Trump and 2020 elections

If 2016 US elections results were one of the most surprising and shocking the world ever saw, then on the same grounds, it seems that 2020 will also make a history with its outcome, whatever it may be. Both sides have their pros and cons, and whatever results the political ‘pundits’ might speculate, still no one knows what will actually happen on Nov 3rd. I have lived in US for 5 years ( 2015 to 2020) and having observed the US politics and culture closely, I felt to write a post to add my two cents to this.

First of all, I endorse no party, or candidate, as I am not an American. Hence, the views expressed are completely from an outsider’s perspective, of what I saw in America, and based on those set of experiences, there are certain observations and deductions made about the US politics and public opinions. Also, I like to read history, international relations, and based on that, I often inter-relate certain events around the world, which does influence each other. For ex: one of the significant factors behind Trump’s 2016 victory was the shift towards right wing politics, anti-establishment trend around the world and which was already proven in countries like India and UK, where Narendra Modi had won in 2014 and British had voted in favor of Brexit in 2015, respectively. Such references helps us to understand why Trump could manage to win, inspite of whatever the world media and political analysts had predicted.

Similarly, there are many events and factors which are going to influence this election, enormously. This article analyzes some of them, which will make us understand what is the trend, and what might be the outcome. But at the same time, even a small scandal or event before the elections can change the course, as it happened regarding Hillary Clinton’s email controversy, just few days before the elections. Nevertheless, it did significant damage to her credibility.

The United States as we see today is a very deeply polarized nation. Not only divided are they in terms of political affiliation ( democrats vs republicans), but also on social issues, environmental concerns, women rights, immigrants and minorities, foreign affairs, economic policy, health and education system etc. One set of followers who support republican party, and who are right wingers, pro-establishment believe in excessive patriotism ( or jingoism), less taxes, global warming as a hoax, live in ‘Bible belt’, America first policy, ban immigrants, pro whites and against minority rights, against abortion, against Obamacare etc. While the other set believes in the exact opposite which is the democratic party, with pro minorities and immigrants rights under the banner that America is a nation made of immigrants ( which is true..). They are concerned about environmental issues like global warming, support abortion, do not believe in church or any religion ( or rather religion is a personal matter, that has nothing to do with the state), more taxes on the wealthy, social security and universal health care for all etc. I don’t know any area where both these groups might come together. Such deep and wide has become the nation’s political and social division.

But amidst all this pandemonium, Donald Trump stands as an outsider to all this chaotic politics, who is a rabble rouser, an iconoclast, with his callous and unpredictable behavior. After becoming President, he not only has widened the rift, but also normalized the ‘abnormal’. The way we look towards and expect from the President’s office has utterly changed. He is liked by millions, just as being disliked by even more. But he has become a phenomenon in US politics who cannot be ignored.

Firstly, Trump has benefited immensely from the people’s shift towards right wing, anti-establishment sentiment. This rise of nationalism was seen in 2016, and it continues to this day. We see more and more Presidents and Prime Ministers all over the world being elected, belonging to the right wing party, or ideology. Take India, Narendra Modi won in 2014 and again in 2019, with even more majority. Though Indian politics is a lot different than US, but considering the similarity in political backgrounds as an outsider ( Modi is also an outsider like Trump, as he neither belongs to the establishment of Gandhi-Nehru family, nor he is a part of Lutyen’s Delhi), and their pro country( Make in India, and America First) stand, they both become natural friends. Then, we have PM Boris Johnson in UK, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Bolsenaro in Brazil, and Netanyahu in Israel ( with whom Trump has close relations). This rise of nationalism, all over the world, stands in favor of Trump.

Secondly, Trump has a loyal supporter base, primarily of white voters, who are from rural america, and who have been severely affected by globalization, competition by China, and flow of low cost immigrants from Mexico. They continue to support Trump because of many reasons. They feel Trump has taken steps in favor of them. His trade war with China, banning of immigrants from Mexico, plans to build the wall ( its been 4 years, and there is no Wall yet..). I saw one documentary from DW where the poor people in Appalachian mountains, are hardcore supporters of Trump, inspite of their continued living in poverty. Infact, when I used to travel in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, I saw numerous Trump supporters billboards. They are enamored by Trump, and his persona, for being a white guy, who is billionaire, and close to his family always. The poor and uneducated people in America, are often the fiercest followers of Christianity, and ardent church goers. They find Trump, to be an ideal Christian man, who has been faithful to his family, and exhibits Christian ( which means Protestant) virtues. Besides, he is rich, and white dude, which makes him perfect candidate for preserving the old, white, waspy, conservative America.

Then, we see Trump is fortunate to have formed close alliances with like minded friends, who will render him support to win. This includes being friends with Israel, Saudis and Russia. Israel and its conservative leadership has benefited immensely from the day Trump has been in the Oval office. Not only has Trump endorsed Israel on many issues such as setting up the US embassy in Jerusalem, its stand against Iran by the assassination of Major General Qasem Suleimani, US withdrawal from Iran’s nuclear deal, and imposing of economic sanctions on Iran, but also Trump being close to Jews, due to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, being Jewish, and his pro-Israel stand. Hence, the conservative Jews in US( Wall Street, Koch brothers) against the liberal Jews in US (New York Times, Silicon valley, universities or George Soros) will fight to support Trump, and make every attempt to get him elected again. Besides, Saudi Arabia favors Trump due to the change in geo-politics in the middle east, where Saudi’s are ever more concerned about the influence of rising Shia Crescent after the disastrous Syrian Civil War, and also with the rise in another competitor, Turkey to challenge the Saudi leadership in the Muslim world. They need Trump’s support to keep Iran and Turkey away from dominating middle east. In case of Russia, it has never been good time for Putin and Kremlin, for having Trump as a President. Russia have always suffered under the democrats( particularly Clintons), under Bill Clinton’s presidency in 1990’s and they feared for the same if Hillary had taken the command in 2016. Hence, Russia will support Trump to keep him in power.

Trump is an astute businessman. He knows how to deal with people, situations and comprehends everything in the world as a race, competition to win. Its his winners take all approach, coupled with survival of the fittest which makes him a typical old fashioned american businessman. He has no ethics, values or principles, and never accepts defeat. But also he has not regrets and is always willing to pass any limits to achieve his ambition. He is the perfect embodiment of “The end justifies the means” ideology. This is what enthralled the attention of the conservative American public. For them, he was and still is the right candidate to recover the American economy, to bring back the jobs lost abroad or to immigrants. Though before Covid-19 happened, American economy rose with the highest growth rates, and Wall street was elated with the spectacular performance of the stock market, thanks for Trump’s decrease in the taxes on the wealthy ( thereby increasing the already widened gap between the rich and the poor), but also due to the share buyback approach adapted by most of the companies. His supporters conveniently forget to acknowledge the fact that Trump had already inherited a booming economy from Obama, and it was during Obama years, when the economy faced dire recession, and it was Obama government who made sure the economy be brought back on track. But as we all know, Trump rarely gives credit to others, and so he boasted of making the greatest economy in human history, in a mere span of 3 years! Now, Trump has lost the trump card of leading the greatest economy due to Covid-19, now he is promising the voters to revive back the economy once again like it was before. He even had to discard the slogan “Keep America Great” and retake the first term campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”. For his supporters, Covid-19 and economic recession are external threats brought by China, and hence they would exonerate Trump for the current economic conditions. Infact, the Trump supporters still hope that he is only the man who can do the job of reviving back the economy, just like he had done to his business, inspite of claiming bankruptcy, a whopping four times!. His personal business track record is an indicator for reversing the country’s current dire situation again if he wins.

