It's every Indian mother's worst nightmare. Would the son she proudly sent abroad wind up in harm's way in a foreign land? Parvatha Vardhini's son reassured her that he was safe and secure in the U.S., even as hate crimes rose in the wake of Donald Trump's victory. After his body was flown back to the family in Hyderabad, and laid out in front of her for the last funeral rites today, Vardhini cautioned Indians in the U.S. to stick together.
"No other mother should meet with the tragedy I had met with," she said.
Vardhini's son Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a 32-year-old engineer, was shot dead in a Kansas bar last week. He had been drinking a beer with an Indian-American friend when a man walked up to them and asked what country they were from and whether they were in the U.S. illegally. The man was told to leave but later returned — with a gun. He shot Kuchibhotla dead. His friend was wounded.
The American Dream has long captured the imagination of Indian families. Middle-class parents don't go on impulsive shopping sprees or vacations abroad. They scrimp and save to send their kids to study in the U.S. When their children do finally depart, they pack homemade pickles in their suitcases and the whole family gathers at the airport to send them off.
Kuchibhotla appears to have been cut straight from that storyline. For a decade, he did all the right things to realize his family's dream. While he got his degree in electrical and electronic engineering, he worked as a teaching and research assistant to help pay for expenses. He was snapped up in the job market after graduation.
"He was very sharp. A top-of-his-class kind of guy," a former boss told The Kansas City Star. "He was the kind of employee every manager would want … He was a low-maintenance employee and did whatever was asked of him."
Kuchibhotla got married and recently bought a car for his dad with his salary. His family shone with pride. What Kuchibhotla didn't factor in was the ascendancy of Donald Trump, who painted an apocalyptic picture of the U.S. under attack by immigrants, who threatened the jobs and lives of ordinary Americans. As Trump's rhetoric energized the deepest, darkest prejudices in the U.S., Kuchibhotla's wife stayed awake at night worrying about their safety. He assured her they would be OK.
In the days after Kuchibhotla was killed, Trump, who typically dumps every passing thought on Twitter, was silent about the engineer's death.
At today's funeral in India, where the murder had been closely covered by local media, Vardhini was also thinking about her other son who'd also gone to live and and work in the U.S. "I will not allow my younger son to go back to the U.S. again. I want him and his family to return to Hyderabad for good."