Read Sandip Roy’s article about “The Two Faces of America’s Economic Collapse”

Many peo­ple have read about the sad sto­ry of the Rajaram fam­i­ly in Cal­i­for­nia. New Amer­i­can Medi­a’s Sandip Roy presents an inter­est­ing dis­sec­tion of the press­ing eco­nom­ic issues and how they are affect­ing our com­mu­ni­ty in dif­fer­ent ways. We feel that it is impor­tant that our com­mu­ni­ty is rep­re­sent­ed for all of its diver­si­ty and that no sto­ry goes unheard.

The Two Faces of Amer­i­ca’s Eco­nom­ic Col­lapse

New Amer­i­ca Media, Com­men­tary, Sandip Roy, Post­ed: Oct 08, 2008

Edi­tor’s Note: Karthik Rajaram, the unem­ployed father and hus­band who recent­ly killed his three sons, wife, and moth­er-in-law before turn­ing the gun on him­self, has much in com­mon with anoth­er Indi­an Amer­i­can, Neel Kashkari, who has been select­ed to head the Trea­sury’s new Office of Finan­cial Sta­bil­i­ty. When banks go bust, the Amer­i­can dream implodes — not just in NASDAQ index­es, but also in tidy sub­urbs and qui­et, gat­ed com­mu­ni­ties, writes NAM edi­tor Sandip Roy.

Neel Kashkari, 35, MBA. Job Expe­ri­ence – Gold­man Sachs, TRW, U.S. Trea­sury.

Karthik Rajaram, 45, MBA, Job Expe­ri­ence – Price­Wa­ter­house­C­oop­ers, NanoUni­verse, Azur Part­ners LLC.

In anoth­er life they could have known each oth­er, trad­ed busi­ness cards. Suc­cess­ful pro­fes­sion­als with all the trap­pings of the mod­el minor­i­ty. The kinds that can own a home in a gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty with a Lexus SUV in the dri­ve­way. Indi­an-Amer­i­can medi­an fam­i­ly income rose from $87,484 in 2006 to $92,925 in 2007. Kashkari and Rajaram should have been exam­ples of those sta­tis­tics.

But instead they have become the two faces of Amer­i­ca’s eco­nom­ic col­lapse – the two horse­men of our apoc­a­lypse.

Kashkari is the $700 bil­lion man – the knight on the white horse head­ing the res­cue of col­laps­ing cor­po­ra­tions. Except it was too late for Rajaram.

Rajaram, unem­ployed, his sav­ings wiped out in the mar­ket col­lapse killed his three sons, wife, and moth­er-in-law before turn­ing the gun on him­self in a 2,800 square foot house in an upscale Cal­i­for­nia
neigh­bor­hood.

Two days ago no one knew either of them. And we still know very lit­tle about either. The South Asian Jour­nal­ists Asso­ci­a­tion post­ed two items about Kashkari. It was­n’t much infor­ma­tion but SAJA had its biggest day of web traf­fic. Soon I imag­ine Kashkari will be on the cov­er of every Indi­an Amer­i­can mag­a­zine. Already the Indi­an media is scour­ing his grand­fa­ther’s run­down neigh­bor­hood ask­ing the befud­dled res­i­dents – “Do you remem­ber the Kashkaris?“

When Rajaram wiped out his fam­i­ly, the media did­n’t even know if he was an Indi­an cit­i­zen or not. His moth­er-in-law, we are told, was an Indi­an nation­al. His chil­dren were named after Indi­an war­riors and gods. But soon we will find out the neigh­bor­hood in India where his roots are. Soon the media will be ask­ing some old man stand­ing on his porch — “Do you remem­ber the Rajarams?“

I hope we will remem­ber the Rajarams. I hope we will remem­ber that the same pride that allows us to cel­e­brate the Kashkaris and anoint them “Indi­an Amer­i­can of the Year” in glit­ter­ing cer­e­monies in New York hotels also keeps the Rajarams of the com­mu­ni­ty from seek­ing help, from talk­ing about their finan­cial melt­down and its men­tal toll.

Did Sub­as­ri Rajaram know her hus­band was spi­ral­ing into a des­per­ate blind alley? Did she reach out to any­one? Friends, coun­sel­ing ser­vices, domes­tic vio­lence orga­ni­za­tions. I don’t know. They seemed okay, said an Indi­an friend who had seen them at a par­ty a few days ago. But then, she added, Indi­ans don’t like to talk about their finan­cial prob­lems.

We would rather save face. And Karthik Rajaram no doubt thought that his fam­i­ly was bet­ter off dead than los­ing face as the sons of a fail­ure. Even in death we read the hon­or roll of his fam­i­ly. One son
was an hon­ors stu­dent. Anoth­er was a Ful­bright schol­ar.

Obvi­ous­ly Karthik Rajaram had his own men­tal prob­lems. A busi­ness asso­ciate has called him emo­tion­al­ly unsta­ble. But if we are to embrace Neel Kashkari as our own, we should think twice before turn­ing our faces away from Karthik Rajaram because he’s a “bad apple.” When SAJA post­ed the news about Rajaram’s death, SAJA founder Sree Sreeni­vasan not­ed, “Every time we write about a crime
in the U.S. involv­ing South Asians, we get crit­i­cism from some on our mail­ing lists.” No one, he added, com­plained about news items about the ascent of Indi­an Amer­i­can CEOs.

I hope as Kashkari tries to bring finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty to the coun­try, he will remem­ber Karthik Rajaram. When banks go bust, the Amer­i­can dream implodes — not just in annu­al reports and NASDAQ index­es, but also in tidy sub­urbs and qui­et, gat­ed com­mu­ni­ties.

The only clue it leaves of how an Amer­i­can dream turned into an Amer­i­can night­mare – an unread news­pa­per lying in the dri­ve­way.

Barack Oba­ma and John McCain stood in a town­hall on Tues­day night and squab­bled over the econ­o­my and the mid­dle class and vied with each oth­er to feel the pain of the eco­nom­ic col­lapse. And they talked about the Amer­i­can dream.

But nei­ther brought up Karthik Rajaram. Or Neel Kashkari. Amer­i­can night­mare and Amer­i­can dream – in a strange twist­ed way they will be for­ev­er linked togeth­er.

You toss a coin into the air and you nev­er know how it will land.

Some­times it lands Neel Kashkari. Some­times it’s Karthik Rajaram.