Love is Labour

April 5, 2019 at 9:15 AMApr (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life)

When my niece Aarushi was born I was far from home in a place that feels like home- Kashmir. I was in between a very engaging conversation with Shams when Dad called to inform me about my sister giving birth to a girl child, half an hour ago. My first response was, “Wasnt it supposed to happen ten days later?” because I had scheduled my trip as per the date given by the doctor. But nature is beyond human calculations.

I cut short my trip and returned home not because I was excited but because I was expected to be back home. Srinagar to Jammu, Jammu to Delhi and Delhi to Manipal I traveled to reach home only some minutes of my sister and niece arriving home being discharged from the hospital.

When I saw my niece for the first time, I absolutely did not know how to react. There was this sweet little thing which brought a smile on my face but I felt nothing. Absolutely nothing. The omnipresent gaze of family and extended family pressurized me to feel something though nothing was said to me. So I kind of made my amusement of seeing anew born baby seem like my joy of being an uncle.

Within ten days I had to leave for Ranchi and I was only glad about it. I was glad because I have never been good with kids. To be honest, I was quite apprehensive when my sister was to move to Manipal for delivery. Just because I am just not fond of kids and I dont know how to be around them or with them around me! So the Ranchi plan made beforehand was, I felt, a savior.

I very enthusiastically went to Ranchi and even after I finished my work in Ranchi went to Delhi and then to Bhopal and kind of tried my level best to stay away from home. But then I couldnt do that for long and had to come back home.

On returning home I had to engage with the new born! But slowly with time and more engagement slowly silently and softly without realizing it I became not just fond of Aarushi but also very attached to her. I did not even notice the shift in me and my equation with my niece.

Interestingly a lot of my friends were either visiting Manipal or crossing by Manipal during the same time and almost everyone visited home and met Aarushi too, with great love.

One friend very curiously asked my sister how she felt when she first saw the child. For a moment I felt really awkward because it sounded like a TV9 journalist question, “how do you feel about it?” no matter what the occasion is. Also to my mind, thanks to our cultured social upbringing, the mother feels bliss when she sees her child. But I was shocked when my sister told my friend that she felt absolutely nothing! She said she did not feel anything for over ten days and she had to remind herself that she is responsible for the child and she needs to attend to it.

“But slowly I began to love her,” my sister said.

In a way I was glad that neither of my parents or any of my relative wasnt around because we are all made to have such romantic ideas about motherhood that a honest statement like this might sound blasphemous! Forget my parents or relatives, even I had almost the same idea. It did surprise me to hear what my sister said but it did not take much time to realize that it could be true because my relation with Aarushi had also formed in a similar way.

That evening after dropping my friends to the lodge they were put up in, I went on a long solitary drive because I had realized something quite significant: Love, of all shades, is finally an outcome of time and labour! Love just doesnt happen. Love demands time and labour and of course dedication.

This is something that hadnt occurred to me earlier for all the yash raj films I had consumed over and over again and again. I felt light and there was a newborn respect for the idea of labour in the super lazy me.

The realization always happens as a result of a series of incidents, happenings. But to internalize the realization and make it a way of life again requires time and labour! That is love for life.

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GR the lion

April 3, 2019 at 9:15 PMApr (Activism, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Two years ago when a circus company arrived in Udupi, I was keen on seeing a show but was not getting company to go with. One day when my friend Sahamata called to say she was coming to Udupi for some work, I suggested we could together go watch circus. She agreed but never came. I was disappointed.

Around the same time, I got a call from G. Rajashekhar. He had called to ask if he could borrow my copy of Teesta Setalvad’s autobiography. I agreed to lend him my copy on the condition that he would take me along when he goes to watch the circus. Not many who know GR as our conscience keeper and his remarkable life of activism and literary criticism that he has seen all the circus shows that arrived to Udupi in his lifetime. Since I knew of this, I was sure he would be going to watch a show that year too. So I made this offer on listening to which he said, “I usually sit in the Gandhi class and watch circus. I am not sure if that would be okay with you.” I said it was fine with me and in the following week GR and I went to watch circus.

