An inability to grieve

Sarcasm in the  moment of death? For this you need to be evil. For, the first human reaction to death is silence. Even in the case of a normal death. It suddenly reminds us of our own mortality. Impermanence of our existence. When death is not normal, when it is an accident, a suicide or a murder, it shocks us. Or, it should. A life cut short unnaturally creates a void in us. A sense of unfulfillment. And our gaze turns inwards. We tend to become reflective. Words do not come easily to you. On  most of the occasions they sound false, even obscene. Therefore, we console the grieving not though words but by touching them. It is not easy to make sense of death, in whichever form it strikes us.

The death of Gajendra Singh Rajput at Jantar Mantar when an AAP rally was in progress stunned all of us. Was it a suicide? Or, an accident? A missed step in a drama Gajendra was trying to perform on a tree adjacent to the rally, which led to his death? Was he trying to draw attention of the AAP leaders and the rally alike towards his plight? Was he merely enacting a Peepli Live  at Jantar Mantar ?  We do not know. The details that have emerged lead us to think that all he wanted to do was to create a spectacle which would force the crowd or leaders or police to converge under the tree and plead with him to climb down. He wanted to be helped to be able go back to his home from where,he said, he was forced out.

Gajendra was sadly mistaken. The AAP leaders did notice his attempts to draw their attention and this was construed by them as a conspiracy to distract the masses and more importantly media, through his act. In fact, one of them said that he should come down as they have seen enough of such antics. He was thought to be diverting mass attention from a crucial issue.

Beneath the tree were angry teachers, shouting slogans against the government. The AAP leaders were upset with this protest. They thought it was unfair on part of the contract-teachers to disturb the rally. They suffer from a strange sense of entitlement, a pre-eminent right they possess over protest for they are the ‘party of protest’. They get offended when an individual or group tries to protest before them. They ignore them or brush them aside. It looks like  a joke to them.

Latak gaya?’ was the first, spontaneous reaction from the stage to the news of the death of Gajendra by hanging. It is not easy to convey the moral casualness of these words. I have been trying to translate it into English and find myself failing to find words to communicate the indifference, the casualness, coldness, even cruelty which ooze from this phrase. The hanged body was taken down. But the rally continued, without even expressing grief. Was it the larger cause then the rally was serving? Was Gajendra Singh a minor disturbance the rally did not care about?

And then the spokespersons of the ruling party of Delhi let out filth with stunning ferocity. They were so aggressive in the defence of their leader that one felt ashamed. Where does such belligerence come from? Why did they not look touched, let alone shaken by this accident? Were they upset with this ‘act of dying’, which had stolen their show?

The inability of our political parties and leaders to grieve tells us about  a critical lack in their humanity. They are ill-formed entities. People for them is an idea and or an ideological abstraction. That is why when somebody, who is not one of you, dies, you do not feel moved. That is why political parties can think of processions and sit-ins at Jantar Mantar but not camp in Trilokpuri to be with the people. Or, the Indian parliament can continue with its business even when a massacre was on in Gujarat. Why, even the Communist parties thought their party conferences were more important than rushing to Gujarat to be with the dying and help bring sanity back to the society.

The indifference of the police in this  we can explain, if not condone. But how do you account for the behaviour of the teachers, standing beneath the tree from which Gajendra was brought down, who continued with their protest even after this? How could they persist with their demands in the face of this ‘accident’?

There is something deeply, disturbingly wrong with our public life. The death of Gajendra has hit us. Before him, we have known farmers as mere numbers which help strengthen the case of oppositional politics. What we realize now is that this politics of protest and opposition has not been able to persuade the farmers that they need to live for their battle to succeed. It is as if farmers’ issues and their politics have totally detached themselves from the farmer as a human being, a living person who wants to live. The politics of struggle has failed to create a shared humanity for the farmers who have been failed by the system.

In theatre, we play the game of ‘trust’. An actor lets herself fall. She is confident that her fellow actors would not let her touch the ground. In this game, if she falls, it is their failure. In a way, of our democratic politics in general and the politics of struggle in particular have failed in this ‘trust’ game. That is why all words of grief, shock, anger sound false. Without grief, there is  of course no humanity. Without silence, there is no speech.

( A shorter version appeared in The Indian Express 25 April,2015)


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