To understand if he will win, we need to look at the opponents as well. And looking at the democratic party presidential and vice-presidential nominee, many democrats or liberals are not happy. Even though Biden has more political experience than Trump, but he is not inspirational candidate especially when the country needs a strongman. He is older than Trump, and his political record does not raise any more hopes that any thing better will be done if he wins. Infact, he represents the elite establishment, and observing the ongoing anti-establishment trend in politics, he is clearly the wrong guy. But more worse is the selection of Kamala Harris, for Vice-President(VP). The most shocking aspect of American public, especially the white, rural voters is the lack of belief in women at the highest position. Even though America pats its back for being champion of human rights, feminism, #MeToo etc, but when it comes to society, its still a male dominated one, and this patriarchy has been emboldened under Trump regime. That is why Hillary lost in 2016, as many women voters opted for Trump inspite of his proven misogynist history. The Democratic party is desperate to put a women president in the office, and still unable to learn the lessons from 2016, they have again played the women card, only indirectly in the form of VP. People are aware of Biden’s age, and with the considerable possibility of him serving only one term, Kamala has the chance to become the first women ( non-white) president. For the Trump supporters, more than Kamala as a women, the more pressing fact is that she is non-white. I wonder if the white voters did not allow a white women(Hillary) to become President, how in the world can they allow Kamala to become President? And her identity as a mixed Afro-American, and Indian, is not helping her much due to her highly educated parents, and her elite upbringing. Unlike Obama, who struggled in his life, worked hard and went to Harvard to study law, and is an excellent orator and professor, Kamala has unfortunately no such accomplishments to prove her merit. The only chance Democratic party to win ( maybe) was with Bernie Sanders, who could have fought a close battle against Trump, but the Democratic party system does not want a reformer, and a socialist. Hence, a good chance and candidate was lost!

When we look at Trump’s Presidency in the past 4 years since 2016 elections, the one thing everyone acknowledges is the fact that he has done what he told before winning ( or atleast tried to do). He promised for banning immigrants and he did make life difficult for immigrants. He issued executive orders for curbing immigrants from Muslim countries, for restricting H1-B workers from India, or even deporting Chinese students under the accusation of espionage. He had promised to take actions against China, and he did that in the form of Trade war, even though that might not have worked out much in favor for US. He took strict actions against Iran, and withdrawed from the Iran nuclear deal. He made Wall Street happy by reducing taxes on the rich. He hated the liberal news media, and entertained his voter base with comical press briefings and chastised New York Times and CNN as’fake news’. He entered the good books of conservative Texas oilmen, coal lobby by repudiating the Paris Climate Agreement. In a nutshell, he has done what he promised. This makes him an outsider, who is not like a typical crooked politician ( though he is lot more discreetly). His agenda of ‘doing business’ and ‘getting things done’ are one of the core American principles. Hence, this makes him more famous than ever. However, his voters are not aware of the consequences of what he has done. Even though he has fulfilled many promises, but the after effects are going to be disastrous, sooner or later. But unfortunately his followers have become myopic!

Finally, the ongoing racial protests all over America, be it with the tragic and cruel death of George Floyd and many others have become rampant. The #BlackLivesMatter protests are symbolic of the underlying inequality and racial tensions besieging America. The African Americans are tired of this hatred and biase against them by few white policemen or white fascists. They are also stunned by the fact that mere 12 years before, they had seen America electing the country’s first African-American president, Barack Obama, and with his victory again in 2012, they came to believe that the old America who harassed Afro-Americans as slaves was a thing of the past. They thought their centuries long struggle against racism, with the sacrifice of Dr.King, and many more, had come to fruition. But just 4 years before, with Trump’s election, everything changed. The racism and violence against them have exacerbated again. The way Trump has reversed and abashed the Obama era policies and welfare schemes has disappointed the Afro-Americans and liberals. And they now feel that this would escalate even more if Trump wins again. But unfortunately, the division along racial and ethnic lines have worsened so much that these protests, which were meant to raise their voices against inequality and racism have taken an ugly turn. The incessant violence and riots have polarized the american society, and even united the loyal Trump supporters against the BLM protests. This article shows how a white man carrying ‘BlackLivesMatter” placard had to face severe backlash from the white conservative voters. All this is going to affect the upcoming elections in a big way.

Many political thinkers and analysts are saying that America is going through a systemic change, and with reference to all the events and policies as mentioned above, it does seem to be true. Paul Kennedy had famously predicted about the American decline in his book “The Rise and the Fall of Great Powers“, and Neil Howe and Bill Strauss had mentioned about the turbulent years America will see during 2020’s. All this might be labeled as a close coincidence, but we cannot forget the fact that they did explain after researching centuries of human history, wars and empires. Indeed, America had risen to its pinnacle in 1945, and even in 1991, but the current trend shows it to be on the downward turn. BLM protests, racial tensions, Covid-19, economic recession, ineffective healthcare system, expensive education system troubled with huge education loans on students, widening gap between the rich and the poor with nation’s wealth in the hands of few silicon valley tech giants, wall street bankers and military-industrial complex, lack of people’s belief in political institutions, and thereby paving a way to elect an outsider like Trump are all the indicators of the current American decline. Electing Trump is not going to solve them but exacerbate them. The trump followers might hope that electing Trump will #MakeAmericaGreatAgain by keeping it white, patriarchal, isolated from world affairs, but this short term gain will endure in a long term pain of losing the glory of “American Dream”, of losing democratic allies, of losing the trust of the world, and losing the credibility of being the free land where everyone is welcome to work hard, innovate, and collectively progress. The American history shows that America was made by people who were brave, and free and believed in human values. The founding fathers, Andrew Carnegie, Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Steve Jobs, Elie Wiesel, Henry Kissinger, Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Sergei Brin, Arnold Schwarzenegger and many more have themselves or their ancestors immigrated to America, due to this faith in America Dream. Even Donald Trump’s family(including his wife) and conservative Rupert Murdoch were immigrants to America! But looking at the current condition in America, that faith has dwindled, and if this continues, sooner or later, time would come to bid adieu to the American Dream!

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Why did Soviet Union lose the cold war?

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I am from a millennial generation, born the year after the Soviet Union got dissolved. So, I was not aware of a country called Soviet Union until I read about it in school history books. It was a past thing for the world, and no one talked about it. It was replaced by Russian Federation, or simply Russia, that is the historic name it had before the Soviet Union was formed in 1922. Due to my interest in history and wars, I have always been wondering why would a former superpower like Soviet Union disintegrate suddenly, without any war or conflict. This was a surprise(shock) for the world then, and has been a topic of debate for the past many years. I would like to elaborate few reasons and try to explain why it must have happened.

To begin with, Soviet Union at its peak was the largest country in the world, occupying a sixth of the planet landmass. It consisted on present day Russia, and 14 other neighboring countries in East Europe and Southern Russia. Its indeed surprising to dig into history as to why such a sudden collapse of a huge nation did happen. In the words of Vladimir Putin, who at that time served in KGB, said the Soviet fall was the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe”.

