2017, Column, LazyEye, Telegraph Calcutta

Remember, dead men do tell tales









There is nothing as loud as the sound of wrongdoing being hushed. Nor anything as revelatory as a cover-up. The more covers you commission and deploy the bigger the body of evidence becomes. The harder you hush over something, the more you are heard. Don’t believe me? Come spend a while at Mahadeb’s, even though he’s still gone. It’s come to matter less and less that he isn’t there. His air is. It’s a place that all winds cross, and on their wings arrive intimations.

Someone died. Someone important. Someone sitting over an important matter – as important as possible murder. Then it began to dawn that he may not have died. He may have himself been murdered. Everybody’s talking about it at Mahadeb’s: Did you know? But didn’t you? But, hush, nobody’s naming names because UnmentionablePeople may be involved. UnmentionablePeople meaning mention them and, well, you don’t wish unmentionable things happening to you, do you? See how careful I am being. Learn. And please take due note, PuppyLove and NumberToo, I have not named any names. I am a careful character, clean as a barrel after bullets have been shot into intended places.

Termites, we’ve been famously commanded, must be exterminated. We do well at terminating. We are used to murder, why fuss over it? Giant trees fall. Newton’s Third Law takes a grip on emotion. Retribution becomes just, incumbent. When the glare catches us red-handed, we wipe our sins on others and melt into the vast convenience of numbers.

Many winters ago, I found myself in a village called Logain, deep in the Bihar countryside. Somebody had mentioned murder. It was eventually left to the vultures to rip the cover. The bodies, 116 of them, had lain there decomposing for six weeks. In that period the village had grown wiser to fineries of tilling – dead people make good compost. A lush crop of mustard had sprung on the bed of corpses. But the village was also to grow wiser to a thing or two about old idioms: dead men do tell tales, it is seldom they don’t. The stench had risen high off the field and the vultures had begun to swoop low. Their common guilt the villagers had consigned to a common grave. The carnage was an open secret in the village; to the world beyond it was just a secret. Until the vultures arrived, followed by that rare thing called a policeman with a conscience. He had the crop shaved and the field dug up. The skulls flew into the sky as the spades got to work… Some among us were there and told the story. Logain became like many of our stories, the child of memory’s whore – an unwanted, forgotten consequence of collective shame. We are a nation eddying with bastard deeds.

We let blood litter our streets and retreat into our homes. Nobody owns up. We decamp from facts and populate our horrors with clichéd characters of fiction – a violent mob, a murderous horde, a mass that suddenly descended and vanished. Who? Wherefrom? Us. Herefrom. Every single time. It is we who pillage, rape and murder under wrongful incitement and exhortation. Under criminal instruction and protection. There are leaders but we are there to be led. We are the midwives of the abortion of the senses. Then we wash our hands and line up for secular prabhat pheris, our opaque monuments to Gandhi and Buddha urgently recalled to veil memory and guilt.

We need to ask a few questions of each other. We cannot pretend being a civil society when we claim every now and again rights over uncivil liberties. We cannot invoke laws that we ourselves violate. We cannot look up to a Constitution that we trample underfoot. There are a myriad contemporary Indian stories we have forgotten. They are all true stories. They have dates and datelines. They have pegs and dead people hanging by them. And there are among us, the many hands that hung them there, that have since been washed in collective and convenient forgetting. The truth about mass murder in this country we haven’t learnt to tell. Individuals murdered? Puppy love.

With a manic prescription and a febrile bloodcry
Will arrive again that diabolical sloganeer
Don’t then begin cry oh-my, oh-my, oh-my!
Of sinful deed of blood and murder, you are the pioneer.

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