Background: This was during my days as a reporter with The Hindu in Mangalore. An activist friend called to say that they were holding a protest on the following day demanding justice for Dr. Binayak Sen. Informing my office about it I took up the assignment for the following day.
The day: At the specified time I reached the gate of District Commissioner’s office where the protest was to be held. The activist friend who had called me on the previous day came to me and handed over a pamphlet and said, “We will start in a while.” Taking the pamphlet in my hand I walked towards some other journalists who had arrived before me. “What are they waiting for?” asked a journalist. “I have no clue,” I answered and went back to the pamphlet that I was reading.
Once I was done reading the pamphlet I looked at the site of protest and saw only four of them there. One of the photo-journalist smiled and said, “This is not the first time they are having this ‘Free Dr. Binayak Sen’ protest. I can use the file photos instead of waiting for them to begin.” Another journalist said, “There are more journalists than protesters,” which made every journalist there laugh. He was true. As we journalists waited for the protest to begin the protesters waited for some more to join them.
The moment: Even after fifteen minutes of the specified time there were only four protesters. Realizing that there is no point waiting and realizing that the media people would leave in a while the protesters began their protest.
Two of them held the banner with the text, ‘Free Dr. Binayak Sen’, one of them held the hand mike with speaker and the fourth person spoke. When the fourth person finished his speech the second person handed over one end of the banner and took the mike. The fourth person went and held one end of the banner. When the second person finished his speech he held the hand mike cum speaker and the third person handing over the mike to the second person started speaking. When the third person finished his speech he took one end of the banner from the fourth person and made let the fourth person speak.
As this was happening the journalist circle laughed endlessly and I found it difficult to laugh because I was caught between the journalist me and the personal me who was in solidarity with the cause. But then came the moment which made me laugh.
All speeches were made. The protesters were to go meet the DC and hand over a memorandum. The Police who was in-charge of the protection called the DC and said, “Sir their protest is over. They want to come in and hand over a memorandum.” The District Commissioner who was unaware of the mise-en-scene outside said, “Fine,” and ordered, “Let only five of them in. Not more than that.”
That made everyone laugh. Even I had laughed.
If they answer not to thy call walk alone,
If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,
O thou of evil luck,
open thy mind and speak out alone.
If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
O thou of evil luck,
trample the thorns under thy tread,
and along the blood-lined track travel alone.
If they do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
O thou of evil luck,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite thy own heart
and let it burn alone.
[English translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s song: Ekla Chalo Re… from ‘rediscoveringtagore’]
I was reading the last book of U.R. Ananthamurthy, published posthumously, when a friend called to inform about M.V. Kamath passing away.
8:33 am. 9 October 2014.
I couldn’t help but see the two together because while I heard about one’s death I was reading the last piece of work by the other. If URA refused to live in a Modified India MVK had refused to die without living in a Modified India.
Well, that was MVK. Obstinate and self-loving to the extent that with his strong desire he could even fight death for some years.
Mr. Kamath was the Honorary Director of the Institute where I did my Post Graduation. As the Honorary Director he did not take classes as such, though he fancied taking class and would walk into the class sometimes and tell stories over stories, endlessly repeating almost the same stories in every class he took, and also on the various occasions in the Institute. There was the story of his tryst with destiny which, because of its historical relevance thrilled all those listening to it for the first time. Then there was the story of Berlin wall, story of him covering the Godse trial and few others which had several repeat shows.
There was something really interesting about Mr. Kamath narrating the story of the Godse trial. He would start saying, “Godse thought Gandhi was responsible for partition,” and then with great honesty say, “But Gandhi was not responsible for partition. He did not want partition,” before continuing the narrative of Godse trial. He would say, “Godse did not hate Gandhi. He just felt that Gandhi betrayed India,” and conclude with how Godse stood in the court and stood unshaken even when the judge uttered, “Will be hanged until death.” Though it would appear like Mr. Kamath was defending Gandhi and speaking for Gandhi, him stressing on “Godse did not hate Gandhi,” and “He felt Gandhi betrayed India” and never actually correcting the “betrayal” part made a few of us believe that he was more with Godse than Gandhi. Our belief would be strengthened by the sheer admiration Mr. Kamath expressed for Godse when he spoke of the unshaken Godse when the sentence was uttered by the Judge.
