Saturday, September 12, 2009

30000 Feet above the U.S. of A!!

On a recent flight, I was pondering over a friend's question.  It led me to delve deep and discover anew and hence this article!!

I have always loved heights - and I am never happier than when I am in a plane accelerating for take off. I guess it is to do with being able to see more of the world; a bigger picture. The higher the altitude, the better the picture. It is a time to let go of petty thoughts and elevate yourself. It is a place where it's quiet, where you can seek harmony and where you can be alone. Back home in India, I had a favorite spot on the top of my building where I would retreat to, to think, to dream and to soar above reality. Often times I would get there in the evening and then lie on my back, until all sky was changed and amidst its changing colors I'd get to befriend the stars, once again.  And as the eager wind played with my hair, I would just sit back and listen to the city, the myriad of sounds and little specks of light in the distance - windows to the life beyond.

Often times tired of fighting the school, parents and everything in between, it was the one place where I was truly at peace.  In retrospect, at the time, it was only the roof top and a teacher that saved me from total ruin. As the city grew quieter in the growing night, I knew I had to go home soon and my thoughts would return to the life at hand. Almost always dejected, I would find inspiration by reminding myself of my mentor's words - "Go to America - Don't stay here. You are meant to go abroad!!" And like the sugar sleep of a cold morning, the rooftop would make me stay five more minutes and beckon me to imagine of possibilities yet to come.

Prophetically enough, it was in the zeniths above North America that I found the azure of my life. What began as a fascination for the west, swelled to a powerful ambition and saw me fly out of my nest, over vast seas and onto foreign shores.  Over the years, the U.S. guarded my individuality and revitalized every creative instinct I carried. What began as a temporary abode for my graduate studies grew to be a new home for me.

Deriding my promiscuity and labeling me as a 'Non Returning Indian', an old friend asked me 'What is it about America that anyone going there  does not wish to return?' It was a banal question, one that is asked many times,  but coming from a close friend, it made me think ... "How could I best explain my affection for America?" And I realized, that often times the true reason why U.S. is so loved is rarely within guess of outsiders.

[ Image used under public license - ]

The appeal of America does not lie in any one aspect of its nature, it is the whole experience and what it implies that makes the U.S. hard to leave. It isn't about it's copious wealth, or the carefree attitude towards sex. Neither is it about convenient infrastructure nor about the standard of living it offers. What people truly treasure about America is different for every person and is hardly ever encapsulated in one characteristic.

As for me, The United States has come to represent the only place on earth where you can be genuinely free and accomplish anything you want solely upon your merit. It has come to represent what a fully vibrant democracy looks like. The true allure of America lies in its core ideas. The belief that every citizen is equal and that every person has a birth right to pursue his/her happiness. It is freedom in the real sense of the term. Freedom to choose ones profession, to choose ones religion, freedom to wear what you want, to speak what you want, to love whom you want and to be yourself in every breath of your life. It lies in the honesty and fairness innate to almost every American. The real allure lies in the desire to be good, to be virtuous and to be rewarded for it. It lies in the certainty that your individual freedom is guarded at all costs and in the relish that your life is preciously valued.

It is a great country, it is a beautiful country. Even from a height of 30000 feet, it betrays a linearity of thought that is hard to miss.  It is blessed with a remarkable landscape. Sweeping fields of green and gold that caress the sunshine touching them. Breathtaking mountains and dazzling valleys revealing chaotic fractals of nature's geometry. Vast cities neatly laid out and complex man-made structures complimenting the landscape. Awe-inspiring networks of highways like ever flowing streams of human traffic evincing the nation's foresight. It is a land tended to with love and diligently nursed by its people, people who know they will be loved back. It is a house made into a home.

Day in and day out, it is this endearing warmth that thaws even the most frigid cynicism and makes you hope.  Its immigrant origins make it welcome and embrace you. Its patchwork culture gives it a unique sense of humor and makes you smile. Its belief in itself gives you confidence and becomes your strength. And  sure enough, like a flawed human being, it can sometimes be imperfect, but its heart is in the right place. It is people as people should be, mankind the way it ought to be. It is the one place its founders sought, the one place aspirations still seek. It makes you shun the unneeded and choose only the best to keep. It is an idea. It is a dream.

