Radical media, politics and culture.

Jamal Mecklai, "Falling in Love Again"

"Falling in Love Again"

Jamal Mecklai

Life’s a funny business. At any point in time, you have a group of family, friends, associates who define your life and really, to quote Garcia Marquez quoting Julius Caesar in The Ides of March, “In the end, it is impossible not to become what others believe you are.”

And, if, at that same point, you gaze backwards, you see a (usually) different group – family, of course, but different friends and associates and so on. And you sometimes think, My God, look at so and so – I can’t believe we ever really shared so much.

And then, sometimes, if you are lucky, you realize that you were wrong and you recapture – in essence if not in practice – what it was that you felt, enjoyed, even loved.The other night, I got really lucky. I was able to taste an old and long-standing love affair as if it was right here right now. I had gone to America when I was 21; in a sense, I grew up there. That’s where I learned, amongst many things, that life in general – and America, in particular – is about a perennial search for innocence. Now, this may sound naïve, particularly with such a wide spectrum of stories and media images belying it. But, it’s the truth. The essence of America is the belief that just around the corner is a magic kingdom, where truth and purity will reign, and, of course, where I will become a billionaire. And it is this belief that gives it its energy. Not just the part about the billions, mind you – the search for truth and purity is a key part of the American dream.

Anyway, I lived in America for a long time – fifteen years. And although most of that time I was in New York, which, in many ways is not America, I could always taste and feel this quest for innocence. [I can see several of my friends of that time saying, “Yeah, right – in the bottom of a glass of bourbon.”]

So, when I left the U.S., some twenty years ago, imagine my surprise when I found myself having to defend America almost everywhere I went. Nobody bought my essence of America perfume. They pointed to its crassness, its money-is-everything attitude, the shocking lack of knowledge about any place else in the world, its holier-than-thou politics, the silly social conservatism, and more. I tried to point out that these were all superficial attributes, like somebody’s height or weight or nose size. To know the real America you have to love it, just like with any other place, person or thing.

Of course, my eloquence usually – always? – fell on deaf ears. And so it went.

Over the years, and despite the fact that both my kids went to school in the U.S., America began to thin out in my memory. My accent, which still surfaces eagerly from time to time, was a bit less twangy, and America started becoming part of my past – still fond, but somehow less relevant.

And then came September 11. It was like a lover had been killed. I was distraught. My son, who was at that time in school in Texas, told me he was amazed at the intensity of my writing on the subject. It was clear (to him) how deeply I still loved America, more than 15 years after I had left it.

I visited the U.S. the following year – my son was still in school, and I had, and will always have, dozens of close, wonderful friends there. And, while there was a dark tinge of sadness in New York, as always, I had a blast. But, it was different than I remembered – I guess I was different. I felt like a visitor, but yet not. New York had, for me, finally become the cliché – a magical place to visit, but I couldn’t really live there [any more]. For one, who for decades had “New York is New York” as his only mantra, this was a huge change.

And as for America … well, its flavor was still there, but much, much thinner on my tongue. To paraphrase an old AT&T ad, “A fond memory is next best to being there.”

But then came the Iraq invasion. I couldn’t believe it. The night before it happened I had bet two friends that the U.S. would never invade Iraq – I even lost four tickets to the Rolling Stones on it. But the thought of some poor Iraqi sod like myself, just living his life, getting blown to bits, just broke my heart. I couldn’t believe that someone who I had known so well, trusted and loved could do such a terrible thing.

My love started to curdle and, as such things do, turned to anger, which, in turn, slowly turned to disrespect, which in its turn became mocking. I remember even thinking that America has become a zoo – entertaining, but don’t get too close to the animals. I had forgotten completely that I was one of the most joyous of those animals not that long ago.

And then, a few nights ago, God sent me a gift. We have an old friend who lives in Silicon Valley and schleps back and forth to India. We always have dinner and (more than) a few drinks when he is here, and he frequently brings an assortment of other animals – mostly, but not always, IT types. This time he had two young couples with him, all four Indian-looking (turns out one couple was from Bangladesh), all four wide-eyed, eager, American tourists (“We can’t have any ice”), all four wonderfully enthusiastic, energetic, talented, skilled and excited about life. And all four with that same pure belief in a wonderful future world twinkling in their eyes.

And suddenly, I tasted America again. The America I had known and loved. The America where the magic kingdom of truth and purity (and billions) was around the corner is so obviously alive and well, and, in a wonderful twist of fate, it now looks Indian.

Happy New Year!