She is 32. A woman. A Hindu by choice. A War Veteran already. And yesterday, she became the first Hindu American Congressional Leader to be sworn in. On her own copy of the Bhagwad Gita.
Tulsi Gabbard. That is whom I am talking about.
A month and a half back, I had the privilege of meeting her and sitting next to her at the lunch table as we discussed her take on Hinduism and its relevance in the modern US society, but more importantly, in her own life. She was in Houston to meet friends who have always supported her and I was lucky to know them as well.
In 2002, at age 21 – when most of us cannot even figure out our direction in life, Tulsi ran for Hawaii’s 42nd House District and won the elections defeating Republican Alfonso Jimenez. With that she became the youngest legislator ever elected in the history of Hawaii. In 2004, she again filed for re-election. But she decided to volunteer for National Guard service in Iraq. Against all prevailing political wisdom, she left her campaign for re-election and left for Iraq.
She was there for 18 months.
A vegetarian and teetotaler, Iraq was – let’s just say – not quite “friendly” a place. Yet she survived and did well. “Eating frozen peas and corn and bread” is how she described her survival strategy, when she narrated her experience to us. She would sleep with her Bhagwad Gita and wake up with its wisdom in her mind. Her life was being fashioned along the “Karma yoga” that was inspired by Bhagwad Gita.
She won the several distinguished honor graduate titles and awards at Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training as well as Meritorious Service Medal at the end of the 12-month combat tour of Iraq.
In 2009, she was again voluntarily deployed to Middle East. This time as the primary trainer for the Kuwait National Guard.
A woman – a Hindu at that – training those burly Kuwaiti Guards in an Islamic country was certainly not the easiest of jobs. Yet, her steadfastness intact, she worked hard on using all she had learned to engage with difficult situations. At the end of her tenure there, she became the first woman to ever to be awarded and honored by the Kuwait National Guard
When she took oath yesterday on her copy of Bhagwad Gita, it was quite fitting. Bhagwad Gita is a treatise which is an instruction in many ways to transcend the human limitations. In the political and public service arena in the US today, I find no better torch bearer of that sentiment than Tulsi Gabbard!
Meanwhile, an Indian was also sworn in to Congress – Ami Bera. Although he classifies himself as a “Unitarian Universalist”. Which is as politically fuzzy a speak as Mitt Romney’s claims on just about everything.
Given the religious convenience – indicative of the biases and prejudices in the society as well as political leaders’ attempt as opportunism – of Ami Bera, and of Nicky Halley (a Sikh turned Christian) and Bobby Jindal (a Hindu turned Christian) – Tulsi Gabbard’s stand on what inspires her and fighting for that during her symbolic gesture of taking her oath on Bhagwad Gita is indeed refreshing.
I personally see Tulsi Gabbard as the inspiration and a guide for many Second Generation Hindu kids to take a plunge into Congressional politics without any discomfort or having to convert, just to stay “normal” in this American society.