Dear daughter, this world we’ve brought you into…


What can I say about this world we’ve brought you into my love?

What can I say about the privileged misogynistic scumbags, and their fathers, who populate the elite hallways of this world?

What can I say about a world that is built for the benefit of men and white people (and the few privileged women and people of color that the colonial structures let into the club)?

What can I say about the hostility we as a family face from white men everyday we step outside the bubble of our home?

What can I say about the evil inherent to the male of the species that evidently the majority of men are blind to?

What can I say about the soullessness inherent to colonial society that evidently the majority of white people are blind to?

What can I say about the fact that there are times when I daydream about gutting the life out of any man who dares cast an evil eye on you (empty and horribly masculine though those flights of fancy might be)?

What can I say about the harsh sadness I’m trying to mask with that anger – a sadness stemming from the fact that, try as we might, your mother and I cannot protect you from all the evils of the world?

What can I say about this all-consuming fear that I will fail in providing you the tools and weapons you need to fight the evil blanketing this world?

What can I say about a world of nation states and borders, where patriarchy, privilege and profit take us ever closer to a likely violent resolution?

What can I say about a world where people in the dominant colonial power are choosing between a demagogue and a plutocrat  to be their “elected” leader (both as white as freshly driven snow in a wealthy suburb)?

What can I say about a world where nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and misogyny seem to be the go-to bastions for the fearful majority of people, privileged and vulnerable alike?

What can I say about a world where I truly believe humanity and the earth would be better off if 80% of the world’s men would simply drop dead  – proportionately across all countries and communities (I am extremely egalitarian when it comes to hating men)?

What can I say about a world where I often up that figure to 90%?


When I’m at a loss to say or do anything about the oppression and evil in this world we’ve brought you into…

When I feel depressed and weak in the knowledge that this oppression and evil is so vast and deep…

When I feel the urge to build an impermeable, self-sustaining life pod for our family to live in forever…

When I feel the need to embark on a multi-generational, quantum physics research project to transport us to an alternate universe where matriarchy, freedom and egalitarianism prevail…

I look at you and I see the power of your soul…

And the warmth of your heart…

And the depth of your mind…

Only matched by your mother’s (in all three departments, mind you)…

I then rest a little easier…

For I know the evil flourishing in the world today is ultimately no match for your divine strength.


9 scary reasons Donald Trump can become president in November


Ok, I’m going to come right out and stake my claim on this prediction – it’s one with a very small chance of actually coming true (but I think that “small chance” is getting bigger by the day):

Donald Trump will become the next President of the United States.

Please note that it is Friday, May 27, 2016 – over five months away from us actually finding out whether or not this prediction comes true.

I’m not saying that this is a good thing, if it comes true that is. Not by any stretch of imagination. I’m just saying that it’s going to happen. And I’ve been feeling like this for quite a few months now. (Bless the intrepid soul of my long-suffering soulmate and life partner who has to hear my incessant geopolitical monologues.)

And here are 9 really scary and true reasons why this is going to happen:

1. The alternative is a neocolonial, predatory capitalist, Wall Street puppet: Hillary Clinton is exactly that. She charges $250,000 for speeches sallivating over Wall Street, the transcripts of which she’s likely embarrassed and/or scared to release. She’s the scion of one of the richest dynasties in America. She oozes elitist, 1%, white privilege. She has been mongering after that power for decades now, and had to wait for her husband to get his scummy hands all over the presidency first – because even among the elitist, privileged white one percenters of the world, patriarchy still holds bloody true. As does the fact that…

2. The US is ripe for a new age fascist movement: The demographics make for quite the possibility of a neo-fascist, American nationalist movement, even multiple regional ones. The fact that the US is quite rapidly un-whitening is making a lot of white people angry (it’s actually expanded upon as one of my points below – I am nothing if not repetitive). Not to mention rising tensions in some of the larger urban sprawls with what is, in effect, a police state. Authoritarianism, power, profiteering, militarism and demagoguery are celebrated with fear and nationalism. A large section of the Republicans and right-wing independents are cashing in, and probably going to regret it in the years to come (but that’s another story). Even so, they are helped by the candidate they have to face in the general elections, I mean…