That night I promptly called Sahamata and told her I had just returned home after watching a circus show. “Nice,” she said and asked if I had gone alone. When I told her I had gone with GR, she laughed aloud saying, “People go to the circus to see a lion. But you went to see the circus with a lion.” I too joined her in the laughter.

Photo: Kuntady Nitesh

Within a month after this, we all comrades of concern had gathered at the clock tower in Udupi for a protest. I was talking to GR who was sitting besides the flag post with the national emblem. When I saw another friend (Idrees, if I remember correctly) come join us I went to greet him, who stood on the other side of the the flag post. While I was talking to Idrees I could see the three lions in the national emblem of India and behind the emblem was GR. At one moment GR turned back and it looked like the fourth invisible lion in the national emblem had turned around to look back!

I remembered what Sahamata had said and in that moment I imagined the fourth lion of the national emblem looked like GR. Even if not so, I dont think it would be any unfair to see GR as the invisible lion in the national emblem for he has dedicated his life to defending democracy.

Today is 3rd of April. GR turned 73. Happy birthday, Sir!

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Hug

March 20, 2019 at 9:15 AMMar (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

A friend who met after long hugged me tightly, while about to leave after our brief meeting. The hug lasted a bit more than what the usual “okay bye” hug lasts. “Are you fine?” I asked and the answer came, “I just wanted to be hugged.” It immediately reminded me of another friend who had once mentioned of the intense desire felt to be just cuddled to sleep.

On both occasions I just wished I could be comfortable enough to effortlessly express my desire, the way my friends did; to be held, to be embraced, to be cuddled.

For some reason we are culturally conditioned to believe that to seek love, to seek affection is a sign of weakness and hence not good. As a continuation of the same, we are unconsciously made to feel guilty for wanting to be held, to be hugged, to be loved. ‘Desperate’ becomes the word to label such a harmless need. It stems from a feeling of disgust towards vulnerability which the society shames and has taught us to look down upon.

In a society that celebrates only strength but never prepares humans to accept vulnerability, sadly, embrace becomes just a photo-op and a formal gesture of networking.

A warm hug to all of you who are reading this. If we cross paths ever in life, please come give me a hug. The chips of this unbearable loneliness of being might just erode to some extent when held, when embraced.

PS: Kindly don’t use the cheesy expression ‘jaadoo ki jhappi‘ when you come hug me.

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Liberation from the Past

March 16, 2019 at 9:15 AMMar (Cinema, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

The eldest brother asks the youngest brother to take him to a therapist. The middle one is lying in a secluded place with the lady of his love, holding her hands. The two threads are inter-cut. The perpetually fighting brothers, for the first time in the film, begin to speak of the long shadow of past that is cast on the present causing friction between the two; one to the therapist and the other to the girl he is in love with. The stories unfold & both make way for the frozen tears to flow down their cheek. Both feel relieved with the unburdening of their hearts. The middle one holds his lover to his chest and the elder brother puts his hand around his youngest brother’s shoulder as they walk out of the clinic of the therapist.

To outgrow one’s own past one requires help from outside in the form of therapy and solidarity in the absence of love. In love the healing happens from within.

Even over couple of weeks after I watched Kumbalangi Nights, I haven’t been able to get over this sequence.

Finally, in the film, it is love which liberates all (men in the film) from their past and strengthens the solidarity.

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At the saloon…

March 11, 2019 at 9:15 PMMar (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

There are a few things that I grudgingly have to do regularly. Going to the saloon to get a shave and haircut is one such thing. I conveniently avoid getting a haircut and shave no matter how long the hair and beard grows. If asked I just say, “When I have a beard I look less ugly. This is my social service,” and avoid further conversation. But then there is one thing that I cannot avoid; mustache when it grows long! It makes eating and drinking quite difficult and it is only when the mustache comes in the way of my food and me that I finally drag myself to the saloon.

Today was one such day.

From the past one year I have been going to this particular saloon at a walk-able distance near my house. The only barber of this saloon, a no nonsense fellow, left for his home town in Uttar Pradesh few months ago and he was replaced here in the saloon by his cousin Sameer. I happened to be the first customer of Sameer in this saloon and by the end of that haircut and shave, Sameer and I became friendly with each other.

