Made only in America

Obama's real challenge after re-election is to repair the twin pillars of the American Dream, prosperity and social mobility

Here is a story made only in America. When he turned 20 in Mumbai, my cousin Rajesh became deaf. Some hearing had escaped a crippling childhood illness, his lip-reading covering the rest. But in 1985, he lost almost all hearing. Given how India treats its disabled, he was forced to wake up from his dream career in corporate management, switching to the solitude of biological research. He made his way to America, to the quiet labs of a southern university. His professors understood, the university was supportive, friends helped and his preternatural courage held. Graduating with a PhD, he worked as a researcher at Johns Hopkins Medical School, the Mecca for medical innovation. One day, while on the lift to work, he found himself stuck with an earnest young man who was puzzled that his co-traveller was aloof to pleasantries. That man turned out to be a leading surgeon, working on planting artificial ears (or cochlear implants). Rajesh was soon chosen to be a clinical trial (therefore subsidised) patient. What ensued was a miracle of technology. For 15 internet-less years, Rajesh had spoken to his parents in India through a friend translating over the phone. When his artificial ear could finally hear and reply, they broke down and cried.

While at university, he met an African-American girl on the tennis court. Jeanette came from a working-class family in the American South growing up amidst the cycle of racism, poverty and fury that has defined the black experience in America. But persistent civil rights activism had dismantled official barriers by the time she came of age. A tennis scholarship and her hard work furnished a spot at university, a doctorate and a career in public health. She came from humble origins, he from debilitating injury. America has allowed them to hear each other. They are now married, with stable jobs, talented children, a suburban home and that pinnacle of the American Dream: a two-car garage.

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