Went to a meeting last night to hear from the city's six mayoral and seven city council candidates. It's interesting to me how the more likely it is that my vote could affect the outcome of a race, the less likely I am to really have any idea what's going on. We tend to follow national politics far more closely than local politics in this country: maybe it has to do with the advent of television; maybe we just got lazy somewhere along the way.
I am thinking about my great-grandfather, Ram Singh, who got involved in village politics to help put an end to gang violence and stayed sarpanch (mayor) until his wife beat him in an election years later (more on that another day). I've heard stories about his work developing the village for years, and only last year found out when my great-uncle Surinderpal ran across some old pictures that Ram Singh had once met Nehru (India's first prime minister).
Nehru is on the left. Ram Singh is in the third row back, second from the left.
The world of my great-grandfather was Dhudike, I think. He lived in and for the village. Then, without any clear time of death, that world ended. His sons were caught up in state, country, world. You had to be--you still do. The kind of village Ram Singh had known simply faded away: he himself died in California in a new millennium when people like me would spend an hour or two trying to sort out candidates we'd never met and most potential voters wouldn't do anything more than notice yard signs as they sat and watched events on the opposite side of the continent rehashed by four talking heads and a scrolling stream of headlines on Fox News.
We can't have quite the kind of community he once had, and probably we don't want it--the village was not without its own problems. But are we, and ought we be, content with what we have? Is there a new and satisfying way to generate and foster community, and an accompanying method for giving those communities a political manifestation?
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