My usual conversations with Sameer and prior to him with his cousin is a reflection of the complexities of this society about which I will write some other day. Today is about what happened today.

Sameer had just mopped the floor of the shop when I entered today. As always he greeted me with a warm smile asking how I have been. As I took my seat he asked, “kitana choTa kardun?” (how short should I trim your hair?). Not being in a good state of mind, I said, “aapko jitna sahi lagta hai utana karo.” (As much as you think is neat enough.) He immediately exclaimed, “yeh bhi koi baat huyi?” (What are you saying?) to which I said, “aap pey bharosa hai.” (I trust you.) Sameer took a pause to register and extended his hand to pick up the machine saying, “Theek hai.” (Okay!)

After shortening my hair he looked at my quite a long beard and asked, “kitana?” (how short?) raising his eyebrows as he asked. I just made a face indicating an ‘I dont know’. He stared at me and smiled. “aap hee ko nahi pata toh kisko pata?” (If you yourself dont know [what you want], who else will?) came words from between the smiling lips. “aapko jo sahi lagta hai woh karo,” (Do it however you wish to do it) I said to which Sameer said, “Theek hai phir,” (Okay then…) dragging his expression of “Theeek.” That dragging of the word made me fear he woul do some funky stuff which just wouldnt go well with me. So i immediately said, “ek kaam kaaro French beard rakhtey hai. aadha kaTega toh maa khush, aadha rahega toh main bhi khush.” (Lets keep a French beard. It will make my Mom hapy for I am not completely bearded and I will also be happy because I am not completely shaven.) Sameer quickly said, “poora shave kartey hai phir. maa ko khush rakhna chaahiye.” (Let me give you a complete shave then. One should keep mothers happy always.) I laughed and said, “khushi mukammal kisi ko nahi milti. na unki pasand na meri pasand, chalo French beard final hai.” (Happiness never arrives unwaxed. Neither her choice nor my choice, let us go for a French beard.) Sameer agreed saying, “Theeeek hai.” (Okay!)

Taking another machine meant for cleaning the beard he got to work. He trimmed the bread with the machine first then took a scissor to shape it a bit and then asked me if I wanted a clean shave on the remaining parts of the cheek or if I wished to have very short remains of the beard for the texture of it. I was in no mood to think about it all. So I went back to what I had told him earlier; that I trust him and he could make the decision. Sameer, this time, said “Theek hai” but did not drag the ‘Theek’ and was firm i his expression. It seemed like he had decided to take complete charge! He let a short turf of beard remain on my cheeks and shaped the French beard around my mouth neatly and looked at it, moving my head once to the right and then once to the left, sharpening the focus of his eyes. “baraabar?” (is it alright?) he asked me in a firm voice and I answered raising my thumbs up!

When I put down my hand on the handle of the seat and was about to push myself up from the seat Sameer instructed, “baiTho,” (bea seated/ dont get up) and continued to say, “face wash kartey hai.” (I will give you a face wash.) I immediately refused. But Sameer tried to convince me by saying, “bahut time baad thoDa chehra dikh raha hai toh face wash achcha rahega.” (After long a portion of your face is seen. So it is better to get a face wash done.) Very hesitantly I, the fashion illiterate, asked Sameer what does face wash include?” To the ignorant he explained as an elaborate wash of the face. This time I was the one who said, “Theek hai” dragging the “Theeeek”.

Sameer got to action quickly. He changed the cloth spread over my body, pulled my hair back, put a band around my forehead, brought tissue papers, tucked it around the collar of my shirt. Then he went to the corner of the saloon where he has a cubboard kept. Stadning there he asked me, “kaunsa flavour?” (Which flavour?) I felt uncomfortable realizing this face wash to be some fancy thing. I said I dint want to get a face wash and explaned to him I had never indulged in such things and that it is not something that intersts me either. Sameer came to me pushed me back to my seat while I was about o get up. “poochna he nahi chaahiye tha. agar koi particular nahi ho toh aise bolo ki kuch bhi chalega,” (I shouldnt have asked you in the first place. If you are not particular about the flavour say that anything would do!) said Sameer and brought a small box of some cream and neatly took out a scoop of it with his finers and started smearing them on my face. “kuch der aankh band karke baiTho,” (close your eyes for a while) instructed Sameer. I just followed the instruction.

