An ode to Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Sunayana Dumala by Meera Nair

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NEW YORK: What if Srinivas Kuchibhotla had on that fateful day on Feb. 22, 2017, headed out after work with his friend and colleague Alok Reddy Madasani, to the Austin’s Bar and Grill, in Olathe, Kansas, watched a basketball game, had some good laughs and chat over drinks, called it a night finally, and then come home to his wife – alive, not shot dead by a racist. To spend what was left of that beautiful Wednesday night at home, with the love of his life. Celebrate joyously his 33rd birthday a few days later.

That’s the premise of a poignant, introspective, poetic short essay by the writer Meera Nair, titled ‘An Alternate History’ – ‘On the day Sunayana Dumala’s husband Srinivas Kuchibhotla was killed in a hate crime in Kansas, what might have been’, published in Guernica, on Monday, March 27.

Under 650 words, the essay by Nair – whose debut collection of short stories Video (NY:Pantheon) was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year and won the Sixth Annual Asian-American Literary Award – is a tribute too to the life of immigrants Kuchibhotla and Sunayana Dumala, who got married against their parent’s wishes, carved a new life for themselves in the United States, a wistful imagination of the life they led, the moments they spent together.

Nair starts with this line, expressing irrevocable loss: “I wish that you had come home when I asked you to have tea,” wrote Sunayana Dumala.

The essay reads almost like a script from a Bollywood love story, a couple enamored with each other and their quirks, but a story that hovers, devolves into tragedy.

Your husband, who loves your wild hair and your face soft as a child’s, comes from poor people. As a student in America, you’ve learned that no one cares. No one knows you and the old resentments of blood and soil and caste don’t matter, yet it took years of strenuous argument before you were allowed to become his wife.”

Your husband decides he won’t be poor ever again. Your months grow frantic and jangly with work. He talks to the phone more than he talks to you. There are quotas and deadlines; the hours swallowed by the long tunnel of the screen. For the second time this week you haven’t laid eyes on each other for fifteen hours. He bolts down his dinner and then goes back to work until 2 am. This is America, though. It is not as if you can appeal to an elder who will scold him for forgetting that marriages need time and watering. The two of you are alone here, unmoored. Immigrants in an indifferent country. Orphans, even though your parents are alive and full of questions. Indians without India.

Your husband is 6 feet, 2 inches and handsome as the actors in the films the two of you watch on weekends, curled up on the sofa, pleased at the familiar jokes and storylines. The movies have songs. Shamelessly sentimental, full of rain and mountains and longing. Your husband, thinks he’s strong, thinks he’s giving nothing away when he sings them around the house. You don’t tell him that his voice, when it breaks, lodges a stone deeper in your chest. Still, each year your kitchen takes on a new appliance, your house new rooms. It’s okay, you say. It’s all okay.

Read the full essay by Meera Nair in Geurnica: https://www.guernicamag.com/an-alternate-history/

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