Being A Guest At Nero’s Party

February 13, 2012 at 9:15 PMFeb (Cinema, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

It was almost dark with a small amount of light peeping in from the other side of the bar while we were seated in a corner separated from the other side by a wall with a window. While my two friends smoked a cigarette to pause their intake of Brandy somehow the topic of discussion went to the documentary Nero’s Guests by Deepa Bhatia. One of the two had brought in the topic and the other one had not seen the documentary. So, I took the initiative to explain the story of Nero and his guests, which Sainath does in the film. I began to quote P. Sainath from the film:

Roman historian Tacitus writes about “Nero and the burning of Rome”. Tacitus, though he hated Nero was honest enough to say that Nero in-fact had not set Rome on fire, but Nero was scared as hell, as people believed he did (set Rome on fire). So, Nero had to do something to distract the population of Rome. He decided to hold the biggest party ever held in the history of the Roman Empire. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle. They had a problem with this party because his garden was a concave kind of place surrounded by higher spots and it was a bit dark. The problem was how to provide nightly illumination for the party to which anyone who was anyone in Rome was an invitee. The intelligentsia, the gossip columnists, certainly the political correspondents, anybody who mattered in Rome was at that party. And they had the problem of nightly illumination. How did they solve the problem of nightly illumination? They solved the problem, writes Tacitus, by bringing the wretched criminals and prisoners and burning them at stake around the garden.

It might sound quite filmy but trust me, when I gave a pause for my friend to digest the fact, at this point of the re-narration of the story that Sainath tells, the light above our table lit up! It lit up because there were a few others came to the area of the bar where we were seated and the area was not occupied only by us now. The lamp lit. There was an artificial illumination right above our head. I remembered what Shiv Visvanathan once told us, during a guest lecture, in our class, “The moment you switch on the fan and light you have killed ten adivasis.

Not long before coming to the topic of the documentary Nero’s Guests we were discussing the issue of Uttar Kannada district in the state of Karnataka, which is said to be having the highest number of tribal population in Karnataka and which is the district which has the highest number of developmental projects important and major ones being the dams constructed to generate electricity!

The memory of Shiv’s class, our discussion about Uttar Kannada, my visits to Tadadi (in Uttar Kannada district) where the government wanted to set up a thermal power plant all crossed my mind at once. My shadow was under my feat while I looked up at the hanging light over the table. The pause had to end. The story had to be completed. I continued, after a sigh. I continued to tell my friend what Sainath says after telling the story of Nero and the party. “Sainath says, we know that Nero was mad. The issue is not Nero. The issue is Nero’s guests. Who were the guests at that party? What sort of sensibility did it require to pop another fig into your mouth as one more human being went up in flames nearby to serve as ‘a nightly illumination?’”

We sat silently for a while after I narrated the story of Nero, as narrated by Sainath. When I went back to my glass of a cool (thanda) drink I remembered Plachimada village in the Palakkad district of Kerala.

There are many Neros. There are many garden parties. There are many going up in flames to create an artificial illumination in the garden party. There are many and many and many Nero’s guests. I too happen to be one. What sensibility did it require to let flow the cool (thanda) drink down the throat while sitting under the hanging light, soon after narrating the story of the inhumane guests of Nero?

Guilty. Ashamed.

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1 Comment

  1. Lakshman Srikanth said,

    Touching!”There are many Neros. There are many garden parties…What sensibility did it require to let flow the cool (thanda) drink down the throat while sitting under the hanging light, soon after narrating the story of the inhumane guests of Nero?”
    Let us be more aware about what is happening in our country and how countless individuals are burnt at the stake while we in the urban localities indulge in our excesses! Maybe the awareness itself would be the crystalization point of this super saturated crisis.

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