The Sopranos, Silicon Valley, and Summer Afternoons

I believe in America. America has made my fortune.

The screen was dark, and slowly brightened. I made out the back of a head, a white, bald head that slowly came into focus. I heard these lines as the picture softly faded in, and Amerigo Bonasera continued his famous monologue on his misplaced trust in the American justice system.

I saw The Godfather for the first time when I was 14 years old. I think watching that movie, along with Casablanca, should be a prequisite to adulthood, a rite of passage every man passes through when he’s old enough to understand a bit more of the world.

Now, I really liked Casablanca. I still do: two or three times a year, I’ll open up Spotlight Search on my Mac and dig up that old mp4 I have hidden inside some long-untouched “Movies” folder, and shed a manly tear over Rick and Ilsa’s lost love. But The Godfather enraptured me. It captured my imagination like no other movie has, and probably ever will.

The Godfather, at its core, is a retelling of the American Dream: a story of one man’s rise from the lowlands of Sicily, to Little Italy, to the luxury of Long Beach. It was the elevation of the boy, Vito Andolini, to the man, Don Corleone, and the consequences that come from such power.

My parents, too, are the American Dream. They were born as lower-middle class in Mumbai, the first generation of the newly independent India, and came from very little. My great-grandfather was wealthy man, who was educated in Europe and became a successful businessman in India, but much of that money was squandered by my dad’s time. My grandfather on my maternal side was a brilliant man who was never able to utilize his talents and spent much of life frustrated.

My father came here in 1990; my mother, after marriage, in 1995. They began with nothing: my dad made 30,000 dollars a year working for an acounting firm in Atlanta, and mother put herself through Medical School in India. In ‘95, my mother came, carrying a newly born me, and passed the USMLE’s on her first try while nursing an infant.

We then moved to New York, where my mom found residency at NYU, and my dad found a better job at Price Waterhouse, and the rest, as they say, is history. My mom eventually grew two successful clinics in the city, and father found himself high on the corporate chain, and they both moved out east to Long Island, with all the newly successful citygoers in 2003.

And while they never pressured me, my parents’ success weighed on my shoulders. All my life, I’ve felt this sense of inadequacy, that I need to become something great, and do something meaningful, because of what I come from. My parents made the family name, and gave me a privileged upbringing: it’s now almost my duty to expand it.

In this sense, I understood Michael Corleone, and even identified with him, when he made the choice to kill Sollozzo and McClusky, when he endured exile in Sicily, and when took the reigns of power from his father. His ambition came from a hunger inherent in all children of successful parents: to show the world that their privileges weren’t wasted.

I’ve spent my life in pursuit of this, and I plan on spending much more of it chasing this same assurance. But sometimes, I wonder if it’s worth it: if in search for validation, I’ll waste my life following someone else’s dreams.

Because I’m also possessed by this belief that life is a series of romantic notions that we pine for and never reach. We want things, and long for them and work for them, but we never can hold them, never touch them, never entirely possess them.

There’s a fantastic line in Assassin’s Creed 3, where a victim of the Assassin, in his last few words, says:

Don’t look at me like that. We’re different, you and I. You’re just some blind fool, who’s always chasing butterflies. Whereas I’m the type of guy, who likes to have a beer in one hand, and a titty in the other. Thing is, boy… I can have what I seek. Had it, even. You? Your hands will always be empty.

Sometimes, I think he’s right.

This blog is conceived from this question: can we achieve our deeper desires, the ones that don’t easily manifest in the material? Of course, I’ll have many blog posts on technical topics, on politics, on my personal interests in data science, distributed systems, startups, books and movies, and even on the random things I come up with in the shower, but I’ll try to keep things on this theme.

And for the curious, this is also where the title comes from. The Sopranos are another famous Italian Mafia family, Silicon Valley is a metonym for my interest in Computer Science, and my desire to use this interest to move up in the world, and Summer Afternoons are rather symbolic to my nostalgia, a sense of longing for a time less complicated, less fraught with conflict.

Leave a Comment