The dusky showstopper

The fact that many Americans were unable to distinguish Nina Davuluri from being an Arab or even a Muslim was not surprising. Nor was it unusual that she was called a ‘terrorist’.

Ok folks so, out here in the United States, I have to admit that the big news is not that Miss America 2014 is of Indian descent. Had the twitter trolls not been at work, few would have really noticed. So, can one say that there is nothing as helpful as a little controversy?

Don’t we remember how the racism row over Shilpa Shetty — while she was in the Big Brother house in the UK — actually gave a boost to her career? Sorry if that sounds politically incorrect, but it’s a fact. And, thus, the ultimate result of the backlash on the Internet over Nina Davuluri’s win definitely gave her much more coverage in the national media than she would have normally received.
Also, the fact that many Americans were unable to distinguish her from being an Arab or even a Muslim was not surprising given the general level of knowledge about other communities in the US. Nor was it unusual that she was called a “terrorist”. Perhaps, for many Americans, anybody who has a slightly dark complexion and “Asian” looks could be terrorist material.
I am not such a huge fan of beauty pageants. It is a little disconcerting that they still continue to chug along with girls prancing around in skimpy dresses articulating their desire to change the world. Miss Davuluri now says she wants to use the prize money to become a doctor. We shall see; I am sure that her Bollywood dance number during the beauty pageant might have already excited the Mumbai film world by now.
However, even though her win is not exactly going to increase US interest in India, it might help the larger issue of multi-culturalism. A quick lesson in multiculturism could be learnt by simply taking a cab. Almost every cab driver I have encountered so far is either from Pakistan or Bangladesh or India.
Another story is of a Pakistani cab driver Muhammad. He claimed that he was previously employed at the Pakistani high commission and had also worked with Pervez Musharraf. He said he quit the high commission because he wanted to stay on in the US. Is this really the only career left to choose when the Pakistani high commission decides to relocate you?

Meanwhile, I have found that Washington is a more friendly and relaxed city than New York. It is an over-grown village just like Delhi and the only difference is that everyone here is genuinely eager to help strangers and working women feel extremely secure. The city is green and spread out. It is fascinating how many large, impressive and elegant memorials the US administration has managed to fit into the central part of the city.
Of course, without a long enough history as a nation, America has conveniently borrowed the pomp and grandeur from the Graeco-Roman style, which was easily executed since Washington was carefully planned. The best part is an excellent public transport system. Since the government is the biggest employer here, it is not surprising that almost 40 per cent of the population use public transport, while a substantial number cycle or walk or use shared cars to commute.
My favourite means of travelling between Washington and New York is bus. There is a distinct divide between the kind of people who use the trains and the buses. Mostly, the buses are used by the lower-income groups — the Blacks, the Hispanics and the student community. I simply did not mind being added to that number, as the buses are very comfortable, equipped with tables, free Internet and even have a chemical toilet for which the standards have certainly risen! In the past, I preferred the train but now I have found that the modern double-decker bus gives the same comfort and that too at a fraction of the price.
I arrived in Washington at the time of the National Book Fair and so couldn’t resist a dekko. Despite its prime location — sprawling out in front of the many Smithsonian museums — one had to admit that it looked quite industrial and did not have the colourful buzz of the multiple literary festivals and meets in India.
Surprisingly, we seem to be ahead in few matters! Even the Delhi Book Fair, which is now attended by thousands of people, would give the book fair in Washington a run for its money. The entry to the book fair was free and was organised with the prime motive of encouraging book reading. It was reassuring to see attendees of every colour and age.
But while there was an impressive list of speakers, including Margaret Atwood, this was one area where I think India with all its chaos and illiteracy does it much better.

Kishwar Desai is an award-winning author

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