Hindu for Hillary

Politics

Hindu for Hillary

Illustration: Akshita Monga

A

few days ago, as I was driving home from work, I received a phone call.

“Uh hello?” I said, hoping it was a wrong number.

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“Hi, I’m Anna, with the Hillary campaign,” said a woman with a soft voice. “Our records show that you are interested in volunteering.”

A few days ago, I had signed up as a volunteer for the Hillary campaign. Donald Trump, coasting on the fact that we had finally run out of women accusing him of sexual assault, was closing in on Hillary Clinton in the polls. My Hindu brothers and sisters in New Jersey were performing song and interpretive dance sequences to raise money for Trump, who has vowed to curb immigration, especially from Muslim countries. I, however, as a person of sepia hue, was panicking because it is hard to entrust immigration matters unto the care of a man who has trouble distinguishing between a Muslim headdress, a Sikh turban, and a Hindu Shivalinga.

This is why despite my social anxiety and reluctance to crawl out from underneath the rock I call home, I believed that campaigning for Hillary was a worthy, even emergent endeavour.

Anna was enthusiastic in mobilising my support.

Anna: Would you like to help us out? We have several things you could do. For example, are you interested in registering voters?

Me: Hmm.

Anna: Or maybe you’d like to do some phone banking?

Me: I’m not very good on the phone.

Anna: How about canvassing?

Me: Um is there anything I could do that does not involve interacting with people?

(I could hear hushed giggles on the other end of the line.)

Anna: I’m sorry, I don’t know if we have anything like that.

Me: I could stand on the sidewalk holding a Hillary sign.

Anna: Well…

Me: How about I bring everybody coffee and snacks?

Anna: Look, you’ll be fine, there will be other people with you.

Anna was using the comforting tone one associates with a mother trying to get her idiot baby to stop crying.

“Okay then,” I sighed. “Sign me up for canvassing. I’ll be there this Saturday.”

I had no idea what canvassing was. I haven’t been actively involved in politics since my college days when I campaigned for a friend running for the position of annual social gathering secretary. My brilliant use of jingoistic rhetoric in campaign posters such as “PAKISTAN MURDABAD!!! VOTE FOR MAYUR” was what eventually turned the tide of public opinion against Mayur in the election.

***

Saturday was a bright sunny day, perfect for some volunteering. I wore my Eagles jersey because if you wish to capture the hearts and minds of people in the greater Philadelphia area, it helps if you’re a Philadelphia Eagles fan.

I parked my car outside the Hillary campaign headquarters and walked inside. I was accosted by a young woman in glasses.

“Hi, I’m Anna,” she said.

“Hello Anna, I’m here to volunteer,” I said hesitantly. She looked really, really young. Hillary was creating some extremely politically aware young monsters.

Anna started giving me canvassing instructions. “Today you will make sure that registered Democrats in our area get out to vote. You will ask them if they’re voting for Hillary Clinton and mark their replies on this form.”

“Sounds straightforward,” I said.

I was paired with Amy, a lithe young woman with bright red hair.

Anna handed us a clipboard containing a map of the area we would be canvassing with houses marked on it and a list of names and addresses of all the people we would be meeting.

“If somebody on the list isn’t home, just slide the literature under their door. Please do not put it in their mailbox,” Anna warned us. “That is illegal.”

“Oh shit,” I said to myself, remembering all the times I had stuffed my Favstar tweet printouts into my neighbours’ mailboxes.

We met a Trump supporter who wanted his Hillary supporting daughter to move out of his damn house.

“Okay, good luck guys, I’ll see you in a couple of hours.” Anna went back to her job of saving America.

Our first rendezvous was with a woman who seemed perturbed that her neighbour had a Trump sign in his yard. “Why would anyone do that?” she whispered to us. “And how can I get a Hillary sign for my yard?”

After we had provided her with instructions on how to do that we moved on to the next house on the list. The door was opened by a large pink grinning man.

“Hello, is Laurie home,” inquired Amy.

“No, she is busy,” replied the large pink grinning man.

He continued to grin at us.

“Um, okay,” said Amy.

The large pink man remained at the door grinning as he watched us leave.

“Should I mark Laurie’s voting status on the form as murdered by husband,” I asked Amy.

We walked from house to house knocking on door after door. We spoke to a sick Hillary supporter who promised us he’d get better in time to go out and vote. We met a Trump supporter who wanted his Hillary supporting daughter to move out of his damn house. We talked to an old couple, with a tiny dog, who was worried about Hillary’s chances and was of the opinion that Trump “shouldn’t be in the White House, he should be in a Shit House”. We met a young mother who waved us away because her baby was asleep.

We were down to the final person on our list.

We entered an apartment building and walked up a narrow staircase. I knocked on the door. It was opened by an old Muslim gentleman, wearing a lungi and chewing on paan with what appeared to be his single functional tooth.

“Mr Siful Rehman,” I asked him.

The old man nodded and pointed toward the staircase.

“Oh… okay,” I said.

We followed him downstairs. At the bottom of the staircase, he pointed toward the front door of the building.

“Go outside,” I asked him. He nodded.

“What is happening,” hissed Amy. “Is he throwing us out?”

“I don’t know,” I mumbled.

“We’re terribly sorry for disturbing you Mr Rehman.” I felt it was better to apologise before he called the police.

The old man started walking toward the back of the building and motioned at us to follow him. In the courtyard, behind the building, were two women playing with a bunch of kids and watching over a large mat covered with countless red chilly peppers laid out to dry under the hot sun. It felt like I was watching a tableau out of my own childhood back in India.

“SIFUL,” bellowed the old gentleman.

A young man extricated himself from this idyllic scene and bounded up to us. He looked to be about the same age I was when I first came to this country.

“Hi, we’re from the Pennsylvania Democratic Party,” I said. “We were wondering if you were planning to vote for Hillary Clinton this election.”

Siful smiled at us ruefully and shook his head.

“Not a citizen,” he said. “Cannot vote”.

“Oh,” I said. “Maybe the next election then.”

His face brightened.

“Yes, next election. Maybe I’ll join you.”

The popular cliché about America is that it is an ethnic melting pot. The deeper nuance is that American life is now a healthy exchange of ideas and culture between immigrants and Americans; Indian immigrants giving Americans loose motions through their spicy vindaloo and Americans, in return, giving Indians explosive diarrhoea through their blazing hot buffalo wings.

Cultural diversity is Ground Zero in the battle against xenophobic nativists like Donald Trump. As Amy and I walked away from this family of brown immigrants and their red chillies, embedded within the fabric of white suburban Philadelphia, I was acutely aware that this, right here, was what Hillary and I were ultimately fighting for.

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