3. Hillary is just pathetic. And so is Bill: Hillary and her god-awful husband are just so uninspiring and soulless, history will never forgive them (did folks catch his condescending engagement with the Black Lives Matter activists?) They seem to operate the Democratic Party like it’s their own personal fiefdom – I mean, what the fuck are these super delegates all about for crying out loud, and why are they all going for the Clintons when it seems like the actual voters are pretty evenly split between Bernie and Hillary? The Clintons are one of the biggest reasons, if not the biggest reason for Trump getting into the White House. Because Bernie would have wiped the floor with Trump in a general election – but Hillary and Bubba just had to have it their way or the high way. And speaking of pathetic…

4. So is the Democratic Party as a whole: Seriously, America deserves Trump if the majority of the people aren’t capable of moving beyond fascism and fascism light in terms of political parties to choose from (especially if we go old-school for this point with our definition of fascism – as the complete merger of private mega corporations and the state). The Democratic Party defines spinelessness. And worse, they are probably less democratic than even the Republicans (hell, even Hitler was elected democratically, remember). It is quite possible that had the Democrats been forced into accepting the people’s verdict – which like it or not is what the crazy right-wingers over on the Republican side did – Bernie would be the nominee and, I repeat, would have wiped the floor with the Teflon Don come November. But it’s not just the political system…

5. US pop culture is addictive, mind-controlling, garbage: There is no way that a candidate like Donald Trump could come anywhere close to this kind of power unless it was in a country where vapid pop culture ruled the senses. From American Idol to American Sniper to American Pie and everything in between – US pop culture is the Great Population Mind Control Experiment of the 20th and 21st centuries, even threatening to take over the hyper democracy of the internet with viral videos and target tweets. Critical thinking, argumentative discussion, constant questioning, democratic thought, and free speech all take a back seat to pure, unadulterated sensory excitement. Half the country is voting for an orange haired, virulent buffoon who also happens to be a misogynistic, capitalist thug – and they celebrate that shit! How the hell can it happen without American pop culture?

And speaking of pop culture, it’s really when you peruse the comments of news sites online do you realize that…

6. Angry white people are still the majority of the country (and they are getting angrier by the day): I love it when people say white people are going to be a minority in the US in 2050 or something. I mean, even if people of color end up as more than 50% of the population, white folk are still the largest demographic, i.e. still in the majority (unless you think Blacks, Latinos, East Asians, South Asians and Native Americans are all one demographic – and if you do then you might want to read, like, a book or at the very least a Wikipedia article or something.) Those white folk who don’t like seeing the un-whitening of America are angry and getting angrier still, despite having it better than well over 90% of the world’s population. Can you imagine how they will feel when shit starts actually unraveling economically, environmentally, and politically? (I can hear the collective shudder of millions of bleeding heart liberals as we speak.)

And just in case you were wondering if I was only picking on right-wingers, fear not, for I do believe a major reason for the upsurge of right-wing populism under the likes of Trump is also because…

7. Progressives are yet to, en masse, support movements like Black Lives Matter: Yeah, until white progressives and male progressives learn to abandon the Democratic party and the liberal elite (not to mention white privilege and patriarchy), and cede total control and leadership of the progressive movement to women of color and trans people of color, including radical, groundbreaking movements like Black Lives Matter, we’re going to be dealing with human refuse like the Trumps and Clintons of the world for a while to come. And…

8. Frankly, if it doesn’t happen now, it’s going to happen some time soon: Seriously folks, America has been heading in this direction for a while. I think a bunch of people were a little taken aback by all the hope that a highly gifted, dignified, and honorable black president gave us, especially when history had just been made and the speeches were just so very mesmerizing. But then more black people got incarcerated in the years to come. More undocumented immigrants got deported under cruel circumstances. And many of us realized that, no matter how talented and egalitarian a person might be occupying that office, it’s still the office of a brutal imperialist power.

But the real cherry on top of this prediction cake is that…

9. The betting houses just lowered the odds on a Trump presidency: Always a useful bellwether to pay attention to.

The bookies, man, the bookies.

So come November, don’t say I didn’t warn you lovelies.

(Methinks I’ll keep my Canadian passport nice and not-expired…just in case.)