You can not understand why people love the U.S. if you are blinded by prejudice. Its an answer not to be sought on the floor with your nose to the ground, its an answer to be found in the transcending heights above.  

It is what I'd tell my friend, what I would tell my teacher, if only!!

- Sanket

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Parth Dave said...

Well, I can now understand the ACTUAL viewpoint of an NRI...

I must appreciate your writing style...It is too riveting, man...people probably get mesmerised by your work!

Another wonderful work of yours...HATS OFF TO YOU!

I am said...

Truely said, Sanket.

Freedom of choice, dream, and hope surrounds the air in this country. And that's what makes it unique from anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

you have really matured as a writer. congrats. Sona

Sanket Korgaonkar said...

You have no idea how much this means to me. Thank you - Thank you - keep giving me suggestions and I will do my best to be better. Thank you once again - and please do keep reading.

Padmaja Ganti said...

sanket...beautiful again....i really dont have much to say after reading your blog, because more than often I am just speechless and so much in awe of your writing.....kudos...will keep looking forward to your blog always!!!

Anonymous said...

Well, that certainly was riveting. But are we as a society truly behaving with an understanding of human nature if the real allure "lies in the certainty that your individual freedom is guarded at all costs"? If mankind is to preserve individual freedom at all costs, how does that protect the individual? Won't people make unwise choices, en mass, in the pursuit of exercising this "individual freedom"? Isn't that what we're seeing in the spread of fatal STDs, broken homes and abortion of innocent lives simply because freedom to have random sex came superseded thinking things through?

The saddest thing about people saluting freedom over wisdom is that advertisers have not lost the understanding of human nature. They feed on the poor choices of consumers. They're still pitching merchandise on credit to the public. They're still telling women that fornication is a smart choice.

They're still benefiting from the idea that so long as we are told we are free, we will never question our slavery.

Sanket Korgaonkar said...

Your point is certainly valid - and it is well taken. I guess, it reflects the perspectives we inherited because of our upbringing. In India, where I grew up, if you wish to live a peaceful life, as a child you would study what you are asked to, as an adult you would adopt the profession chosen for you, others will decide what time is right for you to get married, and they will also choose your partner for you. And then this individual repeats this cycle for his/her child. It is suffocating. It is extremely monotonous and stripped of all valor and glamor of ambition. And as such, it is a way to exist, it is certainly no way to live. And so, for me, freedom is not a pseudo pleasure - in need of marketing or advertising, it is a birth right that I have been deprived of, one which I reclaimed when I entered America.

As to the fact that people make poor choices when granted freedom. I believe any person will tell you, he would rather make bad choices of his own, than live by the right choices of someone else. People are meant to be free, and they also have a right to make mistakes. Now, if one has a right to kill a fetus is a whole different issue, and as such out of the scope of this article (and this author). Every person as an individual and the society as a whole has to learn from their mistakes and progress.

As to women fornicating, it is no ones business to tell a woman she should fornicate or not. And I certainly haven't met anyone who has asked a woman to do so. I think what you are probably referring to is the consumer culture in America - where by advertisers dictate whats hep and whats the 'in' thing to do - and where by consumers follow mindlessly. That goes to the issue of the consumer not been self aware.

I guess what we need is a balance between the moderation of East and the freedom of the West. Except that who decides what are the boundaries of moderation, what to accept - what to throw out?? It is different for each person.

By all means do explain your position further if I have misunderstood you. I'd be happy to debate. I kindly request you do it in an email sent to - rather than the comments section.

As we tend to debate and discuss issues further, the comment becomes less relevant to the post per se, and I tend to hold those discussions in personal email exchange.


- Sanket

Anonymous said...


captainjohann said...

Hi Sanket,
A true picture and one can feel the love you have for the country which gives you the new home. I know India is dirty, uncouth,slow and ofcourse the leaders are garishly corrupt.But those of us Indians who continue to stay here (may be lack of opportunity)love it inspite of this.Many a NRI cannot understand this but i know you will.People especially the elite celebrate unshamefully the Nobel for an American of Tamil origin.But they cannot understand why America produces so many great scientists or sporstmen

Pari said...

