Amidst all the sensational news, Houston continues to hold a steady rank as a city with the highest surge of coronavirus and the least available hospital beds, writes Minoo Shah
For years, Houston (pronounced House-ton by the desi migrant junta) was a blip on the world map for entire villages arriving from anytown Gujarat. Why Houston? The sultry hot humid climate felt like you had never left home. On weekends, we wove through a spaghetti of freeways zeroing into Little India for chaat and gupshup. We made free Whatsapp calls to India bellowing at the top of our voices sending many a neighbourhood cat into furrowed trenches with raccoons and jackrabbits, asking family and friends to hop on over – we will take you to NASA.
In October of 2019, everything changed. Howdy Modi came to Houston and along with it Trump and his gang of senators, Congressmen and a plethora of media. We were no longer a cowboy town with the usual derelicts, crime statistics, racial discrimination or the occasional flood that wiped out townships. Now, we were a global sensation. With a snap of his fingers, Modi had invoked mass hysteria to a sold out crowd of some 50,000 odd native insurgents. For weeks thereafter the media could not say Modi without saying Trump. Houston had jumped into the global ring with a reputation of ‘We’ve got it all!’.
Alarmingly enough, the next big news was Rehan Siddiqui. Now, this was a chap that the desi diaspora hobnobbed with at social events. Your friendly, charming respectful to elders kind of regular neighbourhood guy, you would invite to dinners and ask to chaperone your daughters, sisters, mistresses, et al. All of a sudden, one January morning, camaraderie begone, the news channels erupted with stories of Rehan’s alter ego.
The man was staging shows in Houston, making money off the likes of Bollywood A-listers and allegedly funding terrorist organisations. Imagine waking up with a hangover, trying to enjoy a ditty by Lata Mangeshkar on the radio with a steaming cup of masala chai in your backyard, when the calm is rudely interrupted by the RJ. Blaring across the soundwaves, you are jerked from a deer in the headlights trancelike state by the words ‘Rehan Siddiqi is an ISI agent and an arms dealer’. You scurry on inside and the local news channel is showing his mugshot with a tickler – Bollywood show promoter nabbed by the feds and booked by Homeland Security. Your jaw drops and you hope there are no pictures of you with this infamous crimelord making the social media. Barely does this get swept under the rugs when news videos surface from none other than Arnab Goswami of Republic TV plus Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar of Times Now with explosive details about the extent of his alleged criminal activities. This charlatan had become synonymous with Houston and besmirched the glory days of winning the World Series.
That not being enough, come July 22, Houston again made massive global headlines. This time it was China! It was playing dirty on American soil. In the wake of the pandemic that started on its soil, its consulate in Houston, as per Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was abetting theft of the vaccine research. It made President Trump very angry and he decided to kick them on their rump by ordering closure of the Chinese Embassy in Houston. He escalated the cat-and-mouse game to proportions that Xi Jinping may not have expected. Trump, clearly not known for his patience, a man of few words (most times pronounced incorrectly) said: “Ten Pins you want to play? I match your bet and raise you one consulate in Houston’. Ten Pins (aka Xi Jinping) matched Trump and raised him five consulates (Chengdu, Guanzhou, Beijing, etc etc). This maddened Trump not because he upped him five, but because the names of the cities irked him. He immediately called his best friend and lamented: “Howdy, Modi?’ What are we to do with Ten Pins?” PM Modi calming him down said: “Send Pomp and Show (Secretary Pompeo) to the South China Sea. Then ask Putin to ride his horse into Taige and stake claim. I will send Pappu (Rahul Gandhi) to Beijing to entertain Eleven Pins (you see Modi knows his Roman numerals). Then, you go and play golf and all my men who are looking after your country will be briefed. Thereafter, Modi summoned Rajnath and asked him to proclaim sovereignty on Google (Sundar Pichai), Microsoft (Satya Nadella) and Mastercard (Ajay Singh Banga). All in all, the superpower’s strategic plan came together because of one fire in some metal barrels in the Houston-based compound of the Chinese Embassy. The scallywags were reportedly burning sensitive documents in broad daylight, bringing forth the wrath of the heroic Houston firemen of Ladder 33, the White House, Fox News and CNN.
Amidst all these sensational news items, Houston continues to hold a steady rank as a city with the highest surge of the coronavirus and the least available hospital beds. I say, Houston, we have arrived!