The Valley that stole my heart


I wrote a political travelogue about Kashmir during a trip made a while back. It was published in The Kashmir Walla in their 5th Anniversary Issue, hot off the presses this month! Please click on the following link for the piece and do peruse their lovely publication:

The Valley that stole my heart

(or if that doesn’t work, here’s the url –


Why Beyoncé could become our generation’s Muhammad Ali


As an immigrant who has faced his fair share of racism, stereotyping, and imperialist rhetoric in America and Canada, it is but a natural predilection for me to ally with those who have been struggling for generations and generations for greater rights and restorative justice in those countries.

This has meant that black history, in America in particular but across the planet in general, along with black cultural icons, sports figures, and freedom fighters have been a source of great inspiration for me over many years. This has been especially true since I landed on American shores as a rabble-rousing, albeit legally compliant, immigrant over a dozen years ago.

Indeed, it’s quite remarkable to think about the deep political, cultural, social, and spiritual influence so many stalwarts of the black community have had and continue to have on me; to the point of identifying with the community in a number of ways – deeply problematic though the sentiment might be for a member of a more privileged section among people of color and one who has no roots in America’s racist past. But like it or not, during the many times when I myself get mistaken for black in the Western world, I don’t really care to correct them.

Please don’t think that I’m ashamed of where I come from or who I am. I’m a proud warrior Tamil from the Southern lands of the Indian subcontinent, increasingly rooted in divine feminine spirituality emerging from my Dravidian roots – but very importantly, influenced and alloyed with a whole host of other liberating influences in my life.

Such as a whole spectrum of black history, liberation, icons, and culture.

Indeed, such is the strength of this particularly liberating influence that, if I were asked today to name my three favorite poets, thinkers, freedom fighters, musicians, and cultural icons in that order (you know, by some metaphysical spirit with way too much time on their hands), here’s what I would say  – bearing in mind that I’m defining all these categories however I deem fit:

Poets – Maya Angelou, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and Pablo Neruda

Thinkers – bell hooks, Arundhati Roy, and Frantz Fanon.

Freedom fighters – Nelson Mandela, Laila Khaled, and Bhagat Singh

Musicians – AR Rahman, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Asian Dub Foundation


Cultural icons – Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali, and Muhammad Ali.

Thus it would be fair to say that I am quite the student of Ali’s life and career.

Few can match his heady combination of powerful charisma, cultural superstardom, and political courage – all coming together at a particularly potent time in America’s recent history to render an iconic story for the ages.

Many have one or the other, maybe even two out of the three, but rarely have we found anyone with all three. It’s not an easy combination to have, with the political courage often being the toughest of the three to find.

Take other great sportspeople. You find many with great cultural stardom because of their talented abilities, alongside their achievements, fame etc. Some of those stars might even be wonderfully charismatic with engaging personalities, but they tend to not want to blow it all by displaying too much political courage. Those who display amazing political courage, even the really charismatic ones, tend to not have the kind of cultural stardom that comes anywhere close to someone like Ali, bless their brilliant souls.

The same tends to be the case with other fields usually churning out cultural icons with generational regularity – media, pop culture, music, and film.

The rocking, cultural superstars tend to lack political courage with tragic regularity, while those who do have more freedom-fighting public faces tend to, at best, have loyal cult followings.

But I believe we have someone who might just be our next Ali. And I don’t say this lightly (because, I mean, it’s Muhammad freaking Ali we’re talking about here). However, I daresay we have our next, great, black liberation, mass cultural icon.

All three boxes are ticked.

She has that powerful charisma.

She sure as hell has the cultural superstardom (not to mention some killer singing and dancing chops).

And it seems like somewhere along the way, as she multi-octaved her way to fame and fortune, at a time when Black Lives Matter is leading us into a new pan-American struggle for social justice and political freedom, she has decided to fight the good fight publicly.

All the pieces are in place.

Beyoncé could well become this generation’s Muhammad Ali.

(And I don’t even particularly care for her music.)