As Sameer kept giving me a face-wash I struggled with all the dark thoughts in my head which I couldn’t avoid with my eyes shut. When he was scrubbing my forehead I also asked him quite melodramatically, “wahan jo bhi likha hai ussey miThaa do.” (Erase what is written in my fate) Sameer just laughed at it and continued doing his work. As he continued to do his work I struggled to keep my eyes shut. Couple of time when I tried to open my eyes Sameer said the face wash material might get into my eyes if I opened my eyes. I politely told him I had work (of course a lie) and did not have much time to spend on face-wash.

Sameer quickened his actions and in a while was wiping my face with a wet cloth. He was done in a while. “ab aankhein kholo,” (now open your eyes) he said and I did. As I looked into the mirror to see what had been done, Sameer said, “pata hai log ghanTo lagaatey hai inn sab cheezon mein.” (You know, people invest hours together for this purpose.) Not knowing what to say Isaid, “unka bhala karey bhagwaan.” (May God bless them.) Sameer laughed and said something interesting. He said, “log jitna achcha dikhney mein mehnat lagaatey hai utna mehnat achcha ban’ney mein lagaatey toh ya baat hoti.” (It would have been so nice if the energy people invest into looking good is invested into becoming good humans.)

I was moved deeply. I paid Sameer and while leaving promised him to try and invest more energy in becoming a good human being. Sameer guiltily siad, “woh aapke liye nahi bola tha.” (I was not referring to you while saying that.) But I know it is something that I need to tell myself and listen to.

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A Speech Prepared and Rehearsed

January 31, 2019 at 9:15 AMJan (Friends, Literature, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Three years ago when the West Indies cricket team won the T20 World-Cup naturally they were celebrating their success and everyone were watching it with not much involvement. Later that day at the press conference the Captain of the WI team revealed of the economical constrains they had faced during the run-through to the World Cup, despite which they won the Cup. His words won the hearts of the people and people saluted the team of West Indies for their victory against odds. After the captain at the press conference the team member who won the man of the series title addressed the press with his legs placed on the table. This behaviour irked many and called it arrogant and indecent.

All of this made me ask myself if our indifference, compassion, intolerance everything, are they independent?

Do people of certain colour, caste, country, class become worthy of our attention and compassion only when there is a miserable touch to their existence? Why are we not understanding of the anger of the very same people? Is anger and pride permitted only to a few with social capital alone? Why the pride of some people comes across as indecent behaviour to us? When people deprived of social capital are discriminated based on colour, race, caste, class, religion and identity, have their guards high and their personality forms rough edges, why do we not understand it but only judge the behaviour of theirs? Why is this roughness largely unavoidable? Why does it become unacceptable while self-pity or imaging of self in misery becomes acceptable to an extent? Why striking a balance between self-pitying misery and rough edged pride/ arrogance to establish dignity becomes so difficult? How is one to achieve this balance?

Though not very deprived socially and economically, in the course of my journey of life love, basic human respect and social acceptance was quite absent. I spent a major portion of my life battling with depression, indulging in a sort of self-pity and in this battle, in order to protect my self-respect and the idea of self-worthiness, also have displayed arrogance thanks to the rough edges that got formed in my personality. Both these cost me quite a bit, in terms of my social life and my own development. It also created a dent in my emotional health.

Writing did help me a bit in striking the necessary balance between self-pity and egotism or roughness. It is true that I had to face discrimination, insult, and intolerance even because of my writing. But it did not break me like it did earlier. This was majorly because slowly writing had strengthened my ‘self’ to some extent.

Saying all of this, that too on the day of the release of my book is not to say I have answered life and the world for what I was made to go through. I say this just to remember what writing did to me and celebrate this journey for a moment. As life continues the efforts to strike this balance and uphold dignity will also continue. It is never ending because the shadows of certain experiences are cast on our entire lives.

