So America has copied India, and if that makes you happy, feel free to use my sour grapes to make faux champagne. The imitation remains mutual, though. India – or more precisely, cashless, digital, desensitised India – now celebrates Thanksgiving, a North American festival with a history its name completely belies. I noticed it last year, in personal status messages and corporate sales promotions, and the trend continues. It falls today.
For some reason, many people seem to think that Thanksgiving is a day when you express gratitude. For, I don’t know, having PayTM, credit cards and god-bless-Amazon-India? For being the first to get exclusive UNESCO-certified Whatsapp forwards? Alright, maybe I’m being uncharitable (see sour grapes from earlier). Some sincere, well-intentioned, but sadly ill-informed people seem to think Thanksgiving is a day to be appreciative of one’s good luck and myriad blessings.
But its North American observance, memorializing an autumn harvest feast shared by Puritan colonisers and Native Americans, is also a fictitious lustre on facts. To be exact, it’s nationalist propaganda. The first Thanksgiving of 1637 celebrated a massacre of 700 Pequot people. Native Americans were probably not seated at that table. Among what followed and preceded were: the Trail of Tears, smallpox as warfare, stolen lands, systematic slaughter and too much more.
Reading beyond skewed history textbooks, we know that Columbus sought a direct sea route to Asia. His poor navigation skills opened the Americas up for exploitation over the coming centuries. So when you observe the festival in India, what are you saying thanks for: that it wasn’t your ancestors, just someone else’s?
The Native Americans who survive to this day – whose voices I seek to neither represent nor appropriate – as well as all who were wiped out, with or without descendants, deserve more respect than that.
Distantly, we hear of the resistance against a pipeline that violates sacred Sioux grounds at Standing Rock, where water cannons and mace are blasted at unarmed protestors, who were even locked into cages and attacked by dogs. Distantly, we read of how even as these events unfolded, Obama was posthumously awarding a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Elouise Cobell, who successfully litigated against the United States government in the largest class action lawsuit in its history, for mismanagement of funds and lands leased from Native American nations. Such dissonance, between the things we are told and the things we know to be true. And still, so very distantly, we type out “Happy Thanksgiving! So grateful for all the good things in life yo!” as though nothing is connected, as though the history of human survival is not twinned by the history of human carnage.
Don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Your “good intentions” don’t bring back the cultures that are lost forever, or revive the ones that are under threat. Your “good intentions” don’t keep human rights violations from happening to this very day. Hell, your “good intentions” haven’t even solved the riddle of how India sends missions to Mars but hasn’t invented tools that replace manual scavenging with bare hands, right here in our own backyards.
And as for gratitude? What’s genocide got to do with it?
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on November 24th. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.