Though that was defining of his politics and the way he camouflaged/ packaged his politics the defining moment of MVK came in another incident.
It was 2006 monsoon. On a Monday when we entered the college a huge tree next to the then UG computer lab was chopped off completely. Some students were agitated by it and went to the then Director of the Institute with a letter seeking an explanation for the huge tree being chopped off. In response the students were told that the branches of the tree which had extended over the roof of the cabin of Mr. Kamath was dropping some kind of flower which caused him some allergy. So instead of getting the branches cut or shifting the cabin Mr. Kamath had got the tree cut from its bottom.
And that was not just an incident but a metaphor. And it took over a year for me to realize that it was a metaphor.
By then I had joined the Institute as an Assistant Teacher, soon after my Post Grads. One of the subjects that I was teaching was Introduction to Films for the under-graduate students and for a workshop on documentary film I invited Anand Patwardhan to the Institute. I had invited him consulting the then-Director of the Institute to whom I was reporting. Just a day before the workshop, I received a call from Mr. Kamath and when I went to his cabin, Mr. Kamath in rage asked me how could I invite an “anti-national man like Anand Patwardhan” to the institute. He said, “It seems he has made a film on Gujarat where he shows a pregnant women’s womb being ripped apart.” I intervened and said, “The one who made film on Gujarat is not Anand Patwardhan but Rakesh Sharma and even in his film there is no image of the pregnant women’s womb being ripped apart.” But Kamath was Kamath. “No no. He has made a film on Gujarat. I haven’t seen the film but I am told in that he has shot a pregnant women’s womb being ripped apart,” and getting even the more furious questioned, “Is that journalism? Is that ethics? A pregnant women’s womb is being ripped apart and he is filming it?”
I doubt if Mr. Kamath even for once asked himself if it was even remotely human to rip apart a pregnant women’s womb, by those who subscribed to the ideology same as his. But an imaginary filming of that act became blasphemous for Mr. Kamath. He also said shamelessly that he hadn’t seen the film but was only told about.
Not knowing what to say I told Mr. Kamath, “Sir he will be showing all his films. Please come and watch. You can see yourself that he has not made any such film and if at all you have any objections to any of his film please raise your concerns there and have a debate with him.” Kamath getting even the more furious had said, “I don’t even want to see his face. He is an anti-national element.”
Mr. Kamath did not attend a single screening and the day after Anand left, I received a call from Mr. Kamath asking me to meet him again. Some right-wing students had gone to him and complained about Anand Patwardhan and his films. Mr. Kamath was all in tears when I went to his cabin. As I entered and walked towards him he said, “I am told that bastard Anand Patwardhan showed all anti-India films and influenced all our students. I am told he made anti-Hindu remarks,” and wept unstoppably. I tried explaining that no anti-India films were shown and no anti-Hindu remarks were made. But Mr. Kamath was in no position to listen to me. He said he wanted to speak to the students to whom Anand Patwardhan spoke. He wanted to speak to them immediately but on telling him that the students are having class he said he would speak to them on the next day and asked me to make sure the students were free then.
On the following day I took Mr. Kamath to the same bunch of students who had seen the films of Anand Patwardhan and interacted with him. Taking his seat in the class Mr. Kamath said, “I heard that bastard Anand Patwardhan spoke to you people. He is a badmash who divides India…” and continued to abuse Anand Patwardhan. The students were surprised. They were shocked and did not understand initially what the matter was. But slowly when Kamath continued his talk the matter became clearer. Some students asked Mr. Kamath why was he taking a class just to counter Anand and Mr. Kamath said, “Because he is anti-India,” and on listening this when the student said, “I guess you are feeling threatened hence you have come to negate him,” Mr. Kamath roared: “SHUT UP.” Then Mr. Kamath went on to say, “Babri Masjid had to be demolished,” and I saw a few heads go down in pain and some in shame. But Mr. Kamath continued to explain why Babri Masjid had to be demolished and why nuclear power was important. The right wing students in class joined their voice with him. When some difficult question came Mr. Kamath roared again: “There are certain things you need not know.” A two hour class by Mr. Kamath left me numbed and the class divided.