The story of Soviet Union begins with the red communist revolution in 1917, during the World War 1 times. The Czars were abducted, and the Bolsheviks fought with the white external forces to form the Soviet. Finally, after a brutal war, the Soviet Union was formed in 1922 by Lenin, along with six others, one of them was Joseph Stalin. Soon Lenin died and after a brief internal power struggle with Trotsky, and few members of the communist party, Stalin took over the leadership and Soviet Union became a dictatorship state. Millions died under his brutal rule, but the nation also rigorously implemented state socialism plans with emphasis on land reforms, state ownership of factories, and strong military. This paved off and Soviet Union could face Nazi Germany ( though it did suffer huge losses, both human and material). By 1945, it had successfully defeated Nazi Germany ( with USA and allied forces), and came to be recognized as a power in East Europe.

During the World War 2, United States(USA) had been an ally with Soviet Union, for the sole purpose to defeat Nazi Germany. But as soon as the war was over in 1945, the mutual partnership turned into a competition. During the war, USA had come out of depression and became the largest economy in the world. It had the strongest military, and became a natural self-proclaimed leader of democracy, capitalism and free world. The rest of the western nations such as England and France had suffered huge losses during the war, and were not in a position to lead the world was they did before. Hence, the only nation which could compete with USA was Soviet Union. But the cold war did not start immediately in 1945. At that time, Soviet Union, though having won the war, had suffered tremendous loss and wanted to rebuild the nation. Soon, with their 5 year plans, Soviet factories, farms and industries started booming the economy. One thing to note is unlike pre-WW2 colonial empires like England, France and Japan, USA and Soviet Union both were self-reliant, with enormous material resources rich in coal, oil, gas and minerals, fertile land for agriculture, huge population, strong military and established industries. Hence, both of these countries were not dependent on each other for any goods or resources. Also, having captured Nazi Germany from opposite sides, both of them occupied half-Germany, and hence the German scientists, engineers and intellectuals were captured by both and taken away to their respective countries. This would help both of them in near future to use their talents for new discoveries.

Then, in 1947, Soviet Union developed AK-47, designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov. The Soviet Army accepted it in 1949 and soon it became the world’s most famous assault rifle. Then, during the same year, Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test, and this officially started the cold war between USA and Soviet Union. The 1950’s decade saw the cold war between both the countries, especially in the nuclear bomb development. Both the countries conducted several tests, started building up nuclear stockpiles and this led to a possibility of nuclear holocaust.

Then, in 1957, Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first satellite. In the same year, it also tested the world’s first Inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM). This started a space race between USA and Soviet Union, with the latter having taken the lead. The next few years were the most glorifying years for Soviet Union, with many first in its name. The world’s first human in space (Yuri Gagarin), first female in space ( Valentina Tereshkova) were sent successfully in 1961 and 1963. Sergei Korolev was the leading Soviet rocket engineer who lead this victory for Soviet Union.

But USA, on the other side, was not successful in any of these developments. It had fallen back in the space race as well as missile development. So, NASA was formed in 1958 and later JFK initiated the mission to make USA the first country to reach moon. Though the subsequent moon landing in 1969 is been considered a hoax by some experts, though both views exist. However, worth noting is that Soviet Union did not try for moon landing. A nation who had started the space revolution would not go for moon is strange.

Anyways, so 1960’s saw Soviet Union as a established nation on all the fronts. As mentioned before, it had all the resources for agriculture, industries etc and hence was self-reliant. It did not use US dollar as a currency for international transactions, just like the whole world does today. Such was its economic clout that it had given economic aid to multiple countries in eastern Europe ( under the Warsaw pact). It had also provided assistance to third world countries like India, China and Vietnam. Besides, the economic aid, now it had become a leading power in nuclear arms, rifle weapons, ICBM’s and satellite’s. No country had done this before in a such a small period of time ( after 1917), and with its umbrella communism and socialistic economic model, it had showed the world that by following their political and economic model, any country can become developed and self-reliant. Soviet Union stood as a fine example of separation of religion and the state. Atheism was the official policy and Soviets were united as a group of diverse religious and ethnic people. This was contrary to the homogeneous western society in countries like England and USA. Though they were democracies, but minorities did not possess any rights, and even though church and state were separate by law, but in reality, Christianity was the unofficial religion and most of the western countries had been quite active to proselytize the third world countries. Hence, the Soviet Union’s model appealed to many countries all over the world during 1960’s decade.

Just as 1960’s were some of the finest years for Soviet Union, they were one of the worst years for USA. The decade saw so many ups and downs in western countries, that it later came to be known as “swinging sixties”. With the victory of JFK as a President of United States, and being a first catholic president, a new era dawned in USA politics. As mentioned, JFK envisioned an American moon landing, and urged fellow Americans to ask what they can do for the country. Patriotism ran rampant, the country was seeing some of the most prosperous years after world war 2. The middle class was happy as their American dream had come true. The country had been producing some of the finest products including cars by Ford, GM and Chrysler. But the ongoing race with Soviet Union had become an obsession for politicians. Communists were hunted down in 1950’s under the notorious McCarthy’s witch hunt, and soon the missiles were installed in Turkey as a defense against Soviet Union. In response to this, Soviets installed their nuclear missiles in Cuba, right under United States nose. This lead to Bay of Pigs fiasco, which led to the disappointment of the military industrial complex as well as mafia lobby. For more info, I would recommend to watch the movie “The Irishman”, which beautifully displays the subsequent events happened which lead to the death of their beloved JFK. Before that, to add insult to injury, USA had also failed in the diplomacy over Berlin, and Soviets started building the infamous “Berlin Wall”, which would become the symbol of cold war and divide between the so called free and communist world.

In addition to all such events, USA was being dragged in the Vietnam war just like they did in Korea back in 1950. Due to over-confidence on their ability to win wars, USA under estimated the weak Vietnamese forces (though they were clandestinely assisted by Soviets and Chinese). So, USA kept on getting dragged deeper and deeper in the Vietnam war, and lost many innocent American lives. On the domestic front, a new generation had grown up ( later to be known as baby boomers), who had born past world war 2, and not having seen any war or depression effects. They became disenchanted by the crimes committed by their military in Vietnam. Also, black rights, minority rights, sexual freedom were supported by this new generation and this started a new counter culture revolution. This so called hippies turned on to make love and take in psychedelic drugs, tuned in for rock & roll, and dropped out of college and family life in persuit of sexual freedom, liberation and utopian world. The Beatles rocked the world and their cult was revered by the young generation. This was a time when many young dropouts started traveling around the world to places like India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Indonesia for peace and spiritual curiosity. One of them is famous Steve Jobs, whose later achievements romanticized their generation. But not all of them became like Steve Jobs. Many followed the “Hare Krishna” movement in search of God, while rest got stoned in Afghanistan. It was indeed a swinging decade.

