I started watching The West Wing, an American political TV drama around seven years ago. Anand was hooked on it and I would occasionally wander in while he was watching. At first, I found it incomprehensible. Everyone talked in mumbles and at great speed, there were references to things I couldn’t follow and it assumed a level of awareness about American political issues which I didn’t have.

But gradually, it pulled me in.

By then, Anand had gone off to study in the US and every now and then he would download an episode and send it to me. Sometimes he’d send three or four at once and then I was  lost to the world until I had seen the entire CD.

THEN, I met Martin Sheen, the actor who plays Josiah Bartlett, the President of the United States! I was speaking at a Catholic Church in Malibu Beach, California and he is a member of that parish. What a thrill to be standing at the lectern speaking and look out and see him sitting there just like an ordinary person! After Mass, he stayed to chat with me, was delighted to discover that Fr Dan Berrigan, a mutual friend, had been the priest to marry Ravi and me, bought me a cup of coffee and gave me a large check to support Karuna Vihar.

After that, West Wing began to feel like a family movie. I felt like I really knew these people. west-wing.jpg

But there were still gaping holes in my viewing experience. It is a series that builds, and you really do need to follow it from the beginning to fully appreciate it. For Christmas last year, Anand and Cathleen astonished me by giving me the COMPLETE West Wing, all seven seasons: and I am still revelling in the joy of ownership.

That’s all very well, I can sense you thinking. But “changed your life?” How can a TV show change your life?

At the risk of sounding like a groupie, I have to say that this show has made me aware of and enthralled by politics as nothing I have ever seen before. It’s inspiring. The show takes us through President Bartlett’s two terms  in office as President of the United States and while there are the requisite amounts of romance, intrigue and personal hi-jinks, the bulk of the show is devoted to the passion and commitment of a small band of progressive activists who have the astonishing good luck to get their candidate elected to the highest office in the land.

I don’t agree with all their views or strons04e02_356.jpgg-arm tactics, but I just love the energy, the buzz, the joy of getting in there and trying to get good legislation passed, trying to rouse people to action, trying to get the most out of every single day. When Jed Bartlett gives a speech, you get chills up your spine. There is one speech I have played over and over just to learn how he does it – the writing is superb, but the delivery is what makes it come to life.  Martin Sheen plays a man on fire for a cause, and painfully aware that his time is limited (one of the drama’s central themes is that the President has Multiple Sclerosis and lives under its shadow throughout his two terms).

It changed my life because it makes me want to do more myself. It makes me want to lead, to inspire, to ask people to do more than I have ever felt comfortable doing in the past. On the West Wing, staff routinely work until 10, 11 12 at night. I do that myself, but I wouldn’t dream of asking my staff to. Now I’m thinking: why not?

There is a sense on the show of being involved in something momentous: history in the making, social change, the triumph of goodness and decency. That’s what we are about as well. During the Freedom Struggle in India or the Civil Rights movement in the United States, people knew they were part of something much bigger than themselves. They were prepared to sacrifice everything for it.

We started the Latika Roy Foundation with that kind of spirit. But it takes so much effort to keep that spirit alive. As you grow, you start getting mired in funding issues and reporting requirements, leave applications and HR departments, protocols and provident funds – I get to the end of a day sometimes now when I have to ask myself: did I do anything for a kid with a disability today?

The West Wing reminds me why I am here and what I need to do. It inspires me.

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