In the weeks that followed there were complaints filed against me. There were complaints against another colleague of mine too.
The complaints said I was not taking regular classes and also accused me of having shown pornography in class [Ingmar Bergman’s film Persona] and extreme violent films [Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou] which apparently “disturbed” the students.
There was an inquiry held by a Pediatrician who was the students’ welfare officer then. At the enquiry I was asked to give an explanation about the complaints filed by students. I gave an elaborate reply which was heard quite indifferently and not accepted. Interestingly the answers of my other colleague were accepted. And it might be just a coincidence that both – the pediatrician and my colleague- belonged to the same caste and shared the same surname. And both belonged to Kamath’s caste.
The pediatrician not just dismissed all my explanations but also went on to give me a lecture on what good films bad films are and what kind of films needs to be shown to students. The pediatrician also said how much she respects M.V. Kamath and how much it pains her to see him being hurt in his own institution.
That is when it occurred to me that Mr. Kamath did not have problems if the students had not opposed him. Showing films which were not in tune with his ideology was still fine. But he couldn’t accept people agreeing with any point of view which wasn’t his. That would hurt him. And what hurt him even the more in this case was he was opposed by a bunch of students and all he could do was loose his temper and ask them to SHUT UP and thus come across as an intolerant person which though real was not as he perceived himself to be.
At the end of the academic year the Management asked me to resign. Obviously my colleague wasn’t asked to resign. Interestingly it was not even the HR department which asked me to resign. The Pediatrician who was then the Students Welfare Officer asked me to resign. It was as absurd as it could it. I kept repeating to her: “Give me the exact reason why I am being asked to resign. Do not ask me to resign for these false accusations.” But what answer would I get from the system in a Kafkasque episode? I left the office of the Pediatrician who gave gyaan on cinema saying, “I have the moral victory.”
On 11 of June 2008 I resigned. Along with me the then Director of the Institute resigned as a mark of protest against the unfair method of the University in firing me. The Director of the Institute was not even informed or consulted before the decision was taken by the University to fire me.
When the then Director of the Institute also resigned, Mr. Kamath was appointed as the Director of the Institute at the age of 87.
Khushwant Singh had a similar story to narrate about him exiting from The Illustrated Weekly all of a sudden and Mr. Kamath being his successor in The Illustrated Weekly.
Two years later a student who by then had changed his political position from right to liberal sent me a mail in which he apologized and said his actions back in 2008 was because of “insufficient knowledge”, “young blood” and both being exploited by the “honorary director.” It was no secret. I knew it and all those friends who stood by me also knew it.
But what Mr. Kamath did not know is that history will laugh at him for feeling so threatened and acting so cheap at 87 to a young boy of 23, a whole 65 years younger to him.
What Mr. Kamath also dint know for all his religiosity was something which a great Communist leader Com. B.V. Kakkilaya used to say. Com. Kakkillaya would quote his mother as saying, “If you slap a person or stab a person God might forgive you. But if you kick someone in the stomach then even God will not forgive you.”
That is what Mr. Kamath did. He kicked me in the stomach. He kicked my plate of rice. Apart from kicking my morale.
Years have passed since this happened. Good six years. But that incident crippled me quite badly because I was just beginning my career and it was damaged through false allegations that were instigated by none other than the doyen of journalism.
Now when he is no more, there are plenty saying he inspired. But the truth is that he also conspired. The truth is also that he wrote some of the most poisonous articles for Organizer and Udayavani [in Kannada] which continuously spread Islamophobia and gave boost to Hindutva ideology. The truth is also that he brought down an entire tree to free himself from some allergy. The truth is that he couldn’t stand any opposition even if it came from a boy 65 years younger to him.
He cant be known only by his cuteness quotient, which I agree was high. To celebrate him only for his cuteness quotient requires an atrociously ridiculous intelligence quotient.
Mr. Kamath, rest in peace.
No cheers, no tears.