The reason to have this book release on this very day is because today my father completes 70. All through my life he has supported, sheltered and encouraged me like most fathers do. But more importantly he has constantly redrawn his own boundaries in his attempt to understand my eccentricities, my madness and be by me in all of this. That is rare or not I know not. But I know the significance of it. So as he completes 70 what else can I gift him other than an attempt to tell him that in this life I have managed to weave words, managed to strike this balance between self-pity and egotism to some extent, managed get a hold of myself to an extent, managed to not lose my mind completely, managed to earn some basic human respect which was denied in several ways, and earn friends like you all who are a part of all my seasons! Within my limitations this is the least I could do in life which I can present before my father. Hence the book launch is scheduled on this day.

Akshata Hunchadakatte, Publisher Aharnishi Prakashana \ Dr. Vijay, Pricipal, MGM College, Udupi \ G. Rajashekhar, Cultural Critic and Kannada Writer \ Rajaram Thallur, Former Journalist, Writer, Translator and Media Critic \ Your’s truly \ K. Phairaj, Writer-Activist. (Left to Right)

(Speech I prepared and rehearsed several times in my mind for the release function of my book ‘baaLkaTTey’ on 27 Jan 2019, which in my nervousness couldn’t deliver as planned)

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Is Hari Dead?

August 31, 2018 at 9:15 PMAug (Cinema, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life)

One of the often asked question after the screening of Aanya Kasaravalli’s debut film Harikatha Prasanga (Chronicles of Hari) has been: “Does Hari die in the end? Is Hari dead?”

Being associated closely with the film, not just in the capacity of the associate director, but also as a friend of Ananya, I have had several discussion, at different stages of the film, about the film and the character Hari. One of the issues we did discuss was obviously as to whether Hari dies or not in the end. While Ananya, from the beginning, felt that Hari isnt dead, I believed the opposite.

The same discussion took place couple of times, between some artist or some technician and me during the shoot and every time I answered, “According to me he dies, but Ananya believes he isnt dead.” While some believed that Hari shouldnt die because that would be dark and defeating, some did agree with me that he is dead. But I am not sure why they, like me, felt that Hari is dead.

(spoilers ahead)

Chronicles of Hari, as I see, is a film on the idea of normalcy, managed by morality and legality, which orchestrates certain standardization that marks things, humans, ideas etc as acceptable or unacceptable. Hari, as I understand, becomes problematic to these categories and moves, continuously, from difficulty to impossibility of being standardized and becoming acceptable to and in the standardized world.

I see Hari’s character being unfolded or revealed in different names as the different ways in which they- people in the society- want to see him. To ‘see’ means how they want to see him be. But Hari every time casts off the name and thorugh his being and continual becoming breaks the expectation and standardization in the name of morality, legality and also the idea of normalcy. His being and continual becoming is what exposes the shallowness of the society and its idea of normalcy. It also upholds the right to dignity and right to life of humans of all colours and all shades and thus celebrates the human rainbow.

If Hari is so powerful who punctures the idea of normalcy continuously and repeatedly, how can I come to believe that Hari dies in the end?

Man, as we all know, is born free but everywhere is in chains. These chains are social, economical, aesthetic etc. which are all designed for moulding humans into conventions. The ones who are in battle against the society are the ones who refuse to become conventions and break the mould repeatedly. Society through its power and force always longs to chain the human spirit which is born free. Society accepting such individuals who break those mould would mean surrendering to convention, conforming and rejection of freedom. Success of a rebelling artist in a world which s/he is rebelling against becomes his/her greatest failure for it would mean some compromise unless the world itself has undergone a change of heart.

When freedom is not permitted in life, freedom is chosen in death. Hari announces his freedom, at the cost of life. Death becomes the expression of freedom, though not liberation. Death is not acceptance of failure by Hari but the failure of the world in accepting Hari. So even in his death of transforming from soul to the soulless he once again underlines the shortcoming of the world, its norms and its conventions. He rejects it because its heart hasnt changed yet. But only after fighting a brave but unequal battle.

