Chapter Ten – Passage Six
When I find Deepak, he’s smoking a cigarette and is gazing out over the balcony railing with that familiar thousand-yard stare. Alan and Shu’s apartment overlooks one of the quieter side streets in Shingatse and it’s midafternoon. There’s just a lone dried-pork-on-a-stick vendor who’s pedaling his greasy food on the street corner next to the locked bicycle racks. Alan and Shu live next to a giant karaoke place that looks like it once used to be the life of the town on Friday nights. But all that’s over now, remnants of a long-ago, fading world.
I light up a cigarette of my own and set my elbows on the rusted railing, leaning up against it. Together, Deepak and I puff away for a moment in mutual silence. It’s a golden, unwritten ritual among smokers everywhere. Sometimes, smokers just need to smoke. Helps clear the mind.
“You know what your problems all are?” he finally says, after taking a long drag, still looking out over the street. “No one wants to pull the lever. Everyone wants the trolley to go that way, but no one wants to actually be the one to do it.”
A single man, divorced with no wife or kids. I know the broad strokes of Deepak’s story. He’s a man with no family so he took on a new mission. Someway to leave a legacy, to make a dent on the world that’s quickly leaving him behind with each passing day.
“We are dying a slow death by a thousand cuts every month, every year. And the global community’s completely paralyzed, crippled by too many voices, to decide on a single course of action,” Deepak is saying, all while gesticulating pointedly.
It’s all a spiel I’ve heard before but I patiently listen and nod my head at all the right times. Deepak’s receding hairline on his balding dome glints in the afternoon sun.
“…and now we have a chance! We could be that change, Dexter! Us!“
I nod. Of course we could.
“I just don’t understand why everyone wants to hold China responsible,” and the frustration’s clear in his voice, “they’ve found a way to control the population in order to address a greater disaster that’s an existential threat to all of humanity.” He shakes his head. “China’s the only country that’s doing what needs to be done.“
Deepak Chopra grew up in the slums of New Delhi as a child and had spent his childhood nights in the street under starless, smog-infested skies. The fact that he was able to climb from such humble beginnings to the heights that he occupied now, he used as a forever-wedge, ammunition that he deployed frequently and widely in any argument. If he could do it, then anyone could do it. People made their own luck. And that those who lived in abject poverty deserved it and were just too lazy to help themselves. So they were always looking for handouts.
It’s a worldview I know very well. Because, I guess, once upon a time it was my own. But while it’s true we make our own luck, that’s only half the story. Fortune may favor the bold but that doesn’t mean you just launch everyone else into the sun. At least, I’m not there yet.
Deepak finally tires himself out and that’s my cue.
“Man, I agree with everything you’re saying and I hear you loud and clear,” I start, “and I totally agree. You’re right. You’re absolutely right. We are not a global community and we are not one world. You don’t pay taxes to the government of the world. You pay taxes to the government of America. To India. To China.”
“Absolutely,” Deepak says, nodding vigorously. “Damn right.”
“And I agree someone needs to do what it takes,” I say gently, “but do you really want it to be China? You want them at the top when it’s all over and all the dust has settled?”
“You know as well as I do that one country’s benefit is another country’s loss. China’s going to come out of this as the new global superpower with the fortunes of the western world rapidly waning. Is that a future you wish to live in? This new world order?”
“Of course not,” Deepak says disgustedly and he lights up another cigarette. “But do we really have a choice, Dex? They may be red but they’re the only people actually doing anything.”
“And why is immediate action so important?” I counter. “I agree with you about climate change. But why the urgency? I see temperatures slowly rising and sea levels creeping up. But no one’s dying yet.”
“Hundreds of thousands are dying in Africa and the other most impoverished regions in the world every year!” Deepak replies hotly. “Millions probably, because you can’t trust the numbers.”
“And so what?” I rebut. “Are they contributing to global GDP? Producing the great scientists and artists of tomorrow? The great minds that are shaping humanity’s next generation?”
“They’ll be lucky if they even live to the next generation! You think millions of poor people who live in poor countries and have no means of escape should suffer the consequences of rich industrialized nations?”
The opening I’ve been waiting for.
“You, yourself, immigrated from India, did you not? As a child? Poor people from poor countries will find a way to get out, if they really desire it. People make their own luck.”
To this, Deepak is silent and I swoop in for the haymaker.
“Besides, if we kick the can down the road long enough, you know people and humanity always do their best when we have our backs up against the wall. As a species, we’ve never failed. Malthus prophesized imminent doom from overpopulation and famine. But when we were really up against it, we cranked out Norman Borlaug. In the 70s, America did nothing and gave the Soviets a huge head start but we got Neil to the moon first, didn’t we? And reaching even father back, while Europe burned and Hitler and the Nazis marched across the continent, America twiddled its thumbs. But when we finally entered the war, you know what happened? Nagasaki and Hiroshima. We ended it.
“America, and humanity– we’re the comeback kids. In the history of our species, we’ve never faced any threat we didn’t beat, no matter how long we ignored it for. We play best from behind. In fact, it’s the only way we play.”
Deepak’s silent a long time. But I know I’ve got him cornered. Checkmate is always checkmate.
“So what are you proposing?” he finally asks.
“We’ve been asleep at the wheel long enough,” I say. Finishing my cigarette, I flick its stub out into the street and stand up from the railing.
“It’s time to get back in the saddle.”