea. I was half done. Suddenly she bursts into a minor tirade. "Hey Mister!" She is like, why are you sitting there forever? This is not a place to hang out. You should empty the chair. Everybody in the restaurant was Bangladeshi, including the two people looking for chairs, which they promptly found. They turned to me in solidarity and started to talk to me in Bengali.
"I am from Nepal," I said. "Sorry, I don't fully follow what you are saying."
I took my time, finished my tea, and then on my way out waved her goodbye, "Bye bye now."
It is almost like she saw on my quiet face a challenge to the social reality. She did not see that on any other brown face.
I have briefly dated two black women since I have been in the city. I met both at political events. No, not at the same time. The first I took to an Indian restaurant on our second date and the mood got very glacial very fast. Her discomfort was so concrete. Both times I was left with this strong feeling that I am not black. The feeling is even stronger than the I am not white feeling. You realize it is not just white people, black and brown people don't want to talk about race either. It might as well be health care policy. If it is of great interest and excitement to you, keep it to yourself. Don't try to push Calculus 301 down my throat. And then there is that look, you don't got no slavery segregation baggage look. True. Both sides of my family had servants while I was growing up. Ferdy at college - from Bangladesh - also had a family with servants, and he would brag about it, and it would be so embarrassing. Ferdy, that is something to be ashamed of.
And money talk is black and white at once. It is not just, if you are going to end up a millionaire it is okay if you are not white. Black women are so much more careful on money matters. From my very limited experience. And that too is totally understandable. Talking about "Mexicans" is no bonding experience for me. Mexico is richer than India. I draw my Indian heritage from Bihar in India. And it is near impossible to bump into someone from Bihar when you meet an Indian in the US. It is like you were from Poland, and all Europeans you meet are from France, Britain and Germany. Indians are primarily Maratha, Tamil and Gujrati. I mean, India is a big country. You put America, Europe and Africa together, and you get India.
The second took me out to dinner. She paid. When it was over, she said she was glad only to have "invested" 49 dollars into me. Her parting comment was something racist about "Nepalis." To the 99.9% of the Nepalis in NYC, I am Nepali, but not really. But to this wonderful black woman, I was a Nepali.
New York City speaks to my rootlessness. I took to the city like duck to water from day one. You don't feel lost, not at all. Instead you feel like you get to define yourself even more acutely as an individual. The image is sharper. You are really forced to know yourself. Like my realization I am not cut for politics. Like a camel thaws a cactus before eating it, I have to translate politics into group dynamics before I can make sense of it.
In politics you get impatient if race relations don't improve fast enough. Not so in the domain of my tech startup. It is like Third World group dynamics with its super sexism and ethnic prejudices were white belt. Unresolved issues in race and gender in day to day America were brown belt. And the post-ISMs individual group dynamics inside my company of a seamless 2.0 and 5.0 is black belt. It is a higher level of consciousness. The white belts and the brown belts are not of immediate concern. And if the competition lags behind, you just make more money than them. Works beautifully.
So I show up. I kind of felt this pang. This feeling that somehow noone will show up. But I figured maybe people will come in fashionably late. I waited until 10.30 before I went ahead and ordered my food: spicey shrimp, spicey fries, spicey potatoes. 15 bucks and 2 for a tip, that is more expensive than beer in Manhattan, but at least this was filling, and spicey. And also I felt less guilty in the aftermath, having drank so much of their water while waiting. They must have felt the discomfort. They changed the music. First it was what I would call black music. A lot of a certain kind of jazz. Then after an hour or so, they played a Saturday Night Fever tune, and I felt a sense of relief. That is not how I wanted to feel. But that was my natural reaction. I felt embarrassed. Then they played another 80s tune. I ordered food not long after.
I think everyone who walked into the restaurant the entire time was black. Well, there was this one white guy, but he did not order food. He spent some time at the bar.