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Bhakti

July 21, 2018 at 9:15 PMJul (Friends, Music, Musings, Slice Of Life, Theater)

A splendid moment occurred on 17 Feb 2018 at the Dhwanyaloka, in the campus of MGM College, Udupi.

Occasion: Book launch of Lakshmeedha Tolpady’s ‘bhaktiya nepadalli’ and ‘bhakti kampita’, a collection of essays by AK Ramanujan on Bhakti, translated by Dr. Mahabaleshwar Rao, to be followed by lectures and discussions.

The event was inaugurated by Yakshagana artist Bannanje Sanjeeva Suvarna through a short performance of Yakshagana, along with a student of his. For the inaugural performance Suvarna Sir had selected the episode of Krishna visiting Vidhura, to be in tune with the theme of Bhakti, which was flowing across both the books to be released.

Krishna has arrived at Vidhura’s place and the latter is overwhelmed with joy, to the point of tears and silence! Struggling to express his affection for the Lord in words, Vidhura starts to sing and dance. At this point of the performance Suvarna Sir went on his knees to perform ‘manDi’, a popular step in Yakshagana where the artist goes on his knees and swirls as he goes around the stage/ performing space, forming circles. Dhwanyaloka is designed to be a lecture hall not performance hall. So, the Krishna performer standing erect in the center of the performance space, in a typical Krishna pose, became an obstacle in the orbit of Suvarna Sir, while performing ‘manDi’. Vidhura/ Suvarna Sir at this point, very casually and unhesitatingly gave a gentle push to Krishna, brushing him aside! Krishna softly moved to the side and made way for the swirling performance by Vidhura.

It was an electrifying moment for me!

Lakshmeesha Tolpady during his speech later remembered the moment and said, “The devotee asks for space and the Lord makes space for him. Else there will be no space for the Lord.” It was a thrilling way of looking at it. But that moment appeared a bit different to me, or rather I saw it a bit differently.

It is the God himself/herself who, in his/ her stagnancy, becomes an obstacle to Bhakti. And when Bhakti is in full force it gives movement to the static God and brings him/ her to life and brings him/ her alive. Also, Bhakti doesn’t tolerate the God himself/ herself, if s/he becomes an obstacle in the path of Bhakti. In the end the one who occupies the center stage is not the Lord but Bhakti and through Bhakti, the devotee.

The event was presided over by K.P. Rao, who in his presidential address remembered the short invocation performance by Suvarana Sir before the Vidhura-Krishna performance. In the invocation performance Suvarna Sir invoked Lord Ganesha, where he was describing Lord Ganesha through gestures and also performing the worshiping of Lord Ganesha. Remembering this KP Rao said, “Did you see how Suvarna was becoming the worshiper and also the worshiped, the devotee and also the Lord himself?” He was pointing not at the one man performance where the same performer plays different roles. It was a comment on Bhakti!

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Raag and the Rain

June 13, 2018 at 9:15 PMJun (Friends, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

One afternoon, in the third week of this April, I was with my friend Randheer in Jammu University. I had gone back to that campus after two years. In a while, our other friends- Sonia, Nisha and Shaabaaz joined. As we sat under a tree with chai in our hands, we requested Nisha to sing and Shaabaaz to recite his poems. Understanding the mood of the situation, Shaabaaz called his friend Aakash, a trained and passionate singer, to join us. Akash was with us in two minutes.

Nisha began the mehfil by singing a gazal by Begum Akthar. After Nisha sang and Shaabaaz recited his poems, now it was Akash’s turn. Akash sang quite a few songs and ghazals for us, pausing his singing to explain which raag it is, other musical details and some related anecdotes. Once while he was explaining a raag to us, the impulsive and innocent Sonia asked Akash if its true that some raag bring rains and some light the lamps. My immediate reaction was, “What a juvenile question,” which of course I did not say loud. I do not know what others thought but Akash clearly did not think so. Very spontaneously he said, “I am not sure if it happens in the outside world. But it has happened within me. I have witnessed rain within me, while listening to some raag and have witnessed lamps being lit within me, while listening to some other raag. That is all I can say.”

