Saturday, May 9, 2009

Abraham Lincoln, In Mumbai

Originally posted in Common Threads Blog,
Centre Daily Times, Feb 13, 2009

Yesterday, I took a trip down memory lane – thanks to a tiny note in my weekly calendar: Feb 12 – Lincoln’s birthday.

A trip down to middle school in Mumbai (Bombay), India, where my first encounter with Abraham Lincoln occurred, through the pages of my English reader.

We learnt about Abraham Lincoln’s life – his lack of any major formal schooling, his integrity, his career as a lawyer, and his ability to string words together to make so much sense, that the words had meaning, not just for Americans, but for people all over the world.

Sometime later, we did cover both the American Revolution and the Civil War, along with the history of other parts of the Western world.

I also remember reading the Gettysburg Address at school, either that year or later. Some of us even memorized his now famous speech of 19th November, 1863, which starts with the line - Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal."

Setting eyes on this text in 1988, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, was a very significant moment for me, just like it was for Mr. Smith in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

There is something poetic about this – a child getting inspired by an individual, whose life had played out thousands of miles away. There are inspiring individuals everywhere, and I was lucky to have grown up in India, learning about Frost alongside Tagore, Lincoln alongside Gandhi and Nehru.

There were significant gaps in my education, as the curriculum ignored the legacies of people from “less important” countries, and even minimized the study of Eastern philosophy and thought. To this day, I struggle to fill those gaps.

My daughter on the other hand, is growing up in the United States, and I try to imagine what her roster of heroes will look like…I wonder, whether Lincoln or Gandhi will mean more or less to her, than they do to me.

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