Race, caste, and friendship


When I was in grad school in Baltimore finishing up an M.S. in the 2003-2004 academic year, I had quite a few Indian friends around the Baltimore-DC area. Apart from spending time with some distant relatives, I followed the scent of quasi-cultural safety and found my way to an organized group of Indian students who raised money for charities in India. Notwithstanding the somewhat tepid, middle-of-the-road politics in the group, it did give me a few Indian friends who provided a connection to the homeland and the painlessness of not having to culturally translate everything that was said. They were, thankfully, substantially better to interact with than the feudal morons in my previous port-of-call.

Speaking in a mixture of English and whatever Indian tongue suited our fancy, cracking cross-cultural jokes, whipping out puns that required an innate understanding of pop-culture in different parts of South Asia – being with South Asian friends is (and always will be) comforting no matter where I am outside the subcontinent.

At Hopkins, the fact that I briefly fell in love with one of them, while cultivating a nice, albeit very temporary, friendship with another only served to consolidate that bond. In addition, included in the group was a cousin of mine, who had come to the university the year before.

Something happened when I was with my Indian friends. Instantly I was no longer a walking poster-boy for the entire Indian or South Asian community. I didn’t need to step out of my comfort zone in order to interact. I could be myself; the stares and second looks from white folk didn’t pierce me as they did when I was alone. My accent could seamlessly shift from neutral to desi. I didn’t have to constantly watch myself to ensure I wasn’t garnering too much attention. There were no awkward, plastic smiles that one received from folks uncomfortable with who you were and not knowing how to engage with you.

Intriguingly, I had less in common with my Indian buddies in Hopkins than I would have normally needed for lasting friendships. It made me think twice about the power of being with folks who had superficially similar cultural moorings when navigating another world. It was the anxiety of assimilation in a new society that made one assimilate only partially while concurrently seeking a bubble of manufactured comfort. In India, I would have thought they were nice enough to have as acquaintances but probably not as friends, since I had the privilege to be able to cultivate bonds with those whom I was closer to politically and philosophically. In Baltimore, for those nine months, they were my entire world.

Sometimes you needed to travel thousands of miles to learn a little something about the place you just left.

Socially my Indian friends in Hopkins and I came from similar backgrounds. Middle to upper-middle class families, educated in English-medium school and colleges, armed with sufficient privilege to be able to pursue graduate studies in the West. With the class stratification of Indian society, this essentially meant that barring one or two exceptions, we all came from the so-called upper caste Hindu communities.

In short, we were the privileged white people of India.

And, interestingly enough, it was these somewhat similar social roots that brought about some of the sharpest political divisions between me and my friends.

In order to better explain this and highlight what for me was one of the most acute manifestations of this division, I will have to briefly shift to a little primer on one particular, longstanding policy of the Indian government.

It’s called Reservation.

You see, India has its own Affirmative Action program. From a purely legislative angle it is, in my humble opinion, even stronger than what one might see in the States. Most people around the world have heard of the abhorrent caste system. It performs a similar function in India to what race might perform in the Western world with respect to dividing the haves and have-nots. Indeed, I have found many white folk in America and Europe talk about caste with, dare I suggest, a hint of satisfaction that their own class stratification systems seem less intolerant in comparison – a bit of a pass I imagine from dealing with their own shit. But scale of oppression apart, most Indians would be hard-pressed to argue against the viciousness of the caste system, unless they choose to adopt the ostrich technique of sticking their heads in the proverbial sand, or up their not-so-proverbial asses. Those doing so, as is easily guessable, consist almost entirely of upper-caste Hindus. I should know, because it was the community I grew up in.

But somewhere along the line, through a combination of parents who encouraged me to question and learn, as well as some very eye-opening activism in India via participation in an anti-fascist movement that gave me inspiring comrades across caste, religious, and class divides, I was thankfully brought to a better understanding. As I journeyed into more progressive political frameworks, I soon had to face up to my own privilege, the way the system in India worked in my favor from the get-go, and how it was built on the bleeding backs of those who had historically been most brutalized by the caste system. One of the results of that (still ongoing) journey of reflection was that I became one of the most ardent believers in the Reservation system quite early on in my youth (my father, being a bit of a self-identified Nehruvian socialist, inculcated in me the importance of “correcting longstanding injustices with government policies that benefit the historically oppressed”).

