Living in a Dystopia

Anand Kamalakar
5 min readMay 17, 2023

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Victims of an American Carnage, Allen, Texas - May 06, 2023

A text popped up on my WhatsApp group. My wife’s cousin asked “Is it a safe area”. He was referring to a neighborhood around Columbia University where his daughter was coming soon to start an internship from UC Berkeley, California.

New York is still the big bad city from a distance, even though it was rated the wealthiest and safest city of its size in the world in some recent poll.

The question about New York being safe, is both warranted but also irksome. Having lived here since the mid-nineties, I somehow end up taking it personally. Partly because I have escaped any incident so far, and feel the question racially motivated as people in the suburbs disproportionally see black and latino people arrested on their TV screen.

There was a time when crime in New York was high and neighborhoods of Harlem, Bed-Stuy, Bushwick and East New York were considered dangerous. But they have long been gentrified beyond recognition.

This does not mean, that the city of nine million is rid of crime, but then again, there is no place in America that is safe anymore, anyway. Probably the manicured suburbs are far more dangerous than they seem.

As I was having this discussion with my wife in the car, the news of an active shooter in a suburban mall in Allen, Texas, sounded an alarm on the radio.

By the time this all too familiar American horror was over, there were eight dead and several wounded and others fighting for their lives in a hospital near by.

Over the years I have written extensively about this uniquely American terror. I had decided never to write again on this topic as the despair it causes has become unbearable.

I felt I had said everything there is to say on this matter, and had seen it from every angle to find reality infuriating to fathom. The needle does not move as people keep dying like clockwork and statistics keep revealing the searing American disease that it is.

This recent carnage in Allen, Texas, hit close to home. One of the victims was a twenty seven year old girl from my birth city in India.

Aishwarya like I, had come to the United States to attend graduate school. She had completed her studies in Hyderabad, India from my alma-mater, Osmania University, and had gotten her masters degree from East Michigan University. She had started her first job in Texas and all that is good this country has to offer was in her destiny.

Her parents probably would have spent a fortune sending their daughter to this land, with hopes that she would make her place in this world. They were hoping she would get married next year and start a family. She was at the mall shopping for her birthday, which was later that month.

A few days before the Texas bloodshed, there were two mass shootings in Serbia. A thirteen year old had opened fire in a school, killing eight and two days later a lunatic went on a rampage in two villages, killing eight and wounding twenty. A nation which is no stranger to violence, having experienced a dreadful civil war in the nineties, was nonetheless shaken to its core.

Serbia like the United States is deeply divided, awash in weaponry, where war criminals are glorified and memories run deep of years of horrors of war. But this kind of carnage was unfamiliar and deeply disturbing to the entire nation. Two mass killings in two days. Seventeen people dead and 21 injured, was just too much to handle.

The whole nation felt scarred. A week later tens and thousands poured into the streets of Belgrade demanding that top government officials resign, and newspapers and TV stations that promote violence to be shut down. Crowds marched through the center of the city behind a banner that read “Serbia against violence”.

Serbia has the highest rates of gun ownership in Europe. A 2018 survey suggests there are 39 guns for every hundred people in Serbia — the vast majority unlicensed.

In the wake of the shootings, President Aleksandar Vucic swiftly announced what he called a “general disarmament” of the country. He declared a month-long amnesty for illegally-held weapons, with a warning of harsh consequences for anyone who held on to guns without a permit. He also announced a moratorium on new weapons permits and a review of current gun licenses.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, left, inspects weapons collected near the city of Smederevo © AP Photo

The amnesty has been mostly positive and by the second day, more guns and ammunition had been handed over than in the previous three amnesties put together.

In America, we changed the channel and the Allen shooting was history. There were no protests. The usual Republican talking points were on garish display. The Texas governor labeled gun violence a product of mental health problems plaguing America and not gun infestation. The president expressed sympathy for the victims and said more should be done to reduce gun violence and blamed the Republicans for stalling any meaningful measures.

And so on and so forth and the news cycle moved on in anticipation of the next mass shooting which is imminent.

This is the dystopia Americans live in. A state of apathy and numbness has set in. The statistics around gun violence are jaw dropping. And yet politicians go around saying its a mental health problem, which means America also has the most amount of mentally ill people in the world. The politicians, judges and gun owners are probably at the top of the heap.

In a dystopian society, common sense does not operate like it should. As a reality begins to take shape that is so far from the norm, that one cannot frame it in any civilized terms.

The Vietnam and 9/11 memorials are powerful and speak to you when you are in their presence, because the names of the dead are etched in stone and metal for you to touch and feel. The sheer magnitude of the tragedy is expressed by the multitude of names that stand framed before you. You cannot touch and not be moved by the glaring fact that there was a person behind each embossed name, whose life was cut shot by violence.

A similar national memorial for the people who have died from senseless gun violence is long overdue.

Maybe, this will help the people of this nation realize the dystopian world they have created, by hiding behind an archaic sentence in the constitution and allowing carnage to continue unabated. And just maybe, this will start a conversation towards change. At least this is my hope, or rather a dream.

With thousands dying from gun violence every year, the memorial wall would have to be endless, until there is an end.

People who want to send their children to this country seeking a future, need to think long and hard, about the dystopian nightmare America has become.

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Anand Kamalakar

Anand Kamalakar is a Brooklyn based documentary film director, producer and editor. His latest film is Colonel Kalsi (colonelkalsifilm.com)