Commentary: Making sense of the senseless

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramAugust 18, 2012 

On first hearing the news of the Aug. 4 massacre in Wisconsin, I immediately thought of my neighbors down the street, particularly remembering a young man I first met when he was 10 years old.

I watched Kulvir Singh Bhogal grow up. He made his parents, teachers and everyone who knew him very proud.

He was an all-American boy who loved to play baseball and basketball, studied hard, participated in numerous activities in and out of school, and had a respect for others that was remarkable.

I recall that shortly before he graduated in 1995 from the High School of Medical Professions at North Side, a magnet program, he mentioned that his arm was sore, and not from throwing a baseball. He had just donated blood as part of a school club activity.

He graduated as co-valedictorian of his class with a 4.7 grade-point average and then headed to the University of Texas at Austin.

Kulvir, whose parents, Kirpal and Manjit Bhogal, moved to this country from northern India in 1971, is a Sikh, so he has never cut his hair or shaved his beard. He wears a turban in public. In high school, he was the only student in the Fort Worth school district "who kept the look of a Sikh" by wearing his turban every day.

"When you wear a turban, you stick out," he told me last week when I called to check on him. "It's ironic, but we are meant to stick out. Our 10th guru said, I want you to stick out so that you can protect those who are oppressed. They can come to you for help."

Kulvir, now 35, is a software engineer for IBM. He lives in Crowley with his wife, and they are expecting their first child in December.

For the most part while he was growing up, Kulvir's "difference" didn't make a difference. But he recalls the times after 9-11 when many Sikhs were being taunted -- one even killed -- because people thought they were Muslim. Some Sikhs, he said, were even putting up signs saying they were not Muslim. He found that regrettable, he said, because it sent a wrong message that somehow violence against Muslims was justified.

"On numerous occasions, I was called Osama bin Laden and told to go back home," he said. "I didn't know if they meant for me to go back to Chicago where I was born, or back to Fort Worth."

On a plane coming back from New York, an inebriated woman sitting behind him kept kicking his seat, he said.

When he politely asked her to stop, he said, "she went off and called me Taliban."

He was heartened when other passengers and the pilot came to him later and said the woman didn't represent them.

Once when he was leaving a subway, he said, he and his wife were greeted by a neo-Nazi with the "Heil Hitler" salute, but they just proceeded on their way. "You acquire a thick skin after a while," he said.

When his sister called last Sunday with news that a man had opened fire at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., Kulvir said, he instinctively knew it was an act of hate.

The 40-year-old gunman, who killed six people and wounded three others before shooting himself, was described as a white supremacist.

Kulvir said that while he feels hate for that shooter, "In Sikhism, we don't believe in the devil. There's just God. God is in everyone, including [shooter Wade Michael] Page. But when you lose sight of God, you sin, you kill people. ... Page lost sight of God."

Kulvir said that, if the killer thought his actions would generate hate toward Sikhs, "it backfired." He noted the outpouring of support that came from the North Texas community when people filled an area temple during a vigil Wednesday night.

Although he believes in the right to bear arms, Kulvir said, considering the recent mass slayings, it's time we think about more regulations on the type of guns people can own.

I'll say amen to that.

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