Now, everyone knew that Reservation as a policy needed to be honed and bettered. But it was also one that was desperately needed as a minuscule, hardly-sufficient, state policy that attempted to undo centuries of brutal caste-based oppression – something which continues in full force in India to this day, regardless of legislation.

It was in discussing Reservation that I realized how wide the gulf was between me and my Indian friends in Hopkins (and frankly, the overwhelming majority of upper caste Hindus in India and around the world). They were all manifestly against it, many offensively so. And because they had the advantage of numbers, the arguments that we had on the topic often played out under the paradigm of the lone, shrill, lefty weirdo arguing against those of apparently reasonable tongue and mind. There’s a way in which numbers help in lending a façade of authenticity to unjust frameworks.

I couldn’t really blame them (though I did want to occasionally beat the ever loving crap out of them). Were I to have missed the kinds of providential political experiences I was lucky enough to have, I would have joined them in their thinking.

Occasionally I ventured a couple of similar  conversations with American friends in the university community, white ones that is, who joined us for get-togethers or hangouts. Sometimes I had conversations with white folk in my classes. It was during those brief times that I understood the sterile stencil with which privilege etched itself on humanity. There was a deeply disturbing correlation with their disavowal of Affirmative Action programs in the States and my Indian buddies’ disdain for Reservation in India.

We were in Johns Hopkins after all. This was the place where an overwhelmingly black janitorial staff cleaned the halls and restrooms used by a student/teacher population consisting of white people, East Asians, and South Asians. Reservation and Affirmative Action were both the same – programs to haughtily dismiss while casting aspersions that they diluted merit or unfairly discriminated against deserving candidates. It was a place where centuries of racism in America and centuries of caste oppression in India could be blotted out from living memory in one fell self-congratulatory swoop. It was a place where those benefiting from different structures of oppression, thousands of miles apart, mostly unrelated, with different histories and local conditions, could find congruence in a false meritocracy. Had I gone to Spellman College or Howard University, my guess (or hope) is that it would have been a little different.

It made me realize that those who acted as the white folk of India where ultimately not a whole lot different, save a few nuances, than white folk elsewhere. It also made me realize that the institution I was in attracted, for the most part, people of a similar ilk regardless of skin color or ethnicity. All of us Indians who came here to study – we assimilated well. We were the acceptable people of color, who kept our heads down and didn’t assert ourselves too much. We filled the color quota of universities without shaking up the system. We didn’t have the history in America that our black and latino brethren had, so we came with a clean slate. We would be supplicant and grateful for having been let into the country to pursue our so-called potential. We didn’t cause trouble with pesky demands for reparations or restorative justice, because we didn’t like those demands when they were made in our own neck of the woods. We didn’t express anything other than pure and unadulterated willingness to integrate, while making sure our cuisine and movies provided non-intrusive pleasure to the society we were integrating into. We were the immigrants whom xenophobic bigots could tout as the kind of immigrants America wanted, unlike those “illegals” from south of the border. We could be the exotic friends of the white folk, without scaring them. We could give them the pass they needed from their history and, in turn, they gave us the pass we needed from ours. We would willingly play second fiddle, and not even dare to seek the lead. Be offended? Pfft…we would oh-so gladly be the Tonto to their Lone Ranger, the Kato to their Green Hornet, the Apu to their Homer Simpson (hell, we wouldn’t even give a crap that America’s most beloved Indian is voiced in breathtakingly racist fashion by Hank Azaria).

And if they declined our offers of compliant companionship, we would thank them nevertheless for their consideration, revert back to our own little bubbles, not cause trouble, and work hard in exactly the way they would like us to.


Did I hear someone say model minority?

Pariah feet in elite academia


I should begin with the preamble that I have been a rather mediocre student my entire life, hovering at or just above average, especially as far as grades are concerned.

Yet I had this innate ability to do really well in standardized tests like the GRE (and prior to that, the Common Admissions Test or CAT, for admissions into ranked engineering and medical colleges with different levels of state-provided funding in Karnataka).