Though the hippie revolution changed the American and Western society, with civil rights to be granted to African-Americans later, but as a nation, it did shatter the American way of living. The events were seen by the rest of the world, and the image of so called democracy and free world leader portrayed by USA shattered. Family values changed, Vietnam war was lost, returning veterans were insulted and shunned by the American society. The decades old traditional and conservative american society started becoming more liberal and open. The people no longer saw the Soviets to be a threat, as domestic-social issues were more appealing. Hence, for military industrial complex and political establishment, this was a serious threat. The return of the American soldiers from Vietnam, Indian victory in the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971 (India was supported by Soviet Union), then the leak of Pentagon papers by Daniel Ellsberg, Watergate scandal, and subsequent impeachment of crooked Nixon all made the problems more worse for the military and government. The Soviets had once again won the cold war in 1960’s and early 1970’s.

The 1960’s and 70’s era made James Bond famous globally. Similar to movies, there was a spy war between Soviets and USA. And even in this field of expertise, Soviets were far far ahead than the Americans. Already the Soviets had used the Manhattan Project spy ring ( Rosenberg & Fuchs) to spy over the atomic bomb project details, which led to Soviets building the bomb. Later the ideological Cambridge Five were exposed in England, and many more moles would work for Soviets in the American military and government.

Besides, even in the sports arena, Soviets had not only challenged but also defeated the Americans in Chess and Olympics games. From 1948 to 1993, with the sole exception of Bobby Fischer in 1972, Soviets had won all the World Chess Championships. Mikhail Botvinnik, Mikhail Tal, Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov and Gary Kasparov all became world famous. Even the women’s World Chess was dominated by Soviet women. Except the Olympics of 1980 and 1984, Soviets and USA fought in the Olympics games, and in terms of medal tally, Soviets(USSR) emerged victorious. Though every team had its own speciality, just as USA dominated the swimming and athletics, similarly Soviets dominated weight-lifting and gymnastics.

So, by mid 1970’s, USA had accepted the Soviet superiority in many fields, and this even leads to complete exit of Americans forces from Vietnam in 1975. The next years saw a recession in the American economy, with the Carter Presidency in rule, it was considered to be a weaker administration. Since FDR’s 1933 New Deal until Carter’s end of 1970’s decade, USA had been following a controlled form of capitalism, with adequate fiscal and monetary control with the government. But with the far right policies promoted by Milton Friedman and with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, a new “Reaganomics” trend emerged and with it, began the policies such as reduced government regulation, globalization, strong military funding and far right religious conservatism.

Before Reagan got elected in 1980, the Iran fiasco had tanked the support of the American people for Carter’s re-election. At that same time, an event happened which would change the geopolitical scenario of the world in coming years. That was the entry of Soviet Union in Afghanistan in 1979 to support the communist government from the Islamic revolution which had happened in Iran. The then national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, elated after this incident and considered this to be Soviet Union’s Vietnam. Soon, he signed a deal with the Pakistani General Zia-ul-Haq to raise up Taliban & Afghan Mujhahideen to counter the Soviets in an insurgency and guerilla warfare. As it is said about Afghanistan, that no external force has been able to control or rule Afghanistan. Just as the saying went, in few years, Soviets realized they were being trapped by the never ending war in Afghanistan, allegedly assisted by Americans on the backstage.

The 1980’s was a plummeting decade for the USSR. Not only was the war lost in Afghanistan, but USA had challenged the Soviets for developing a star war based weapons to counter the future space war in 1983. This was classic Reagan ( after all he was an actor in Hollywood), and several Hollywood movies such as Star wars, ET, Terminator and Indiana Jones made the decade a sci-fi fantasy. The Americans after decades of internal conflict, vietnam war and recession started seeing hope and bright future during Reagan’s Presidency, just as Indians are seeing this in Narendra Modi government today. So, all this sci-fi movies and fantasy, convinced the Soviets that Americans were indeed working on developing such technology. This required enormous money and this was the real catch. Reagan knew that the Soviets cannot be defeated militarily, but only economically. Hence, by making USSR invest their already dwindling pockets, would entail the eventual collapse of the Soviet Empire. Maybe Reagan did not realize this would happen in a mere span of 8 years!

Besides, the Afghanistan and Star Wars trap, Soviet Union lost its leadership one by one in 1980’s decade. Many old timers and top leaders died, and the politburo in Kremlin suffered from lack of effective leadership. Actually, Soviet Union was known as the “Iron curtain” of the world. But inside this iron curtain, apart from marvelous achievements by the people, the leadership had been led by the old communistic ideals, with dictatorship by a single ruler like Stalin. But after Stalin, none of the leaders showed the strong control over the politburo, and due to this developments in economy were not enacted. The world had been changed a lot since 1950’s, but the leadership remained in the old glory of the Soviet economic progress of 1950’s. On the other side, though USA had followed a state controlled capitalism until mid 1970’s, but the entrepreneurial spirit of the Americans did not die. New companies were formed by college dropouts like Gates and Jobs, and soon these techie wizards became the new giants in the technological revolution. Parallelly, the research institutions such as MIT, Harvard and Stanford had developed the computer, wireless communications, lasers and semiconductors. They started the third industrial revolution with developments in these fields. Just as the Soviets had been the pioneers in the space and missiles technology in 1950’s and 60’s, so as this new generation of Americans became the pioneers in computer and telecom revolution in 1970’s and 80’s. This later turned to be a game changer as Soviets did not invest much in these technologies. One of the reasons could be that they were known for their exceptional spying ability, and had been quite successful in the past during the atomic bomb developments. So, they must have relied on the Americans to develop, and later seize the technology for them to be copied. Also, as the USSR had state sponsored industries, unlike the private-venture capitalist funded companies in USA, the amount of funding provided for conducting the research & development was often decided by the politburo council. As they were old timers since Stalin’s era, they must not have appreciated this new computer/semiconductor driven technology. Also, USSR’s involvement in the foreign wars such as Afghanistan, the economic aid given by USSR to the third world countries such as Cuba, N.Korea, and to the Warsaw pact nations often limited the funding to the R&D. This was even more reduced as the cash inflow reduced due to over reliance on the agro, manufacturing and oil & gas industries. There had been many competitors in agro and oil-gas trade by then, and the dependence on USSR did evaporate some of the cash inflow from Soviet’s treasury.

Also, it is worth noting that the entrepreneurship and free market driven policies in USA did generate a lot of jobs for the American people. The system allowed anyone with their skills and talent to start a company and become rich. This freedom was not present in the Soviet economic model. The common people continued to live under the American threat ( as conveyed to them by the government). But at the times, when ordinary Americans could work in blue collar or white collar jobs with decent pay, dine in McDonalds, shop anything, anytime in Walmart, buy Ford Mastang, go on vacation to Disneyland, FL and buy their dream home in suburban US, with a fence, garden at the front fulfilling the American dream, on the other side, people in Soviet Union were being restricted to state controlled jobs, had to wait outside ration shops to purchase the state allotted food quota, could not save extra money in banks for future investment, and were not even allowed to leave the country, if done so would be indicted on account of spying or high treason. The world was following globalization, with internet, networking and wireless communications being launched in western countries. While the Soviet union was enclosed in its iron curtain, which the people eventually started resenting.

Perhaps, another major cause of concern for the people of Soviet Union was the Chernobyl incident in 1986. Many experts claim that this failure did significant harm to the image of Soviet Union as a powerful nation. The Soviets had the largest stockpile of nuclear warheads ( around 10000), more than USA and any other country on the planet. With the Chernobyl fiasco, grave concerns were raised regarding the safety of the those nuclear warheads. Due to the government’s strict policies on not conveying the information to outside world, fear and uncertainity became paramount.

