When the image of Modi resting his left cheek on Donald Trump’s heart in Washington D.C. started to flood my newsfeed, I had just parted ways with Guy. It was really awkward for me when the peaceful smile on Modi’s face nestled into Trump’s bosom reminded me of the pleasure I felt when Guy guided my head in such a way that my ear was able to rest on his strong chest. I felt envious when I first glanced at Modi smiling in Trump’s arms. My jealousy was similar to the feeling I get when my nauseatingly in-love friends share pictures of their romantic moments with significant others. And even though my resentment quickly fades when one of them calls to vent about how miserable they are with their chosen partners, the feeling of wanting that amazing something with the perfect someone still lingers. I just don’t want a partnership that masks hate with affective performances of love.
The image of Modi and Trump’s embrace is a symbol of a fast-growing global military industrial complex and a promise to a maturation of the War on Terror.
If we are to understand the shared moment of comfort between Modi and Trump as a summary of their meeting, we are being told that together, India and the United States will perpetuate hate and Pakistan will be their favorite target. But as India and the United States move forward together with tales of counterterrorism, South Asians will be required to continue a practice in forgetting about the shared language, history, and aesthetic between India and Pakistan. That is, we will be forced to carry on within an infrastructure that teaches us to hate our neighbors while our do-good cultures remind us to love our neighbors.
The hostilities between India and Pakistan developed alongside the Independence of India and the formation of Pakistan in 1947, and, sadly, the tensions between the two South Asian nations have only escalated. And the United States got in on the conflict in the 1990s.
On May 11, 1998 Pokhran-II (also known as Operation Shakti), India’s five nuclear bomb test explosion, was put into action 400 kilometers from the border of Pakistan in Jaisalmer. Sixteen days later, Pakistan retaliated with its own nuclear test — Operation Chagai-I — in Balochistan. Before May 1998 came to an end, the Clinton Administration suspended economic assistance (not humanitarian aid) to both South Asian countries by way of the Symington-Glenn Amendment. The denial of economic assistance to the warring South Asian countries was, in other words, the punishment for the unsanctioned nuclear weapons testing. And the penance for the two nations came in the form of agreeing to a few agricultural policies that would increase imports from U.S. farmers to South Asia. As a result, the weight of the punishment shifted from the nation as a whole to Pakistan and India’s respective agrarian communities.
1998 also happens to be when my innocent admiration for Guy started to take shape. He was a kid who grew up in the neighborhood bordering mine. I have vague memories of us riding bikes through secret shortcuts and teasing each other. And at some point in those chaotic and explosive weeks for South Asia, Guy and I shared our first kiss together in South Louisiana. The kiss went unnoticed. We made little to no reference to it in the years to follow. It was just something fun that happened while the sun set around us and the cicadas’ tymbals began to vibrate through the thick southern air.
On the surface of things, Guy and I were never punished for our kiss . We both carried on with our lives after our teenage tryst, but while laying in Guy’s arms almost twenty years later I wondered if our punishment was an unexplored love.
It goes without saying that the punishment that has fallen on the backs of South Asian farmers is devastating. The threat of nuclear warfare, agribusiness, and capitalist anxiety surrounding agrarian labor have stripped South Asian agriculture of its dignified history.
But India and Pakistan have had to endure another punishment — the suffering that comes with knowing you have an unexplored opportunity for love and camaraderie. It is an odd suffering as I can’t seem to figure out how one can account for its effects.
Like India and Pakistan, me and my childhood neighbor, Guy, are going to carry on in silence. We are no longer neighbors. We live a few thousand miles apart, and I suspect neither of us is the type to invest in something potentially painful. In good Indian fashion, I will probably fall into the arms of an untrustworthy ally (hopefully someone with better hair than President Trump).
I make these assumptions because so long as our lives are playing out in the shadows of war, I am most certain we are all destined to continue on in the cycles of punishment that ensure we remain disconnected.
The Modi and Trump embrace is not an example of “doing” love; it is just a performance of an unhealthy alliance that looks good (for some people) on paper. I keep waiting for the ones in control, the politicians, CEOs, and the other people who are guiding the infrastructures that shape our everyday lives, to practice a politics, an economics, of love.
How are we supposed to figure out how to love our neighbors while borders remain so fraught, while the U.S. regularly hates on Mexico and India and Pakistan tease each other with nuclear bombs?
The Modi-Trump Hug makes war palatable and that is scary. For me, it is as scary as settling for the wrong partner and as unnerving as knowing I won’t get to love someone who I find so easy to love.
Instead of seeing Modi embrace Trump, I want to see the wrinkles on Modi’s face deepened by the fear of an anxious lover in the few hours after he parts ways with U.S. President. I want to see him the moment he sits down on the plane and recalls the longstanding relationship the United States has with Pakistan. I want documentation of him remembering the time the U.S. looked to Pakistan as its most strategic ally in the aftermath of 9/11. I want to watch Modi come to the realization that the United States is not India’s “natural ally.”
We need to see the image of India’s leader recollecting how Pakistan allowed the U.S. to use its military bases to launch missiles onto Afghani soil. We have a right to see the crazy set in on Modi as he thinks about that time in 2003 when the U.S. forgave a one-billion dollar loan it granted to Pakistan.
Even with the fallout of U.S.-Pakistan relations after former-President Musharraf’s 2007 statement admitting to the redirection of U.S. aid to Pakistan towards strengthening defenses against India, Modi, or any other ‘Hindus for Trump’ enthusiast, would be hard pressed to ignore the blatant distrust Donald Trump has expressed towards brown communities since 2015.
The image of the Modi-Trump hug terrifies me because it is just another reminder of us all moving in the wrong direction and picking the wrong people to share our moments of pleasure. If we are advised to pick the person that helps us understand ourselves the best, then why is Modi embracing a man with a well-expressed distaste for brown communities (or what the U.S. now calls the “terrorist diaspora”)?
I am left to believe that Modi is simply incapable of understanding the indirect violence he commits against (Hindu and Non-Hindu) South Asian Americans with his loving embrace of American racism’s new mascot.
I am not sure if South Asia will ever recover from its colonial hangover. But if India, in its drunken stupor, can’t make better bedfellow choices than this barely articulate last call pick-up artist, I don’t see how I am expected to pick up the phone and tell Guy I had a really good time and I’d like to see where this goes.