This resulted in me somehow falling through the cracks into a killer graduate program. Cobbling together a tuition scholarship, financial help from my father, and a generous gift from an uncle on my mother’s side, I started an M.S. at the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at Johns Hopkins University in the Fall of 2003. A few months into my journey as an international student in the States, I was relieved that I was heading to a more cosmopolitan city and university than Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania.

The graduate stream I signed up for was essentially a free for all in partnership with other departments in the health, environmental, and social sciences. I decided to do my degree with course majors in public health and human geography because, why the hell not?

I hated what I studied as an undergrad (mechanical engineering); both the university environment and the lack of stimulation irritated me no end. Plus, ever since I could remember I knew I had an inclination towards public health and the social sciences. Thus I was excited at the possibility of some engaged graduate studies.

Following my departure from Erie in the Summer of 2003 I stayed with an older family friend, Ash and his wife Sapana, near DC. Family networks like that were invaluable in getting a small leg up in the game, like being able to stay with them for those three months without paying rent. I soon found an on-campus summer job. And because I was living rent-free, I was able to save enough money to pay first and last for a basement room in Baltimore. Those were small manifestations of the middle class privilege I came with that weren’t present for all immigrants.

Thus buffered, I made my way to Baltimore, and soon set myself up in a small room before the fall semester began.

I was eager to get started. Having grown up in a family that valued university education to a fault (my father studied utilizing kerosene lamps and street light to get into college in Tamil Nadu), I grew up with the bias that an elite educational institute automatically meant it was also a bastion of critical thought. I figured that I would find a more progressive, egalitarian place in general.

That preconception would soon crumble rather rapidly before my eyes.

For starters, the location of the room I found would be my first step in coming to terms with one of the richest universities in America squatting, nay, shamefacedly lounging right in the middle of one of the country’s poorest cities. I found a basement room in a slightly rundown neighborhood barely a few blocks from the neatly manicured lawns and polished buildings of the Homewood Campus.

The neighborhood that surrounded my place had more marginalized people than I had ever seen on any American TV show. I noticed just as many panhandlers as one would be able to see at any major intersection in Bangalore. Maybe the shock manifested in hyperbole but I had to remind myself right about then that India was a significantly poorer country than America. I heard four police sirens during my first night there. And, not more than eight blocks from my new abode was a university with an endowment of around two billion dollars – greater than the entire operating budget of the city of Baltimore.

And what of my initial interaction with the university itself?

On my very first day at the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, I walked with hope and eagerness into the office of Professor Barry, who had been assigned as my temporary advisor.

“Dr. Barry?” I tentatively queried as I knocked on his half open door.

“Yes, come in.” said a friendly voice.

I entered his office, which was, like any other academic’s office, stacked with books on wall-to-wall shelves. I’ve always wondered how many of the books were actually read from cover to cover, and how many were just bought to fill up those gargantuan book shelves and/or placate fellow academics.

“Hi, Dr. Barry…my name is Sri.”

I had by now stopped bothering with my full first name, as a way of preventing an awkward introductory clarification on how it wasn’t “Siniam” or “Sirilam” or “Shareefam”, but “Sriram…though you can call me Sri, as in Sri Lanka”

“Sri, did you say…as in Sri Lanka?” Dr. Barry asked, offering me a round pink hand.

I nearly jumped and applauded.

“Yes!” I said, possibly a little too joyfully. “Sri, as in Sri Lanka.”

“And, um…” he started asking

Oh no, don’t say it, please don’t say it.

“…are you from Sri Lanka?”

Even though I knew it was quite a natural follow-up question, the sheer predictability of my interactions with older white dudes was getting a little tiresome.

“Um…no, I’m from India actually.” I said, a little exasperated.

“Oh, really!” he replied excitedly. “We have another Indian guy who’s just joined us this semester…the guy with the turban.”

“Oh, yeah…I saw him very briefly today morning. I hope to introduce myself to him later on today.” I replied.

The other student I had seen was a Sikh man from Punjab.

“He always looks like he’s meditating or something, you know…with that turban on.” Dr. Barry elucidated. “I almost feel like he’s gonna levitate or something, you know…like one of those Hindu holy men?”

He guffawed loudly, like he had unleashed the most scintillating of wit.