That is a well-written post. Your ability to express things that you feel, using words, is marvellous.
At the risk of being tagged as "yet another desi fighting for india" I would like to say a few things regarding the post!
I appreciate the way you have labeled "USA" as the country of your dreams, as the country that gave you freedom, as the country that "you were meant to be at"...But somewhere down the line, it doesn't reflect good things about India. What you want, is a country that gave you freedom and let you be, as you wanted to be. Its a SAD thing that you associate India, the country as a whole, wherein you can't get these things. Frankly, its not the country thats wrong, its just that you did not get things that you wished for in this country, which is apparently India.
I agree to the fact that this is YOUR homepage and you have all the freedom to express your opinions - but after reading this post, I all the more realize why people are sooo fascinated about the US of A. Random google searches would lead them to read something like this, and the tender mind would get moulded, so easily. No wonder, when someone (like me) take decisions about coming back to India, many people find the act weird!
No personal offense here, but just wanted to let you know, my enraged mind could not help but reply to this one.

Take care and keep writing!

Sanket Korgaonkar said...


Your comment is deeply appreciated.

On any given issue - exactly half the people are going to disagree with you - and the other half will agree. Thats to be expected.

What I don't understand about comments like these is that - so many Indians (and self proclaimed patriots - i.e. who chose to go back) interpret appreciation of the U.S. as fault finding of India. I do not understand that rationale.

At least you were respectful in your comment. Anyways, if you take the time to read the blog some more, esp posts from Nov - Dec 2008 I am sure you will come to discover of my love of India as well.

I define patriotism as 'How much have you given back to your country ?" your present location or place of stay is secondary in that equation.

I see the knee jerk reaction to retaliate and say - "Hey, India has those things too !!" But when I talk of Freedom in the United States, I talk of the real thing. Any place where a woman could get beat up for drinking beer - or a couple could get thrashed for giving valentine cards - has clearly not given its citizens freedom. Whats more is that - in India, should you be a victim to such incidents, there is no practical legal recourse for the citizens - THAT my friend is totally unacceptable. In other terms Freedom in India stretches only so far as you do what the religious norms of the place demand. THAT is not complete freedom.

From my research - I see that you accessed the site from Mumbai, perhaps you would be interested to read this article - and provide a second thought.

kaushik said...

Okay my 2 cents :)

I completely agree with the way you paint America. Back in India, I thought the "American Dream" was just a phrase, but after staying here for a while, I came to know that it is an idea and a respected idea...

I don't know much about you, but I believe that the same dream can be lived in India too. You said in your post that

"It has come to represent what a fully vibrant democracy looks like. The true allure of America lies in its core ideas. The belief that every citizen is equal and that every person has a birth right to pursue his/her happiness."

The fact is that America is a matured democracy and a matured society. It went through its own upheavals and doubts. Why till the mid-1960's there was racial segregation in the country that is now, free in the truest sense of the word free. The fact is, India is a developing society and democracy, and it is the onus of her citizens to help her make the transition to a truly "free" country. How we do so and how quickly we do so, is totally our choice.

I understand the reasons to which you made the choice of staying back here, but I have my reasons to contemplate going back every-day.

Nice post!

Preeti Mudliar said...

Was just checking the comments on the NYT blog and saw a familiar name above mine. It's been a long time and I hope all is well. Happy Diwali to you.

Roopa said...

Hi Sanket,

Reached your blog from the NY times comments page. I wanted to post this message to commend you for attempting to explain something as complex as the "true sense of freedom". That is a concept less understood by many Indians - not to offend anyone, but its just that our culture doesn't encourage the concept of "giving space".

I can relate to what you have written here, and find it so challenging to explain to my friends who ask me the same question.

Anyway, great writing! I enjoyed reading a few other posts as well.


Sanket Korgaonkar said...

Hey Roopa,

Thanks so much for comment. Welcome to my website. Please keep reading and commenting. There is nothing I love more - than to hear from readers!


- Sanket

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