Open letter to President George W Bush

Dear Mr Bush,
Let me start by saying that I never voted for you. In 2000, I rooted for Gore and dutifully voted for him. In 2004, I felt that John Kerry was an idiot but nonetheless held my nose and voted for him. Yet, I am writing this letter to help rather than hurt you. You see, I cannot afford to pray for your failure because my country cannot afford another 2+ years of disasters.

There are basically 3 areas that I want to talk to you about.

1. Terrorism
Terror has been used by many factions for many centuries. But the terrorist activities succeed only when the fear seeps into the general populace. That is why when Britain was fighting Germany almost alone in 1940 and London was being bombed by the Blitz, the British did not let fear overrule their sanity and, in the end, they came out ahead. It is high time that we stopped getting spooked by our own shadows and bring some sort of normalcy to our lives.

2. Middle East
At the end of the day, every person on this planet wants the same things - food in the belly, clothes on the back, roof over the head and a bright future for the next generation. When our actions or those of our allies cause these basic goals to be stolen from the general public, they tend to get angry at us. And why shouldn't they? After all, we are a large target and we seem to have some really unsavory "friends" in the Middle East. To compound our problems further, while we are stuck in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we are rattling our sabers at Iran. Perhaps we need to take a step back and understand that we cannot simply march into other people's countries and demand that they do things the way we want them to do.

3. Economy
No matter how well you do abroad, our economy needs some TLC as well. Our economy is both hot and cold simultaneously. On one hand, the number of millionaires is going up while on the other hand there is a dearth of jobs for the young people in this country. Schools and colleges that were once almost free are now charging an arm and a leg! There is a lot of uncertainty about the future and then our government is busy slashing taxes on everyone except those that earn through the sweat of their brow!
Mr Bush, your party claims that it and not the "other party" is the true friend of the working people. But the working people are less interested in stem cells, abortion and gun control laws and more interested in putting food on the table and giving their kids a better life. In your zeal to chase terrorists in the Middle East please don't forget that the American public hired you as the CEO of USA and the American growth and prosperity is critical to how you would be remembered. I hope that your name is not considered a synonym for Herbert Hoover.

With warm regards...


Guide to the Indian caste system

Whenever you use the word "caste", people only think of the Indian society. True, India is quite (in)famous for its caste system but it is not the only part of the world where people are judged simply by their birth. But, due to many having asked me how the caste system works, this article is devoted to the Indian system...

The Indian caste system has four major castes which, in decreasing order of importance, are: Brahmin (priests), Kshatriya (warriors), Vaishya (business people) and Shudra (workers). Within each caste are sub-castes and within that are sub-sub-castes. For example, Agrawals are a sub-caste of Vaishyas and are further subdivided into Beesa and Dassa. Each sub-sub-caste is an insular world when it comes to marriage and strong family connections. Each caste has a protected job that only the members of that caste are allowed to do. If a person of cobbler caste wants to get into farming, both the cobbler and farmer groups would get extremely unhappy with him. In the old days, serious infractions could cause you to be kicked out of your caste. This, for those who weren't independently wealthy, was a death sentence. They not only couldn't join in the various social events, they could lose their only livelihood!

You can think of the Indian caste system as an extended version of the European guild system. As long as you stayed within the boundaries sketched out by tradition, you would be fine. You could even prosper as long as you knew "your place" in the society. This is not too different from the way Blacks were treated in USA after emancipation. For example, a millionaire weaver could be a lord in his group and lord over the lower castes but when interacting with the higher castes, he better show the proper humility or else he could be considered "too uppity" and find himself on the wrong side of some very powerful people.

Through most of history, each sub-sub-caste has lived in a microcosm of their own. Therefore, not only do they have limited connection to other castes in ordinary lives, they continuously reinforce the boundaries of the caste system. Even today, it is easy to spot people of different castes by their names and often by their choice of words in normal conversation and their style of pronunciation. You can think of My Fair Lady and the dialect-reinforced caste system of England.

However, things are changing in India. In large cities, caste matters less every day. Many people are realizing that they can defy the caste system without any consequences. I would like to think that some of my ancestors (especially Sri Prakasa and Bhagwan Das) had a hand in undermining the power of the conservatives. But the caste system is still a reality for the majority in India and even for a large segment of Americans of Indian origin! It is disheartening to see how people are still so enamored with their particular caste.

And then there is the political side to this all. Many governments, in an attempt to apportion the resources in an "equitable" manner, have steered India away from a caste-less society by making various opportunities available on the basis of caste. But that is discussion for another day...