Was it so hard to find one moment to say you remember Srinivas Kuchibhotla?
Would Srinivas Kuchibhotla and his wife not have been watching you on Sunday night, Hollywood’s finest? Would they not have been cheering for your work, and perhaps applauding your courageous expression of conscience, your legendary support for civil rights, immigrants and minorities?
Let’s face it. Your evening is bigger than anything else people come together for, not the Super Bowl, all-American as it is, nor the presidential inaugural, nor perhaps even the Olympics, which after all do pit nation against nation, even if in friendly, competitive spirit.
At the Oscars, you are not just the American Dream but the whole world’s invitation into that dream. The movie-goers of the world welcome your work into their towns, their homes and their lives. They open their hard-earned unfavourable when compared to the US dollar currency rates for you and support your products.
And what do you do, even as you put on ever more deliberate and elaborate shows and keep trying to say that you care about the people of the world and their lives?
Did the horror of a killing in Kansas City just two days before the Oscars night not register at all?
You walked in to your special evening with all your causes prepared, but forgot about one altogether.
You made jokes about how the name of Meryl Streep would upset the mighty President, as if your tweet was like a march by Gandhi heralding the sunset of British tyranny.
You made jokes about the little Indian boy and the Lion King, not realising for one moment that on the other side of the earth an elderly mother and father were aching in devastation for seeing their little Indian boy returned to them by America and all its promises in a cargo airplane box.
Do you know their pain? Or of Srinivas’ wife who said she will not even be able to see him in the form of a child of their own, since they had not yet started a family?
Do you know my pain? Do you know why I attempt to shake you from your complacency? Because you are the dream merchants. You are the sellers of the American Dream. You are among the reasons people from around the world admire this country, and you know your role as a source of hope only too well.
And what’s more, you have long since moved on from modestly seeing yourself only as business of entertainment. You have lauded yourself too much and too long now as being far more than that. You believe yourself to be the nation’s conscience, if not the world’s. You give awards to movies about movie producers who help hostages escape. You give awards to movies about protest, civil rights and the struggle against religious violence, persecution and even about unfair TV quizmasters.
On this dazzling Sunday night, you remembered your jokes, and your cues and your causes. This was after all the first Oscars ceremony after the advent of your nemesis who had mocked, disparaged, and yes, in the theatre of electoral democracy at least, defeated you. You went out, therefore, to make your statement with full force, and you did.
And still, how could you forget? Was it so hard to find one moment to say you remember Srinivas Kuchibhotla?
At any other time in history, no one would have chided you for this. But it was you who made a spectacle of conscience, of your good ideals and politics, and your supposed greatness in standing up against xenophobia, racism and all the bad things you were ringing the alarm bells about these last few months. Well, the worst that could happen until now did indeed happen. After months of simmering nastiness, after the threats and vandalism, a whole life was indeed taken away cruelly on the horrible grounds of that most un-American and you might say un-Hollywood of grounds – of simply being seen as “from another country.”
You made such a big deal about alarm bells ringing, and yet you went deaf when the ultimate happened.
You walked in, Hollywood, you microcosm of the planet’s most enchanting and beautiful people. You walked in and you walked out, your usual list of preordained worthy causes intact. You gave your awards to Syria and your award-monies to Palestine. You read your Quran for its message of peace and you mocked your President for his tweets. You did all this. But you did not think of the enormity of reassurance you could have given the world that you feel the pain of an innocent man, an immigrant, an American Dreamer, a figure of all your conscience-pretensions.
Why was he not on your radar? Is it because he did not fit your management plans of who “sells” as a victim and who does not? Was he not your kind of Indian? The irony. You were awash in Indians this time again (by your parameters). You nominated your beloved Jamal. You cooed over his bringing his mother. You picked up the young Lion and played Simba. You had the de-accented Priyanka Chopra. Maybe Kumar was there too.
But no one was a Marlon Brando this Sunday night. No one was anything.
Srinivas was everything to his world. And he will be something to us too.
Srinivas will live in our memories and in every recollection of every sacrifice we have made to build your nation too, your GPS systems, your animation special effects, your hospitals, your restaurants, your schools and your homes.
Srinivas will not be forgotten as easily as you did. The memory of his innocent face and his coworkers’ salutes to his impeccable character will tear at our souls.
You may not have seen the hashtag yet. But Indian Lives Matter too.
And Srinivas Kuchibhotla mattered most of all this time.