This afternoon I almost slit my wrist intending to end my life.
But I stopped myself because I feared being saved. I feared failing in my attempt to kill myself, like I did fail once earlier.
If I fail, I know, I will not be able to face my aging parents with the guilt of having caused them more pain. [Clearly my concern is not the pain they will have to live with if I succeed but the guilt with which I will have to live if I fail. Yes, I am insensitive after all that I have lived through.] I have enough and more in my pocket already pushing me from the edge of life. If I have to fail and add more guilt into my pocketful of reasons to call it quits it would become impossibly difficult. The fear of failing and having to live with the guilt distracted my determination to set the trapped life free.
A while after I stopped myself from slitting my wrist I just wondered what a trap this life is… I stopped myself from killing myself out of fear of being saved!
What a joke! What an irony!
Life today has taught me that the imagination of Kafka too, about the Kafakaesque quality of life, was quite limited.
Place: Mangalore, Karnataka.
Couple of days had passed after the infamous pub attack in Mangalore by Sri Ram Sene which caught national attention. National media descended to Mangalore and gave special coverage to the issue of immoral policing.
Political leaders, activists, common men everyone were being asked for their opinion and the prominent activist Pattabhirama Somayaji who has been battling communalism from a long time was interviewed by one channel where he said, “It is Ravana sena not Rama sena.” This statement of his “hurt the religious sentiments” of his students at the University College in the heart of Mangalore making them call for a strike in the college campus asking Mr. Somayaji to apologize.
Then I was a reporter with The Hindu and went to the University College on getting to know about the strike. As I entered the campus my eyes fell on the students who were crying slogans against Mr. Somayaji. There was so much anger in them that I felt scared to go near them to talk to them. I silently went to the other side where other students were standing silently in the corridor and witnessing the strike. I spoke to some of the students there, collected basic information and then walked towards the students crying slogans. As I neared them their aggressiveness made me stop at a distance. As I stood there one among the ABVP students saw me and came to me. Coming near me in an aggressive voice asked, “Who are you?” I said, “Reporter,” listening to which he asked again in an angry tone, “Which media?” I hesitantly said, “The Hindu” and suddenly, to my shock, his tone changed as he said, to his other friends, “He is our man form the media, come come.”
The name of the newspaper The Hindu had given the ABVP boy an impression that it was a pro-Hindutva paper and I was one among them in solidarity with them. I let it be and went with him to meet the other members of ABVP who were on strike and the college president from ABVP. They spoke to me on how Mr. Somayaji is “anti-Hindu” and how he has “hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindu people,” and demanded an “apology” from him and “strict action” against him by the administration. I made note of all that they said.
I interacted with them in a quite friendly manner which, I guess, made them feel more like I am one among them.
When I, as a part of my job, asked them if they had seen the TV interview where Mr. Somayaji had made the statement against which they were protesting and explained, “I havent seen. I dont know what time it was aired so I am asking you.” To this they said, “Even we havent seen. But it seems he has said. Any ways, he says all anti-Hindu things in class.” They also spoke about how VHP had instructed them to go on strike and how they were in contact with the political leaders. I just made note of that and playing an innocent journalist asked how did an English teacher speak anti-Hindu matters in class when nothing in the subject makes space for the same. The students smiled and said, “We only probe him,” to which I had to laugh and I did.
Some of them took my phone number saying they will inform me whenever there is news from the college and will keep me updated about the strike. They said, “we need your support,” to which I just smiled.
Coming back to the office I wrote not just about the strike but also about how the strike was instigated by the VHP and how students admitted to not having seen the interview and probing Mr. Somayaji to make his political stands vocal and thus “frame” him. All of it got reported in the newspaper next day.
I clearly avoided, out of fear, going near the University College, the next day. But a day after the news got published, the students went on strike once again for the same issue saying the administration is not taking any action against Mr. Somayaji. My boss called me to say that the students were on strike again and asked me to go cover the issue. I said, “Sir, may be its wise that I dont go,” because I feared. I was scared because I had reported all that was against the ABVP students which I am sure the students did not expect. But my boss was like, “You did such a fine job the other day. Just go.” He did not know how the “fine job” the other day had taken place and what my fears were. I had to go.
I entered the campus once again where the ABVP students were aggressively crying slogans against Mr. Somayaji and demanding strict action against him. I stood quite far from the students calculating what to do. By then a student who was crying slogans saw me. I thought now everyone would come and beat me up and I took my phone out of my pocket to be able to call some friend. But the boy, to my utter shock, smiled and told his friends, “Our friend is here,” and welcomed me saying, “Come come…”
I couldnt believe what had happened. But yes, I realized in that moment that the ABVP members did not read the newspaper and especially The Hindu which they assumed to be their mouth-piece.