I was glad Sonia asked that question. When Akash’s singing continued, I could feel a new vibration within me.

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Madhu’s Murder and Questions Unanswered

March 1, 2018 at 9:15 PMMar (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Soliloquy)

(On February 22, the locals of Agali town in Attapadi region of Kerala beat up an Adivasi Madhu,for stealing rice. He had succumbed to death in the police jeep on the way to the hospital. The police said that he was suffering from a mental illness. The post-mortem concluded that Madhu died of head injuries. Sixteen persons have been arrested in connection to Madhu’s death so far. The tragic event had evoked outrage across the country. The author imagines different reactions had Madhu’s life not taken the turn it did before he was nabbed by the mob.)

An Adivasi youth named Madhu was beaten to death in Attapadi, Kerala by the public, for having stolen food items.

Following the death of Madhu, there has been an outrage against the murder and the murderers, who were not just inhumane to beat Madhu to death but also rejoiced the entire act which has been reflected in their acts of taking selfie during the incident.

While this outrage is justified, let us see what could have been an alternate script…

Madhu subscribes to the middle class values and believes stealing is bad, unethical, immoral and also criminal. But since he is hungry and as a result, dies of hunger.

The fact is before us. In Attapadi there have been several incidences of death among the Adivasis because of malnutrition and starvation. Madhu would have added himself to the statistics, had he not attempted, in desperation, to steal food items.

Facts tell us that Attapadi, heartland of Adivasis in Kerala, is where the Adivasi land was encroached in the last few decades. It is ironic that the settlers who deprived Madhu and his community of their way of life and way to living have now murdered Madhu, for stealing food.

Yes, the ones who beat Madhu to death needs to be condemned and be punished for their crime. But in the midst of this outrage against the murderers let us also be brutal on ourselves a bit and scratch the matter below the surface.

If this alternate script was to play out, who would have been responsible for his death/ silent murder? If this alternate script was to play out and had Madhu died of starvation, to begin with his death would have gone unnoticed and even if it came to our notice, we the middle class would have questioned Madhu why he wouldn’t work (hard like us), why he wouldn’t take up a job, and similar questions.

We are, secretly, thankful to the murderers because they have saved us of some guilt. But we are such hypocrites and worse, deceptive, that we are using this as an opportunity to play holier than thou with all our statements about the murderers.

Let us not forget that we are a part of the system which led to a moment which handed over Madhu to the murderers.

The question of identity is not something that can be ignored in the case of Madhu’s murder. It is not just the middle class morality around stealing which has led, as I see, to the murder of Madhu.

What we also have to ask ourselves is; whose ‘unacceptable’ (the question ‘to whom?’ remains) acts irritates, angers and outrages us to the point of murdering them? Of course, not every act unacceptable to us awakens the murderer in us. Some people’s actions anger us more than that of others. Who are these people, who are lesser humans to the society at large? More than often, people who are weak, economically, socially and politically. In other words, it is the poor, the women, the Dalit-Bahujans, the LGBT community and also the Adivasis.

By reducing the death of Madhu to a matter caused by poverty we are trying to hide the issue of identity, in such a hierarchical society, because we have not been able to liberate ourselves from this prejudice even while we fancy ourselves as just, caring and sensitive lot.

Madhu being mentally unstable gives the society more courage to be violent because the mentally ill have no social, economic, legal and political power and representation in this country.
Let us now be positive (a great fancy of the middle class, aspirational India) and imagine another alternative script of Madhu…

Madhu went to school and later got a seat in some prestigious university.

We the middle class would start complaining about how reservation is eating up our seats in educational spaces and at jobs. We the middle class would laugh at Madhu for his English pronunciation, for his ‘not-so-civilized’ mannerisms and then ask whether the subaltern can adjust themselves to the mainstream way of living.

Madhu’s murder is not the first murder caused by the insensitivity of the greater commons of this country. And every murder leaves behind several questions, which we do not even acknowledge, forget coming face to face with it. Of these questions two seem significant, to me, at least at this point; how many murders does it take to be called a massacre? How many murders does it take for us to become humans?

(Originally published in Hind Kisan on 27 Feb 2018)

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