At a memorial meeting days after a terrible evening when his friend was murdered, he was injured and a true hero emerged, Alok Madasani said these words: “It was rage and malice in an individual’s heart that killed my friend.”
That murdered friend was, of course, Srinivas Kuchibotla. That hero was, of course, Ian Grillot. The man with rage and malice in his heart was, of course, Adam Purinton, now under arrest for his hate-filled assault in that Kansas bar.
Madasani has been asked repeatedly if this horrific experience has changed his impression of the United States. With his best friend killed and he himself badly hurt, would he now consider leaving that country and returning to India? Did he feel unsafe and threatened there? In other words, the questioners were effectively asking, does he now nurse a fear of the US itself – does he think that the US, in some sense, killed Kuchibotla?
More than once, Madasani addressed this issue with grace and wisdom that, in these times, is uncommon indeed. At that same meeting, for example, he said that what happened to him “doesn’t reflect the true spirit of Kansas, Midwest and [the] United States”. That is, it makes little sense to even suggest that the United States killed Srinivas. But a certain bigotry and hatred, embodied there in Purinton, did.
You could make a pretty good case that plenty of others in the US feel the same hate. But the outpouring of emotion and support for Madasani, Kuchibotla and Grillot – and no less the outpouring of revulsion for Purinton, from the streets of Olathe all the way to Hillary Clinton to the Trump White House – tell a story. Even if there is a rise in hate crimes there, it would be absurd to hold that entire country responsible for this murderous attack. Not least because that would only reflect Purinton’s own stupid bigotry.
Alok Madasani showed us another way.
Naturally, there’s a reason to make this point now. Gurmehar Kaur’s statement that Pakistan did not kill her father, but war did, has angered whole swathes of self-proclaimed nationalists. In the face of hatred that’s routinely expressed for that country, that we are routinely asked to feel for that country, this young woman chooses to look beyond – and she is mocked for it. She is called the vilest, filthiest names. She is threatened with rape. Ministers, no less, tell us her mind is polluted. (Funny, I thought our parents all taught us that it’s hatred that pollutes minds).
I can see it already: There will be all manner of comment pointing out sagely, if angrily, that I cannot and must not compare the US to Pakistan. (Much less, India to Pakistan). That Pakistan is uniquely evil. That Pakistan does not believe in peace. That any other way of considering our neighbour dishonours our brave soldiers who fight and die for us on the border. That, in short, we must all hate Pakistan. And if we don’t, we should move there. (Yes, predictably, this has already been proposed at ministerial level).
What’s going on here – that is, apart from bigotry that matches Purinton’s – is an ancient conundrum: what constitutes a nation? One answer is that it’s the people who live within its borders, and if you think that then you probably also see them in their infinite variety, as Madasani does. Another answer is that it’s the land defined by those lines, and if you think that then you probably see land and people and buildings and whatever else is in there as one great monolith, thus to be held monolothically responsible for everything that happens there.
While I know which answer is mine, I also believe there’s no resolving this conundrum. Ever. (It’s an ancient one, remember?) So in this part of the world, we will always have nationalists who look across our western border and see only evil, who then look across our land and, seeing opinion that doesn’t fall in line with theirs, resort to abuse and assault. This is the treatment the Gurmehars among us can expect.
But there are two thoughts we can take away that have some bearing on all this.
One: the simple title of a book the late and much-lamented journalist Mike Marqusee wrote about the 1996 cricket World Cup, which happened in this part of the world. It involved countries that have fought – and are still fighting – wars. The matches they played inevitably became proxies for that tension, those feelings of nationalism. Marqusee felt it everywhere he went in those weeks, following the cricket.
But tension or not, these were just cricket matches. There’s a reason, then, that Marqusee called his book War Minus the Shooting. War with the shooting, after all, kills: just as it killed Gurmehar Kaur’s father.
Two: Alok Madasani again. At the same memorial, he ended what he had to say with this thought: “I ask for tolerance of our diversity and for respect of humanity.”
Any less, and we might all turn into Adam Purintons. Luckily, some among us are Ian Grillots.