I forced a smile, hoping he would realize that I wanted to get some answers regarding my coursework and not his take on all the resident brown people he believed to be ethnically linked to me. The half smile only seemed to egg him on.

“So,” he asked, “you guys, like, talk to each other and stuff, right? You don’t have any problems with each other’s religions or anything?”

The hope I walked in with was swiftly disintegrating in a matter of seconds. Did he not hear me say that I was hoping to introduce myself to the guy later on?

“Um, yeah…I don’t see why we would have a problem at all, Dr. Barry.” I said, trying not to sound sardonic.

He nodded, “Of course, of course…it’s just that, we never know how internationals will behave with each other, you know, in a new culture and all. Especially, India being such a crazy place and all.”

“Uh huh.” was all I could manage.

“So…right now in India…” he started.

Oh, come on. Not again. Please, no. Ask me about India’s nuclear weapons or cricket team or the political system, even the fucking snake charmers for crying out loud, please, anything but…

“Um…what’s the population like now?” he asked.

What was with these people and India’s population? Why was it such a potent source of voyeurism for them? Did they fantasize about teeming crowds of brown people while they masturbated? Did it titillate them to imagine swathes of thin South Asians standing shoulder to shoulder with each other? Was I simply unaware of a fetish for masses of Third World natives in this part of the earth?

My meeting with Professor Barry at Johns fucking Hopkins University was instructive on how unilaterally brilliant minds were just as capable of jaw-dropping ignorance as anyone else. It certainly made me feel better about myself.

I realized then that the “temporary” in “temporary advisor” was the primary operative in that title as far as I was concerned with Dr. Barry. I was not there for long, but I was determined to find someone whom I could actually learn from. There simply had to be a professor in a supposedly elite academic department who didn’t showcase a fascinating lack of common sense.

And, thank heavens, there was.

I was about to head into a class called Political Ecology that I was advised to take in a rare moment of clarity that Dr. Barry had during that ill-fated first conversation. He probably realized that with the kind of politics I was espousing, a progressive, quasi-pariah professor would be just the thing I needed.

How right he was.

I walked into the graduate lounge just before class to get some coffee, when I spotted a middle-aged black and white sheep dog that hadn’t seen sheep in a long time. It was panting invitingly while lying on the floor with the kind of carefree innocence that only non-human species could muster. I knelt down and started petting him immediately. The more I petted him the happier he got. I was so involved in trying to get him to lick me that I didn’t notice the three students standing over me looking at me incredulously, while an older middle-aged women with whitening blonde hair and a glowing face stood by the doorway smiling widely.

“You know, you can come into my office any time and hang out with him.” she said sweetly.

“Oh…yeah, that would be great.” I said with a smile, glad that I hadn’t offended her by cuddle-torturing her dog.

I walked into my Political Ecology class, waiting for the professor, while the other students chattered away. In walked Professor Erica Schoenberger with Sasha, both recognizing me immediately.

And thus began the first real learning experience for me in my academic career. I was on a double course-load at Hopkins so that I could finish my masters in one year since my scholarship was only for a year and I didn’t fancy taking a loan for a second year of graduate studies.

I think more than half my courses were under Erica. I was told that it wasn’t a good idea to load all my coursework under one professor, but I didn’t care. I had finally found a professor who didn’t make me want to stick a pencil in my eye each time we met, who actually listened, and who taught me with remarkable distinction. I was more than willing to risk loading the majority of my courses with her than having to endure the Dr. Barrys of the world.

The classes were one aspect of my interactions with her. She brought forward critical thinking on issues surrounding environmental justice, colonialism, capitalist exploitation, health rights, and social justice in a way that I could understand, especially when the density of the reading material got the better of me. She did this without being condescending, always making me believe that I had as much to offer as she did. At the time I thought that all progressive professors did this, so didn’t think much about it. But years later when I returned to the world of academia for my doctorate, I would realize how unique it was.

However, it wasn’t only via the classroom that I found an enriching learning experience. Erica also helped me get a measure of rationality in the midst of the giant irrationality that was Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. I knew that personal therapy was not what she was there for, but it helped to sense some very real existential angst she had in being a radical progressive in the middle of academic sterility. It helped me struggle with my own internal contradictions with the place.