Considering the partnerships Soviet Union had with many other nations in the world, it could be seen that during 1950’s-60’s, the partnerships strengthened due to dependence on Soviet Union for the economic and military aid. But during 1970’s and 80’s, the relation between Soviet Union and its friendly nations started dwindling. First was China in 1972, who welcomed Nixon to visit China along with his clever national security advisor “Henry Kissinger”. Both had come up with this intricate plan to create a wedge between Soviet Union and China ( Americans have always been good at this, and this policy to create a wedge continues as of date). Even before that, the relations between China and Soviet Union had started deteriorating as Mao influenced China felt that Soviet Union was not doing enough to spread communism. Perhaps, USSR’s support for India in the Bangladesh Liberation war had raised eyebrows in Beijing, and this might have concerned the Chinese. China and India had fought in 1962, and even though China had won, India continued to support Tibet, sheltered Dalai Lama and emerged a game changer after the 1971 war. Another reason was the emergence of Japan after WW2. Japan had bounced back with its capitalistic-industrial approach(with USA assistance), and considering the enmity between them during WW2, China feared the revival of history again with the exploitation and torture the Japanese had done on them. Also, the long march and cultural revolution of Mao had failed miserably ( hidden inside the bamboo curtain). The Chinese had the largest population and poverty had become a systemic problem. After years of experimenting with socialist policies, they realized it was time to adopt the capitalist economic policy to drive out the poor Chinese out of poverty, After the split up with China, USSR’s influence in East Asia degraded a lot.

Similarly, the Eastern Europe bloc and East Germany also got more concerned with the Soviet policies. The common people wanted more freedom and prosperity. They observed how West Germany and other Western countries had prospered after WW2, with their free market policies and individual freedom. All this created a simmering unrest amongst the people in USSR’s satellite countries.

To address all these problems, Soviet Union appointed Mikhail Gorbachev as a young leader who would overcome this concern among the people and keep Soviet Union a strong communist nation. But to the surprise of many, he advocated reformation within the communist party and promised to bring in openness and transparency. Known as Perestroika and Glasnost, soon, this created a series of events which would end with the single greatest event ever happened in the world history.

As mentioned, Soviet Union and its people were going through several problems on the economic, military, scientific, leadership front, and after bringing in these two policies, the people saw a leader first time in the history of Soviet Union, who advocated openness and transparency. The world until then had seen USSR as being a Iron curtain and dictatorship driven communist country. So, as soon as this new wave of policies swept in, people demanded freedom to separate from Soviet Union. Then, in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and in 1991, all the satellite countries in the Warsaw pact separated from Soviet Union one after another. To the world’s surprise, all this happened without any major conflict or war. This was indeed the beginning of a new world order as said by George H. W Bush.

Hence, several difficulties faced by Soviet Union which led to this demise are loss of influence in other parts of the world, loss of faith in communist-socialist policies, degrading leadership in Kremlin, unable to keep pace with United States in field of computers, robotics and telecom, Star wars, cash crunch and unable to help other communist countries, unending war in Afghanistan with the loss of soldiers, Globalization and Liberalization wave throughout the world, Chernobyl fiasco, having 10000 nukes and no money, breakup with China and unable to convince the people in Eastern Europe for future prosperity and bright future. Besides, it could be said that United States must have influenced Gorbachev to adopt these policies, and having not realized this trap, Gorbachev did just what the Americans wanted.

Finally, the world not only lost a superpower who had challenged United States in every domain from nuclear technology to space, from weapons to sports, from political ideology to economic model, but also lost a nation who proved to the world that it is possible to become a superpower without following the western capitalism. USSR’s story is truely a rags to riches story. Coming humiliated out of war in 1917, and ascending to become the world’s superpower by 1957, in a mere span of 40 years is astonishing achievement. The world forgets that it took USA more than 100 years to become a developed nation.

To think what should they have done to prevent this is quite debatable. Some experts say this was a systemic problem with communism-socialism. UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously said that “The trouble with Socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money”. It is even said that Soviet Union was never a ideal communist nation as per Marx’s or Trotsky’s theories. But it was rather more of a former Czar empire except the new Czar was the communist party, and not the Romanov royal family. Stalin had become the new Czar and today, as we see, Putin is following the same footsteps. Russia had always been governed by their own unique policies, unlike the Western Europe. So, it is hard to comprehend what they might have done to avoid a breakup of the empire. Perhaps, too much isolation in terms of strict policies, lack of economic freedom, lack of individual liberty given to persue his/her own life to their fellow people all brought in troubles for them. Also, to much investment in nuclear weapons and not investing the money in constructive activities like industry, research in new technologies like computer and internet hampered their progress in science and technology. As USA welcomed more and more talented people from all parts of the world, Russia did not do so. Also, their model lost the following it had once. As the world was embracing more and more of western led economic model, had the USSR also changed its economic policy to give more economic freedom to people to persue jobs, start companies, save, invest etc might have been helpful.

But the good thing is they had developed a system which did not go after money( to certain extent). Though individual opinion did not matter or freedom was curtailed, people worked for the ideology, for the love of their motherland, against imperialism, against mercantalism, against colonialism. Education and health was one of the best in Soviet Union, and as state took care of all the financial needs, people could divert their energy and hard work to the field of science, technology, sports and music. Even though the country faced dire economic problems during late 1980’s, still in 1988 Seoul Olympics, Soviet Union was the top performer with the highest medal tally. The strong sports psychology coupled with love for country brought them to the pinnacle of success.

For India, we lost a very good friend. Soviet Union had been our supporters even before India was independent. They had recommended us for the permanent seat to the United Nations Security Council, which our PM Nehru had foolishly rejected. They assisted with our 5 year plans, provided economic aid to build dams, factories and agriculture equipments. They made us strong by giving weapons, aircrafts ( Sukhoi Su30-MKi, Mig-21) and even nuclear technology. During the 1965 and 1971 war, they had made sure USA did not attack India, and had played a major role to make India win the Bangladesh Liberation War. Even our ISRO was heavily assisted by the Soviets, and till today, the only Indian to be in space, Rakesh Sharma, had been a part of Soviet Interkosmos programme. All this speaks highly of the deep friendship we had with the former Soviet Union.

Coming to conclusion, now its a thing of the past, and the current world events have drive far far away from those old days. It will remain a topic of debate and research for my generation and coming generations to come.

Diversity matters!

Yes, Diversity matters! Recently this has been a major issue in US and also in other parts of the world. We often hear or read about racial, color, caste, religion, gender, ideology based discrimination. Everyone seems to be wanting to live, and work and surround themselves by like minded people of same color, race, caste or religion. I find this to be so unnatural behavior.

Let me elaborate on this. We find diversity in nature everywhere. Imagine a world where there are only one species of trees, or animals, or birds. How boring it would be to live in such a world. Imagine if we have to wear same clothes everyday, won’t it be boring for us ( especially girls who are so much into buying new clothes, always!) Imagine, if we have to eat the same food everyday. I can go on repeating more and more examples, but the context is how in the world can we dislike diversity among people in our lives? Isn’t that strange?

