Friday, April 04, 2008

Some thoughts about Dr King

I was probably twelve years old and still living in India when I first saw a piece of the "I have a dream" speech. It must have been around 1979 or so and Muhammad Ali was visiting India. It was a big deal. The Champ was past his prime but had a huge following in the country. We who had grown up singing the song 'Black Superman" by Johnny Wakelin were very keen on seeing our hero finally in person.

The Champ made headlines when he kissed Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on the cheek. Public displays of affection in the land of the Kama Sutra were unknown then and kissing a female Prime Minister was so beyond our experience that no one really knew how to react. But he charmed us all with his smile, his sense of humor in press conferences etc.

As part of his visit, Doordarshan, the state owned TV channel (Ali was flabbergasted that we had only one TV channel btw) carried a biographical piece about Ali and the Civil Rights movement and his stance against the Vietnam War etc. It was in that documentary that I first saw and heard a few sentences of "I Have a Dream"

I was hooked. There was something about the power of the words, the timbre, the look on Dr Kings face as he addressed the marchers from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial - even though the clip only lasted a few seconds - it made a deep impression on me.

I went off to the British Council Library (the Indian Libraries were dumps in those days, with moth eaten damp books) to try and find out more. I got a piece of the speech and proceeded to start to memorize it (The part from...."it is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream" to "Free at Last, Free at last, Great God Almighty We are Free at last"). It took me a while and I am proud to say I can still pretty much repeat it verbatim.

I found it so ironic that it took a Hindu (Mahatma Gandhi) to put into action Jesus' teachings of "Turn the Other Cheek" in order to confront the injustice of British Colonialism and to overthrow British rule in India. And then an African American Christian pastor from Georgia took the lessons of Gandhi and used it to confront injustice and oppression in the United States twenty or thirty years later.

We are all connected....we are all part of the human fabric. Words that inspired an American movement also inspired a 12 year old Indian boy in Chennai and actions by an Indian man in the early part of 20th Century inspired a great American leader to stand up with courage and confront the evil of racism in the United States.


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