Before the meal I read an article on Jack Nicholson in a local paper that I borrowed from the guy who ran the place. It was on his desk where he was doing paperwork. You mind if I read your paper, I said. He just looked at me. I picked up the paper after having paid the courtesy of asking. Nicholson is one fascinating character. And I am not talking of his screen characters.
My ex' mother once said to her in my presence, she also had a Chinese boyfriend at college. As in, it is not like she brought him home! During my last phone talk with her she said she had a new boyfriend, I said good for you. She said after her father found out, his first question was, "Where is he from now!" I asked her what was the hardest part for her to be with me. She said "hygiene."
Mao could go for decades without taking a bath.
I did not move into Brooklyn because it is the blackest of all boroughs. My first pick was East Harlem, the Spanish Harlem. I really liked the neighborhood. It felt so alive. But the guy said he will call in the evening and never did. So I moved into the next place I had found on Craig's List. It is a house full of Estonians and one me. Why me? Why me? I asked of my Jewish landlord. Because I like you, he said. It is a Hasidic neighborhood. I have never struggled with people's collective identities. It is like having an accent. Everybody has one. I did not plan it to be Little Bangladesh either. I found that out after I had moved in.
Racial politics is complex. But it is like America is almost begging for Barack. People want to feel the relief of moving on. Time is ripe.
First thing after I take my seat, this black guy Isaiah walks over to my table from his table and asks "Kya haal hai?" (How are you?) I did not expect Hindi from his mouth so I did not understand. But he was trying to be nice and welcoming. As in, you might not be from around here, but we are nice people, just so you know.
What was that again, I said a few times.
"Do you not speak Urdu?" he asked.
Sunday 8 PM, Holiday Party 4
The Doors: Out Of The Box Thinking
"Is This An Obama Party?"
Hi David. You are a big shot guy, powerful, popular, busy person. This might not even be of interest, you might not have the time or the inclination. But I thought I would shoot this your way anyways.
I can't be sure, but I think DL21C wants me on its Steering Committee. My thing is, for me this is not a Yes/No question. Either I stay detached like I have been, or if I come in, the organization will have to see a rebirth. You are the founder. I am not trying to impose myself, but I do need to engage in a conversation. Will you please help mediate?
I think DL21C should go 2.0 and build a robust local template and explode nationally like Drinking Liberally. 2.0 makes it possible. Minus 2.0, you just can't do it. But with 2.0 you just build a great, local template, and other chapters will just copy. A lot of expansion with very little effort. 2.0 will have a huge multiplier effect.
PS. That was one great party Thursday night. You are such an unpolitician politician. Also, looks like you are throwing another party Sunday in my borough. I am coming. Brooklyn is special.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Paramendra Bhagat
Date: Dec 21, 2007 4:44 AM
To: Dan Berger
Cc: Elizabeth Caputo
Think this through with a cool head. This is what I said at my blog
that seems to have got you so excited.
(1) DL21C needs a new website. Something that feels 2008 and not 1993.
(2) DL21C needs to videoblog all its major events and get itself a
(3) DL21C needs to become an organization where 2.0 and 5.0 are
seamless. 2.0 as in Web 2.0, and 5.0 is face time. It is that or death
to the organization. But if this 2.0 and 5.0 seamlessness is achieved,
Elizabeth could run for Mayor and President. A guy less talented than
her is about to become US Senator from KY.
Hillary and Barack are mega operations. We are largely irrelevant to
them. This is not about Hillary and Barack. This is about DL21C.
You know. You got a major inferiority complex about the fact that you
don't know as much politics as Dave Pollak, or Elizabeth Caputo, or
me. Barack takes advice from me once in a while. And you try to make
up for it by engaging in rude, hostile, obnoxious behavior. The good
news is you have this raw intensity that could be channeled and put to
good use and you could be doing wonderful political work. And you can
always learn more politics. Read. What school you went to is
irrelevant. Jack Welch said that.
Get back with me on this one, the three points above.