I know there are many reasons for us to avoid embracing people from any particular affiliation ( like color, race etc). They include mostly societal rules, familial expectations, or any prior experiences about them we might have had. But let’s look at this from the prism of transparency. Do we really care about what other people tell us to do? Do we really listen to any of our family members when they tell us to act in a particular way? No, we do not listen. That’s what majority of us will do. Then why should we hate or avoid other people who are not like us, just under the assumption that our family or friends told us to or they might be doing so. Why should we lose the friendship of anyone just on the grounds that he/she doesn’t look like us, or doesn’t eat the same food?

Let us think what we miss when we stay within the same group of people. Just like a pond of water stinks after sometime when there is no inflow/outflow of fresh stream, similarly we not only get bored in the same group of people, thoughts, ideas, but also start missing out the opportunity to learn, know, share new ideas/opportunities from/with new people. Isn’t that sad that we miss learning a new skill or music or even food, just because the other person is not like us.

In India ( from where I come from), even though the country is diverse, with hundreds of languages, cuisine, cultures etc, but the society is complex enough to propel us to stick with our own people, culture etc. For a south Indian to be friendly or even get married with a north Indian, is very difficult. People have written books and made movies out of this (For ex:Two States) complexity. We Indians, are so much obsessed with our tradition that we simply abhor or ignore that there are other people in this world. Not only in marriages, but people from few communities do not allow people from other communities to live in the same apartment or even locality. This is way absurd!

I won’t get into the realm of caste based discrimination ( especially India) as this is too complex and too political to deal with. Similar can be said of color or race based discrimination in USA, Australia or some European countries. And similar discrimination happens in middle eastern countries on the basis of religion. We all know this is so wrong, yet these things keep on happening even in the 21st century. Just like Black lives matter, we need to widen the horizon to diversity matters!

Recent studies have shown that companies or groups with diversity progress more quickly. This might be attributed to the fact that diversity welcomes new ideas & allows everyone to learn and adopt. As we know, adaptability is one of the key skillset needed to survive in this world. If we try to hide ourselves in our own comfort zones, we might never develop the skill of adaptability. Also, diversity with transparency in leadership is motivational for the team, and that company which embraces this lasts long as well. This is because everyone in the group will have fair chance to climb the ladder of leadership and will stay inspired to work and contribute to the organization. On the contrary, nepotism or discrimination based organizations ( favoring only a particular group to excel) doesn’t last long. We all know what happened to Nazi Germany, who relied on the false notion of Aryan superiority. While, those countries which do not have any familial tradition in politics or business, have prospered and developed more ( Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden and Denmark fare the best in this respect).

After all, just like a bunch of flowers makes a beautiful bouquet. Just like a delicious “thali” (ask an Indian what a Thali is) is made up of different kind of foods ( sweet, salty, spicy etc), so as the world comes with different colors, body structures and nature. Even a rainbow is made of 7 colors! We are conditioned to assess the beauty by fairness, fitness by six packs or slim figure, status by family, community or religion. We are forced to believe some people from a particular community are good at math or business or acting. All this is false, period! We are all same, unique, equal. Maybe we might not be born with the same financial resources, or in an educated family, or in a developed country, but we all come with the same inner strength, confidence, and motivation to achieve whatever we want in life. Nature does not differentiate us on basis of any external differences. We just need to remember this.

People call America as the melting pot, while some call India as a bowl of salad. Whatever it may be, a pot or a bowl, the key factor which makes a good dish is the proper mixing of ingredients with each other. The different ingredients should nicely mix & blend with each other to make the dish delicious. On a similar note, all of us with our unique diversity should mix and blend for the progress of humanity.

I hope the world becomes more acceptable for diversity& inclusion. #BlackLivesMatter #AllLivesMatter #DiversityMatters #Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam ( The world is one family)

American Diaries: Trip to San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California

We had always longed to travel to the west. As Joe Flower said: Money lives in New York. Power sits in Washington. Freedom sips cappuccino in a sidewalk cafe in San Francisco.

When we finally visited San Francisco on Thanksgiving weekend, it seemed that this city harboured the freedom and sense of achievement even in confined spaces. The city is full of vibrant colors, with an open culture and welcoming atmosphere. The city has a unique architecture not found in any of the other cities I visited before. The houses are small in size, but the people have big hearts. The language spoken is English, but we could see more Chinese and Hispanic people. We could see the companies dominating the globe by their impact on technology such as YouTube, Uber and Tesla, but all in small buildings. Though the work campuses of Facebook, Google and Apple were huge as their contribution to the world, they still carried a sense of freedom and true entrepreneurship which makes them truly innovative. This article highlights how we came to the west to see the golden state, how we saw San Francisco( we can call it simply SF now), the places we visited such as golden gate bridge and fisherman’s wharf, then traveled to Yosemite, what to carry and what not, our then stay in Monterey, seeing the historic 17 mile drive, then back to SF.

Below is the quick itinerary we followed during our visit.

Day 1 — Flight to SF in early morning from Atlanta. Reached SF around 9:30 am. Checked in the hotel, had lunch and visited Golden Gate Bridge & Lombard street in the afternoon. Visit to Fisherman’s Wharf at night. Overnight stay in SF.

Day 2 — Travel to San Jose(SJ), visit to Palo Alto, mountain view and Cupertino. Lunch in SJ and then travel to Mariposa for overnight stay.

Day 3 — Visit Yosemite the whole day and travel back to Monterey for overnight stay.

Day 4 — Toured the 17-mile drive scenic drive, beaches in Monterey and travel back to SF via the Pacific coast highway.

Day 5 — We had to work remotely and hence, we visited Alcatraz in the evening. Back to Atlanta by overnight flight.

Day 1: Nov 28th, 2019

Visit to Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard street atop and Fisherman’s wharf

We started our journey from Alpharetta, GA to the Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. We had booked an early United Airlines flight which departed around 7:30 AM and which would land in SF around 9:30 AM PST. As we both were just traveling, we decided to take my car to the airport as it will be better for us to commute back while returning to Alpharetta on Dec 3rd.

We got up early and got ready to head to the airport. It was good that we had packed our bags last night. Soon, we reached the airport. Then, I checked my bag, took our boarding passes and headed to the gates. Wow, all set to go to SF, our very first visit to the golden state of California. We were very excited and waiting for this trip for weeks. As it’s said, “Old habits die hard”,so we had done everything needed for the trip at the last We booked the hotels for all the 4 nights including the car rental on 26th, and struggled hard to get the car rental. So, we soon realized we had run out of all the options of the car rental on the first day of thanksgiving ( which was 28th ), and so we finally booked the Budget car rental from 29th morning to be returned on 2nd Dec evening.

Word of Advice: please never book car rental late on a trip to SF during thanksgiving weekend. I will say book it at least one-two weeks before.

Having gone through all these fluctuations in the trip booking, we both were quite anxious for how this trip would go. With all this going in our minds, we reached the gate. We did not have to wait longer and soon, we found ourselves in the flight. Yes….and our trip began.

The United flight experience as many others must have had, was not at the best. But it was still relaxing with some TV shows running on the screen, ( no movies though). I slept for sometime, and then after some coffee and cookies, our flight landed in SF. that’s where we were now. We wanted to shout to the world..hey, hey, hey…there we are, in SF finally!

