October 24, 2015. I arrived at O’Hare International Airport, Chicago, at 7 pm. It took another half an hour to get out of the airport after completing all paraphernalia.
This was my first visit to Chicago. Huge airport and equally big lounge! I came out and took a cab. The hotel was already booked, so the driver drove me to the address.
Shiny road. Daze on my face. It was freezing outside, and with it came the wind that has the power to make an Indian anything, but comfortable.
I asked the driver to turn on the heater. Here drivers are normally well-behaved speak kindly. This gentleman was a middle-aged black man.
“Are you from Pakistan?” the driver asked politely. Quite out of context, but this problem has been a problem with me ever since I landed in the United States of America. Even at the Newark airport, the immigration officer, who checked my passport twice, asked me if I was Pakistani. I said, “No, no! I am from India!” Upon hearing this, he promptly said, “The Country of Swami Vivekananda and Gandhi?”
I was stunned to see his respect for the two great men! He had a lot of information about what to see in Chicago.
Incidentally, we were passing by the hall where Swamiji delivered his famous lecture on Hinduism, which is now a museum. I could sense the cab driver has a lot of respect for Hinduism.
It gave me goosebumps to think that I was talking about Hinduism sitting in the car with the heater on and being driven by a non-Hindu after exactly 122 years of that famous Chicago speech by Swami Vivekananda.
It was in 1893 when a monk came from a distant India to establish the religion in the entire world. We may not even be able to stretch our imaginations to think about how much he had suffered for the sake of humanity. But currently, we do cheap politics in the name of religion.
My attraction towards Swamiji started with a book that I won as a prize when I was in the third standard. That very book sparked a dream in me and also words written by Swamiji are still etched permanently in my memory.
Since then, it was a long-cherished dream to visit the museum and pay respect to the great man. The words from the man’s first speech… “Sisters and Brothers of America,” still reverberate in my ears.
My dream came true the very next day as I landed at the Great Art Institute of Chicago, where Swamiji delivered the lecture and uttered those hair-raising words standing in the deadly silence of the Columbus Hall.
Cut to today, when politicians manipulate the vote in the name of religion, I feel sad for the monk who sold his everything to establish that religion.