(Celebrating the Independence Day , 2023)
It was the 10th of December 1998 , I distinctly remember that night. I was taking my maiden flight to America. Seating in the Swiss 747 , in the New Delhi to Atlanta flight, I fell into a trance. The faces of friends , family and well wishers rushed through my mine , I recalled the struggles , the hardships I went through. The giant aircraft took a turn , slowly picked up speed , going faster and faster, until it suddenly lifted into the air like an Eagle. I was flying. As I flew through the night, I opened a gift I had received from my uncle. It was a book.
Artwork by Prachurya Baruah
My uncle was something of an enigma. I grew up listening to his stories. My maternal grandmother used to tell me how when he was only 17 years old , my uncle won an international essay competition. He was invited to the United States and had an audience with the President. He was quite a celebrity upon his return, there was a celebration and even a parade at the airport He was my childhood hero. But in the later part of his life, he became withdrawn and aloof. I hardly got a chance to interact with him. Imagine how surprised I was to see him at my send off at the airport. I opened the book he presented me entitled America , the beautiful. The inside cover of the book immediately caught my attention. It was a picture of the statue of liberty with a handwritten note below it in bold letters it said “IN THE LAND OF THE FREE.”. As I turned the pages I saw many beautiful national parks. Further in the book was another handwritten note – “The Pursuit of Happiness”. I was thoroughly intrigued and puzzled by his ornate meticulous cursive handwriting; did he want me to discover some long-concealed hidden treasure?
Throughout the next decade, as I lived in different cities across America the beautiful, I experienced what America truly is. The essence of America comes from a sense of fairness and compassion. There are needy people all over the world. When Americans learn about them, there hearts open up. Ordinary American people give from the bottom of their hearts be it a famine in Africa, flood in Bangladesh, Tsunami in Sri Lanka. or finding a cure for cancer. Here in their own backyard when a disaster strikes, they quietly give, be it hard labor, blood for the sick, clothing for the homeless or food for the hungry. Our government unlike any other government in the world encourages a spirit of giving. As President John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
Friends , America opened my life to new possibilities. I always wanted to contribute to my people back home but did not know how. One day in in Austin, Texas I witnessed an unusual event. It was a Marathon to benefit charity. In America , every year hundreds of thousands of people run marathons for charity. These are people from all walks of life – from athletes to the disabled, from old to young. They all worked towards the same goal , to help those in need. I was electrified. I realized that I could run to raise money for a charitable organization in my home country. In year 2007, I ran the Austin Marathon. I still remember the day. Through my marathon appeal I raised $5000 from complete strangers for a school providing free education to underprivileged children , .When I crossed the finished line , I experienced a sense of freedom that I had never had before. There I was, proudly holding my runners medal and I saw my uncle.
Friends, Harry Truman was the 33rd president of the United States. During his presidency, the New York Herald, a leading newspaper of its era, in order to foster goodwill between nations, began an International Essay Competition among high school students. The theme of this unique worldwide event was "The World We Want." In 1951, a young boy, competing with hundreds of other students, won the competition at the national level and became the official delegate of India. For this he was awarded an audience with then President Truman. On March 15, 1952, 24 young delegates coming from all over the world met the president. He was elected to draft the charter to present to the president.
Rajen Bora ( second from left , second row with President Truman)
Friends, his name was Rajen Bora who happened to be my maternal uncle. When he met the president of the United States and presented the charter "The World We Want", he was only 17 years old. This country gave this young man the wings to dream - a world where the mind is without fear and the head is held high , a world where no one will be judged by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character, a world which has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls, a world where every citizen has the inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Friends, today as we are celebrating this nation’s independence, it gives me immense pleasure to share this story with you all.
Pursuit of happiness , Speech at TNT Toastmaster , 6th July 2023