We collected our bags and then booked an Uber to go to the hotel. As we did not have any car rental for the day, we decided to keep our bags at the hotel, and then head to the Golden Gate bridge. As soon as our Uber came, we moved in the car and both started to look outside to the SF city. It was a 30 min journey from SF airport to the Hilton, financial district. We were surprised to see small houses surrounded by barren hills ( felt like desert), crowded streets and some companies which we knew located in a small confined space. Soon, we reached the financial district and saw our hotel surrounded by Chinatown. This was my first experience of seeing and staying in a Chinatown. I later found that this part of Chinatown is primarily the Cantonese part of china.

Chinatown, where we stayed in Hilton hotel

We then checked in the hotel and went into the rooms. The room with two queen beds was nice, with an amazing view of SF city as seen below.

After watching some Netflix, we headed out to tour the windy city of the west, and our first stop was to have lunch at “Raavi”, an Indian restaurant located at a conveniently walkable distance from the hotel. Just like other Indian restaurants in the US, the food was similar in taste, but just more expensive. Then, we took another Uber, now to see the golden gate bridge. It was very nice of the Uber driver( who originally was from Brazil) that she soon realized that we were new to the city, so she stopped at the Lombard street. Then we immediately went out to see the most crooked street in the world from the top and took some nice pictures. Then she dropped us at the golden gate and we just glanced at the gigantic architecture designed and built by engineers. We took some really nice snapshots and started walking on the golden gate. As usual it was very busy, with lots of people walking on the bridge. Though it was afternoon, the bridge faced cold winds coming across the pacific and as we had read, the waters beneath us were very cold too. There have been many incidents of people committed suicides by jumping off the bridge, and so we could see many signs of counseling assistance, depression assistance contact etc with quotes on life. This made me sad of how tragic that fate would be for anyone who jumped off this bridge into the bay from such a height, with icy waters beneath and cold winds on the top. This bridge was very much surrounded by some of the harshest weather conditions, yet, it stood upright witnessing not only the weather conditions, but also the historic events this city has witnessed for over the past few decades such as world war 2 front against the Japanese, the hippie counter cultural revolution and then the silicon valley boom. At one location, I saw one name “ Gauri Govil” being carved in one of the pillars. Later, I found out that a 2 year old Gauri had suffered the worst fate of falling from this bridge in 1997. It was an accident due to some hidden gap in the bridge structure and that was not realized by anyone before, as this was the first incident after the construction of the bridge. I could not imagine how her parents must have endured this horrific and deeply sad accident, and I pray to God, that no other parent should suffer this fate while visiting this bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge

Then, we walked back across the bridge and went back to the hotel. It was tea time and so we went to “Raavi” and had a nice tea and samosas along with the usual philosophical and spiritual talks we often have at such times. Then, we decided to walk to the Fisherman’s wharf. It was not far away from our hotel and it took us like 20 mins to reach there. While walking across the streets, we could see some of the homeless people, the dirty streets and the old architecture of the city. The walk around the city reminds us of the old hippy days this city witnessed and how unchanged still it is in spite of the world having changed since that time. Anyways, we reached the fisherman’s wharf. It was a nice spot with many restaurants ( mostly seafood ) and a walkway along the bay. But we both being vegetarians, we could not eat anything there. So, we stopped by one of the Indian restaurants — “curry leaf” and had a nice dinner together. After all, it was a long day and we were tired and soon went to the hotel, with the thoughts about how the next day will be. With excitement, we went to sleep.

Day 2: Nov 29th, 2019

Visit to Silicon valley, San Jose and travel to Mariposa for overnight stay

After a long tiring yesterday, as expected we woke up late. Then, we got ready after the morning daily routine and had a healthy breakfast in the hotel. Then, we went to the airport budget car rental and picked up our car. And that’s when our real journey started as we had our car and with our freedom to visit any place, anytime. Hurray!

With excitement, we decided to go to San Jose. But on the way, we had planned to stop by some famous companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Tesla, HP etc. so, we started across south San Francisco, then Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Cupertino and San Jose. We really liked the small and beautiful town of Menlo Park. It was neat, organized and displayed exuberance and wealth. I remembered from Steve Jobs Stanford commencement address, that this was the town where Stuart Brand had published “The Whole Earth Catalog” and how it inspired Steve Jobs and his generation. I wished I could meet him as I was in his town. Maybe someday later..then, we saw Facebook campus located on hacker way, just as the name says the company had hacked into our personal life and showcased it on the wall with an alias “social networking” (only with our consent…).

The campus was huge and while riding through the campus, we were stopped by the security personnel, and he kindly reminded us that this was a private property. So, we immediately rushed out of the campus and started our journey again through the Menlo park city. We saw Stanford university and I can say only one line for it….”beauty with a treasure of knowledge”. For me, this year has been quite different, having seen Harvard-MIT-BU when I had visited Boston in October and now, I was seeing Stanford, though from outside. I had always wished to see these universities as they have been the beacon of knowledge and innovation for the past few decades. Most of today’s technological innovation can be traced back to the research done in Harvard-MIT-Stanford. This trio has produced the world’s biggest and most innovative companies such as Microsoft ( Bill gates, Harvard), Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg, Harvard), Apple ( Steve Jobs, as he stayed his whole life near Stanford campus), Tesla (Elon Musk, though not from any of these universities but had enrolled in Stanford for PhD but dropped out after 2 days), Google ( Sergey Brin, Larry page, Stanford), Bose (Amar Bose, MIT), Nike ( Phil Knight, Stanford) and many more. It did not take me much time to sense an air of curiosity and rationality on this campus. I wished to stay more in this place, but we had plans ahead for the day.

Then, we saw some more companies in Palo Alto such as HP, Xerox ( where the first GUI was invented, though they were not pragmatic enough to commercialize it, which then Apple and Microsoft took it from xerox) and Tesla, though they did not have big campus like Facebook. Soon, we started towards Mountain View and saw the gigantic Google campus. Wow, this was quite huge just like the search engine has engulfed the globe. Then, we saw the apple campus in Cupertino. By this time, we had become used to seeing companies on our way and simply admired how much this small place on the west coast of the United States has impacted the world. We daily use the products and services made by these companies. We all have Ihone, we use Fitbit, we do everything on Internet, we connect and share with our friends on Facebook/Instagram/Whatsapp, we use laptops, we dream of buying a Tesla someday, we use Bose headphones, wear Nike shoes, and do our transactions through PayPal ( which was co-founded by Elon Musk). So much of our life is been occupied and even assisted by these products and services.

Finally, we reached San Jose and ate a nice lunch in one of the Indian restaurants. Then, we headed towards Mariposa for our overnight stay.

Day 3: Dec 30th, 2019

Visit Yosemite National Park and then travel to Monterey for overnight stay.

We started early after breakfast to see the Yosemite National Park. We were told by the hotel assistant that due to the snow, we were supposed to put chains on the car. So, we decided to rent wheel chains at a local store in Mariposa.

Word of Advice: bring car wheel chains with you during winter visit to Yosemite.

As we started to travel through the valley, it started getting cold. The roads became narrower, turning in a zig-zag way and the mountains became taller and covered with ice. Soon, we were surrounded by this beautiful valley wearing a thick sheet of snow and sheltering a vast canopy of pine trees. It was mesmerizing! Our car seemed to be such a tiny thing in front of the majestic beauty of nature. Later, as I came to know about John Muir who had been enchanted by this nature’s display at best and had decided to make this place his home. I could agree with John on why this place is so serene, spiritual and a rarity of nature’s creation.

