I was about 6 months pregnant with Partha when Donald Trump was sworn into office as the 45th President of the United States. I remember driving to meet a client on Inauguration Day and listening to the inauguration on the radio. The descriptions of ‘American carnage’ made me cringe and worry for the times ahead. As it turns out, my worry (and those of thousands of others) were justified. I have to say that in all honesty, I never imagined just how awful these 4 years would be.
Between the Muslim ban, the inhumane family separation policy, blatant corruption, denying climate change and selling public lands to the highest bidder, it appeared that there was no end to the cruelty of the administration. Each time I thought we had reached rock bottom, someone in the administration picked up a spade and started digging further.
I gave birth to my baby boy in May 2017. Ashwin and I spent many many nights worrying about this seemingly dangerous world we had brought our child into. A world where we couldn’t allow our son to listen to the words of the President, where the supporters of the President would think of our brown-skinned child as an ‘outsider’, where the President himself spoke of women and minorities in disgusting terms and where kindness, empathy seemed to be absolutely missing.
As we approached election season 2020, my anxiety and political activism kicked in. We donated money to our preferred candidates, purchased election merchandise, and feverishly followed journalists and public figures online. I learnt to my great relief that I was married to a man whose political beliefs mirrored my own. Political chatter hijacked our dinner table conversations – we simplified things as much as we could so our 3 year old wouldn’t feel excluded. We argued over public policy and constantly sent each other things to read. As much as it contributed to my anxiety, it was also the biggest blessing to have someone to bounce my thoughts off. Every night after Partha went to bed, we’d catch up on the late night shows and blow off some steam.
The day Kamala Harris accepted the vice-presidential nomination, I had tears in my eyes. I couldn’t stop thinking of her mother Shyamala Gopalan – a woman who belonged to a generation older than my own grandmother. Who had the courage to follow her dreams and move thousands of miles away as a mere teenager. To marry for love and have the courage to leave when it didn’t work. Shyamala Gopalan hailed from the same city and community as I do. I felt that I understood firsthand the societal pressures that she must have faced through her life. It reminded me in many ways of the strong inspirational women in my own life.
For the first time since my son was born, I woke up this morning with a sense of hope and without a sense of dread. An implicit faith that even though I may not agree with every policy decision of the current administration, I know that they will act with kindness – because we have leaders at the top who understand and radiate honesty and goodness. We had a little family jig at 8.30 am when Trump left the White House for the last time.
As our new Vice President took the oath of office today, I couldn’t stop the tears from falling. I held my son close as I told him the story of Kamala Harris and her family. Partha will grow up in a world where women can aspire to and achieve the highest office in the land, where thousands of Indian-Americans (among other minorities) are part of the administration.
I have the highest admiration for President Biden. For a person to go through so much pain (losing his infant daughter and wife, and then his adult son years later) and still be able to get up in the morning and put his best foot forward. It gives renewed meaning to the phrase ‘the test of fire makes the finest steel’.
I have always wanted to be involved in public policy and government. I had dreams of taking the UPSC exams as a teenager only to be told ‘Brahmins will never clear the exam thanks to reservations. How will you have a family life if you keep getting transferred as a public servant? You will have to cower to corrupt politicians. Don’t waste your time.’
Today, I know better. After law practising in Chennai for a few years I moved to America and set up my own law practice. It has been a hard journey and I’m just getting started – there’s still so much adventure ahead. But if there’s anything I’ve learnt from watching these incredible women in public office – it is that I should shake off the imposter syndrome, worry less about what others think and trust in my own abilities.
And most importantly – we will raise the next generation differently. Remind Partha every day that he can achieve anything as long as he works hard for it. For this lesson and so many others – I have President Joseph Biden, VP Kamala Harris and so many others to thank.
We have miles to go before we rest. But today, a new hope dawned. And I can’t wait to see where it takes us.