They came to me, one of them put their hand on my shoulder, and they said, “We need more coverage so that the administration takes strict action against Mr. Somayaji.” They also explained why they were on a strike again after a day’s break. The instructions were coming from the VHP office members. They told me about the details of the phone conversation they had with the VHP, RSS members who had instructed them to go on strike and why Mr. Somayaji was the prime target. “Teachers like him spoil the minds of students with anti-Hindu matters. To get rid of such teachers from institutions is necessary else the entire nation will become anti-Hindu. Protecting young minds from such teachers is our agenda,” they said parroting what probably was told to them by their seniors.
I filed my report again. My boss was happy again.
The strike did not continue the following day. But I kind of fearlessly walked around the University College.
After a few days the students were on strike again for the same matter. This time I informed my boss and said, “I will go cover the strike.”
When I entered the campus the ABVP President was washing his face under the college garden tap. Some ABVP members who saw me took to him saying, “Our friend is here again.” The ABVP President was uncomfortable seeing me. He slowly walked away telling the other members of ABVP, “He is not our friend,” and while walking away he said, “Nobody will speak to him anymore. Its an instruction we have got.” I walked fast towards the President and put my hand around his shoulder asking, “What happened? What is the matter?” to which he said, “I have been told that you are not with us and have reported against us.” I asked him, pretending to be shocked, if he had read the newspaper to say so. He said, “No. But those who read told me. So I cant speak to you. Its an instruction we have got.”
I reported saying the ABVP had strict instruction from higher ups to not to speak to The Hindu. The strike did not continue after that. But ABVP continued creating problems in the College about which my other sources told me and I did report about them.
Everytime anywhere in the country ABVP makes some noise I cant help but recollect these incidents from 2009 from my experience where the ABVP’s unintelligence came across so well.
But now it is not that funny since the political powers, with whom they were in touch even then, have started acting more than before. But amidst all the terror they have unleashed recollecting this episode gives me a laughter break!
P.K. Nair is no more.
Language is inadequate to speak of his contribution and also of the vacuum his death has left behind.
When I got into the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune in the year 2012 one of the things I was eagerly looking forward to, in Pune, was seeing P.K. Nair the man whose effort gave us the National Film Archives of India and through it all the films that we have watched and learned from. But never could I gather the courage to call him take an appointment and go meet him.
But slightly over a month after I joined the course my teacher Rahamat Tarikere, who was then writing a book on Amirbai Karnataki came to Pune researching on his subject. One day while walking with Sir to the NFAI library I said, “May be you should also speak to P.K. Nair,” to which Sir said, “Yes, I do intend to.” Without waiting for further instruction I had pulled out my phone from my pocket saying, “Let me take an appointment,” and rang Nair sahab who on knowing someone was writing on Amirbai and wanted to meet him said, “Come now,” and said that he was in his office (PK Nair committee) at the Institute. Rahmat Sir and I took an above turn and walked to the Institute.
As Rahamat Sir and I entered his room he shook hands with us and asked whereabouts. When Rahamat Sir explained to him about the book he is writing on Amirbai Karnataki and immediately Nair sahab started recollecting the songs of Amirbai and also started humming some of them. He also spoke about the voice culture and also the shift that the voice culture took in the 50s. As I sat there listening to him I realized that Nair sahab, who effortlessly recollected songs and would quote the year of its release and other details about the song, was not someone who just built the film archives in India but is/was also an archive in himself.
Later in that year a film made on him Celluloid Man was released which we had the fortune of watching with Nair sahab himself during the occasion of 100 years of Indian cinema. While watching the film Celluloid Man I realized that my Masters’ thesis wouldnt have been possible if not for Nair sahab. In the film Girish Kasaravalli says how his first film Ghatashraddha was lying in some studio in the then Bombay which Nair sahab got hold of and preserved if not for which a copy of the film wouldnt have been available now. My post-graduation dissertation was on the film Ghatashraddha.
That day when the screening got over and I was about to walk out of the NFAI I got a call from B.M. Basheer, a senior friend, who is also the editor of the Kannada daily Vaartha Bhaarathi. He asked me to do a special article for their annual issue and I immediately asked him if I could interview Nair sahab to which he said, “Ok.” As he said “Ok” I turned back and went into NFAI again where Nair sahab was still sitting. I went to him and asked him if I could interview him for the annual issue of a Kannada daily and all he said was, “Sunday morning.”
After quite a long interview that day my friends Rahul and Pooraj along with me sat for a while with Nair sahab without wanting to leave immediately after the interview. He asked us how the course was running and if the recommendations made by him were taken seriously. Even in the informal conversation that followed the interview he kept repeating something which he kept uttering during the interview: “There is a lot more to be done,” which seemed to be his preoccupation and to that he would add, “Someone should take it forward.”
Yes, there is a lot more to be done and someone should take it forward. Nair sahab did what he could do which was more than the share of a single person in the history of a nation.