Yosemite valley with the famous El Capitan

It was November, and it had just started getting cold in Atlanta. But here in Yosemite, it had already snowed a lot. It was snowing everywhere. We soon parked our car and started walking through the valley taking photos on the way. We took photos of the famous El Capitan and wondered how Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson must have climbed the dawn wall on the El Cap, that to in the middle of winter. We then visited a local store and bought some souvenirs. Then we had lunch and visited a local museum depicting the history of Yosemite. I got to know about John Muir and how he had convinced the then president of the United States, Theodore “Teddy’ Roosevelt, to make this place a national park. We saw two films on the history and conservation movement of this park.

Yosemite valley museum

Then, while sipping coffee/tea, we kept walking through the valley until we got lost near one of the lakes. Though we were surrounded by few people, as it was getting dark and late, we initially decided to use our memory skills to find a way out. But soon, we could see no one around us and after having realized we had lost our path, we finally came to our savior “Prof.Google” to guide us. We were fortunate enough to have a network on our phones, and so following the path suggested by the omnipresent google, we arrived near our car parked location. Alas! A sigh of relief.

Soon, it got darker and we could just imagine how it would be getting stuck in the middle of wilderness, surrounded by darkness and cold icy weather. Then a thought came about how brave and courageous John Muir must have been to stay alone here for two years. Respect!

After clicking and saving several photos on the phone as well as in our memories, we departed from Yosemite towards Monterey. I wished I would come back here again ,someday, in summer to see this beauty during summer time. The journey to Monterey took almost 4 hours and we landed up in the hotel besides the wonderful pacific coast beach. After an exhausting day, we soon went to sleep.

Day 4: Dec 1st. 2019

Visit to Monterey and travel back to SF

We started our sightseeing of Monterey by having our breakfast at the famous “Googie Grill” at Del Monte beach. The breakfast was simple with waffles and coffee. Then, we visited the nearby Del Monte beach. It was a pleasant experience to wet my feet in the Pacific Ocean. This was the second ocean I was visiting after the Atlantic ocean this year in Miami, FL. Then, we decided it’s time to traverse the famous 17 mile drive. We bought tickets to enter the drive, they gave us maps about each point and we started driving through this Hollywood experience.

Entering the 17 mile drive

The driveway showcased an exhibition of wealth and grandeur. It was beautifully decorated with flowers, trees, big bungalows and palatial houses on our eastside, while the pacific ocean dominated our west side of the drive. We stopped at almost all the 17 points, some were exceptionally worth watching and worth picturing, which we did. Everything was great except the weather. It was raining, though not heavily, but still it rained enough to obscure our camera phones getting drenched somewhat. In addition to rain, there was a strong wind blowing from the ocean and this led to the pacific ocean kind of angry with huge waves and tides hitting the coastal walls. So, this made our drive tour a bit difficult to enjoy, like sitting near the beach for hours, or watching the sunset etc. But we were more than delighted to have got this opportunity to see the scenic drive.

Pebble beach

After touring the driveway, we decided to move out to see some other places nearby. Having read the forecast of rain on that day, I had taken a raincoat and umbrella with me. So, it was a good decision to be prepared for all weather as we understood California has all the seasons with rains in Monterey, cold winds but not snow in SF, and snowy and chilling in Yosemite. ( we had also planned to visit Lake Tahoe, but had to cancel it due to the winter storm happening there.)

So, then we went to the Carmel by the Sea which is a very pretty town near the ocean. We were driving on the pacific coast highway which is one of the best highways in the United States. I wish we were in summer here as it would be sunny and glowing as it’s known to be. Our last stop was at the Bixby Creek bridge which marked our end of journey for the day and we realized it was time to drive back to SF. It was evening time, the sun had already set though due to rains we could not see it and then, so we began our trip back to SF, it was a 2 and half hour journey which we took with a short break at one of the Indian restaurants in San Jose. We reached SF at night and immediately went to sleep.

Day 5: Dec 2nd, 2019

Visit to Alcatraz and fly back to Atlanta

We had to work remotely on that day, so we worked in the hotel until 12:30 pm PST. Then, we parked the car near Pier 33 which is the Alcatraz landing location. We almost reached at 1:30 pm and we were among the last people to board the ferry. The ferry departed and I remembered my last ferry trip to the Andaman islands. How beautiful that time was! I was missing my parents, especially my Mom so much.

Ferry to Alcatraz, view of SF city from the bay

Within 10 min, the ferry reached Alcatraz island. The island displayed the sign of Indian land, and I wondered what this meant. After watching a film on the history of Alcatraz islands, I learnt how the native Indians had occupied this island during the counter-cultural revolution and fought for more freedom just like the African-Americans had been doing at that time. Then, a pretty lady welcomed us and gave us directions on what to see and where. The island is quite small and only the prison for which the island is known for, is open to the public. We watched one film on the history of this notorious Alcatraz prison.

Alcatraz prison

Then we toured some rooms and buildings in the main prison cell. We were provided a portable audio device with headphones to listen to the description of main parts of the prison, which notorious men had stayed here, how the escape attempt was planned etc. We then took some photos around the prison with the glittering SF city which could be seen across the bay. I could just imagine how helpless these prisoners must have been to live near the city yet could not escape this prison due to the extreme cold waters, strong winds and high security. After touring for about a hour and two, we returned back to SF city. This was the last destination of our SF visit.

Finally, it was time to return back home. I could see how much time is important, and how short we have it. We get old fast, time runs away, people change, things change, situations change, and we don’t have time for brooding over the past or fighting with people over petty mistakes, or even just sweating the small stuff. The world is big, and a lot can be learnt when we travel. It is not wrong to say that travel does widen our horizon. It not only gives us experience, but also makes us feel connected to this world. We become aware of our life and stop restricting ourselves in our self-created limits. Though I am not saying that a lot changed for me on this trip, I could see how much changed I was and at the same time, how much things have remained the same in my life. I had seen a part of the west coast yet I knew I have to go back to my home for the same work. But then, I was refreshed to do the same work as if new energy and enthusiasm had been rendered by this joyful city. Though I was staying on the east coast ( not exactly..), I could understand that life on the west coast was not much different than my life. And this can be extended all over the world too. Yes, we are after all humans, connected to each other and yet we fight and discriminate and despise each other. I did not understand why! I know this is somewhat a philosophical talk, but these thoughts kept coming to my mind. I do not know if i would get another opportunity to come to this city again, but i thought that life had brought to me and my friend here, and we had a really good time, traveling the city together. May we travel to more places in the world, and may others also come to this wonderful city and witness the aspects of life which I had seen during those 5 days.

Finally, concluding, when I had visited New Orleans ( Nola.) with my friends last December, I had seen a poster with the following line: “If you want to see America, go to New York, New Orleans and San Francisco”

By this tour, we both had seen all three cities. I compared them and found that if New York has the money, New Orleans has the food & music ( especially jazz), then San Francisco has the philosophy of life, mixed with the beauty of nature and technological innovation. In short, this was a memorable trip, for times to come….