Pushcart Prize XXIX
“The Poison That Purifies You”
Elizabeth Kadetsky’s “The Poison That Purifies You” appeared in Pushcart Prize XXIX, Best of the Small Presses (Norton). Kadetsky’s short stories have been chosen for the Best New American Voices anthology and have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Gettysburg Review, and other literary journals. Her personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, Guernica, and elsewhere. She is assistant professor of fiction and nonfiction at Penn State.
Kadetsky said this about her story: In 1997 I was living in India and heard a story from an American housemate about being kidnapped in Delhi by Kashmiri separatists. I did some research and discovered he’d been one of four Westerners at the center of an international hostage crisis; my housemate escaped largely by chance, but one of the four hadn’t made it out alive. The strangest thing about my housemate’s story had been the sympathy he felt for his kidnapper. He said the man was at heart a good person, manipulated by higher ups.
The kidnapper was Omar Sayed Sheikh; my friend even wanted to visit him in Indian prison. I don’t think this ever happened, because in 1999 Sheikh got sprung in a hostage exchange engineered by Osama bin Laden, in connection with the hijacking of an India Air jet to Kandahar. In August 2001 Sheikh, freed and now and living in Afghanistan, was charged but never caught for the kidnapping of a businessman in Calcutta—the ransom was later traced through Sheikh to a bank account for Mohammed Ata, one of the World Trade Center suicide flyers.
A year later Sheikh made his final move. In Pakistan now, he was arrested for kidnapping and orchestrating the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Sheikh is now serving a life sentence in Karachi. Sheikh, educated at a top public school in London and the top private school in Pakistan, is by all accounts charming and brilliant.
The story of an encounter between a traveler and a terrorist came together for me, though, when I thought back to a time in India when I and another American had been invited to dinner at the home of an Indian acquaintance. The house was miles from where the host had said it would be, and on the long ride with him I grew convinced we were being kidnapped. When we arrived, a beautiful dinner was waiting for us. The fear I felt during that ride, luckily misplaced, drove the telling of this story.