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Indian American to fight for 'Hindu cause'
Shakti Bhatt in New York |
April 04, 2003 09:36 IST
Nishkam Gupta, 21, is not like others of his age, his parents will tell you. He is currently at Camp Lejeune, serving as a marine reserve. In a few days he will leave to serve in the war, something that he has wanted to do since he was 17.
"Since he was very young," said his mother Renu Gupta who runs the Mailboxes Etc franchise in Cincinnati, Ohio, "he would read the history of India and Hinduism.
"To us he was a walking-talking encyclopaedia on Indian and US politics."
Three years ago, Nishkam approached his parents, asking them to sign a paper that would allow him to attend a boot camp that summer.
"When we said no, he threatened us," Renu said. "He told us 'If you don't do it now, I will do it anyway when I am 18.'"
Nishkam attended the camp and made a 6-year commitment with the US military as a marine reserve. He would dedicate most of his free time working for Hindu causes, his father, Arun, said. "He is a staunch believer in the cause," said Arun, a biochemist who runs a DNA testing lab. "He thinks something should be done to unite and protect them."
Nishkam's mother said her son refused to go with other soldiers to the Sunday services. "He demanded to be given his own place so he could follow his own religion," said Renu, who, at his request, sent him pictures of Indian gods and goddesses. "So every Sunday, when other marines would go to the church, he and 2 or 3 other Indians would pray at this special location given to them.
"He made sure that Indians kept their identity even in the US military," she added.
It was on January 22 that Nishkam was activated for the war. At the time he was studying mechanical engineering at the University of Cincinnati. While in college, Nishkam founded the local chapter of Hindu Students Council.
When the call came, Nishkam quickly prepared himself.
When packing his bags, he took only 4 books with him -- the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, The Hindu Mind by Bansi Pandit, and The Collected Works of Swami Vivekananda.
"Every time he calls me from the base," said his mother, "he tells me, 'I want to fight and I will be unhappy if I am not sent.'"
The parents, who had expressed reluctance at their son's decision, have now adjusted.
"Nobody likes their son to go to war," said Arun. "But we have no choice but to support him because this is what he really wants."
"How I rationalise it," said Renu, "is to think of the parents of the 300,000 soldiers that are already fighting. Then I feel selfish if I think about myself.
"But I know that once he leaves, my heart will be beating all the time."
For Nishkam, it is more than a war to 'liberate the Iraqis', as stated by the Bush administration. According to his parents, it is part of his desire to fight the larger war against terrorism, a war that would directly benefit Hinduism and its cause.
"Even though he was born here, he has a special place for India," said the mother. "He strongly believes that the war will also serve India.
"He said that is the beginning for a much bigger, much more important war."