The experience taught me that learning could be liberating, indeed had to be liberating, first and foremost from the institutions of learning themselves.

Most importantly though, she made me feel like I didn’t have to hide my politics. I felt like I had the freedom to, for instance, come into her office for an appointment on my coursework and instead launch into a discussion on how the overwhelming majority of the janitorial employees were black while the overwhelming majority of the students were white or Asian.

“That’s the system of elite academic production for you in the middle of one of the most gentrified cities in the country.” she replied indignantly, suppressing a slightly nervous tick. “The poorest of the poor clean the hallways and toilets for the children of the wealthy.”

“Isn’t this just further polarizing communities to the point where there might be an explosion…you know, a revolution?” I asked.

“That’s true, but this country has also constantly found remarkable ways of either smashing militant movements that fight for greater change or subsuming them into the system through non-profits.” she said with resignation.

Even though I knew she had that sense of anger against the systems of elitism that surrounded her, I never did broach the topic of how she herself was fighting the good fight while teaching in an elite university. I think I didn’t want to hear her engagement with the kinds of contradictions any progressive within an elite setting engaged with (or at least should engage with). I don’t think it would have been good for me to hear that right then.

I liked having her on the pedestal because she was a source of sanity for me. I was on a double course load, while working a shitty part-time gig to pay the rent, soon to navigate the all-important job market in order to get a work visa and save some money while staying involved in as much political activism as I could. I didn’t want that pedestal to disappear because it temporarily made the effort worthwhile.

Thus did my pariah feet find their way in elite academia.

Being in love with a brilliant freedom fighter


I often speak about my soulmate (and mother of our soon-to-be little one) in many of my posts. Today I’d like to dedicate a piece to her because she liberates me, herself, and others in ways that I can only dream of achieving.

Being in love with this brilliant freedom fighter has been the greatest experience of my life. Sus brings love, light, and liberation to a world easily consumed by hatred, darkness, and oppression. And she does so disarmingly, as if it’s the easiest thing to her.

Make no mistake though, she makes it look easy because that’s what real freedom fighters do, but easy is the last thing it has been. Very few know of her struggles, the mountains she has had to traverse, the battles she has had to fight, the grief and pain she has had to endure.

And while I’m not going into the details for various reasons, I feel very privileged to have a vantage point in my life that allows me to learn, from the inside out, just what it takes to be a lifelong freedom fighter – for that is what she is.

Sus doesn’t do bombast or arrogance. (That’s my forte.) Sus fights the good fight with all her might while embodying an organic framework of care, solidarity, and spiritual self-reflection. She fights for freedom because she knows it’s the only way – no matter what might be thrown her way.

That’s because Sus doesn’t do cowardice either.

She fights against patriarchy, colonialism, and racism because she sees it playing out in oppressive ways in her own life. But many people, especially privileged folk, see it play out in their lives and don’t do shit – happy to turn a blind eye so they can continue wallowing without being inconvenienced. Not her though. Sus is made of sterner stuff.

Like I said – she’s no coward.

This is one fearless warrior-goddess.

She teaches me that organizing and fighting for freedom happens across the length and breadth of life. It happens in our homes, at work, on the street, and within our families. She doesn’t shy away from any battle, and she gives her all to each and every one of them, no matter how small or big the fight may be. Because she knows that it’s in the small battles that the fight against oppression is won.

I know a lot of activists who do what they do to get their street cred going or to showcase their radical political chops publicly to others. I know a lot of do-gooders who do what they do to build up their altruism cache and seem like a great humanitarian. I know a lot of progressive thinkers and writers who do what they do to generate acclaim and praise for themselves. I know this because I was one of them, all of them, and likely still am.

Which is why it is so fucking awesome to be with someone like Sus. Her liberated soul and deeply compassionate heart blazes a trail for lesser mortals like me – a trail which almost always leads to healing and happiness – even when we have to occasionally come through pain and sadness.

For Sus is no run-of-the-mill activist. She is no privilege-mongering do-gooder or elitist-minded writer.

Sus is a freedom fighter. The very best there is.

And, if this wasn’t already bleedingly obvious, I’m the luckiest man on earth.

I pray that everyone finds this kind of love in their life.