Guest post by RIJUL KOCHHAR
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
ज़िन्दगी और मौत ऊपर वाले के हाथ हैं जहापनाह, उसे ना आप बदल सकते हैं न मैं, हम सब तोह रंग-मंच की कठपुतलियाँ हैं, िजनकी डोर उपरवाले की उँगलियों मे बंधी हैं: कब, कौन, कैसे उठेगा, कोई नहीं बता सकता.
I write in an evening shrouded in anticipation, but it is an anticipation of death.
I will write in short, for it is to this that lives lived in an age of bureaucratic rationality are destined—shortness. I sit here, not in judgment, for that has already been done. The state, its arms, the bureaucracy and judicature, the presidency, have all circulated files and documents. Files have become the epitaph of life, tending with acceleration, to legal murder at the gallows. Let us know this and think it through—as the last hours of life of four men, destined by law, to death confront us. It is a luxury to think and imagine that I claim forcefully, for it was denied us by the secret extinguishing of the life of that ‘public enemy’, Afzal Guru. And in this brief aporia that has opened up before us, before the next round of state-murders return to secrecy (for the President in Rashtrapati Bhavan has r
emoved the online, realtime, list of pending mercy petitions), let us rise to thinking the ordinariness of state-killing, the banality of the procedures of this dying, and the phenomenal inordinariness of the death of four men awaiting execution. Behind the façade of routine and rational bureaucracies of killing remains, still, killing. It is the shock of that fact that we must grasp and keep alive.
Think about it, if you will, for a minute (for we don’t have much time!)—the calmness of a Saturday evening, sitting in Delhi, when it has rained the day and night before, the rain washing away grime and dust from our lives. It is crisp, windy and fresh. It is a joy to be alive. That rain, its lashing, this freshness and clarity, has revealed the utter sense of desperation and alarm that one may feel—our state, this politics, has sat in judgment; the high-priest of mercy has denied pardon and refused mercy; this evening is also intoxicated with bloodlust and sanguinary satisfaction. Tomorrow morning, or any time thence, they will kill, legally, in our name, in mine and yours, and in all ours. Four men, like the filmic kathputlis, will dangle. But how will it be done, this mind that has mountains asks—will these living puppets be lined up, one after another, and mechanically done in? What will decide the sequence; who goes first—Gnanprakasham, Simon, Meesekar Madaiah or Bilavendran? What is the order, the reasonable reasoning, the sequencing, behind this final act (I ask this trite question for the more important, heavy queries, adjudicating crime and punishment have already passed muster in our courts, in this brutally record-breaking presidency, and in our sternly callous hearts)? Is the extinguishing of life to follow the quirk of naming and parental prerogative? Will this destiny of birth interfere, one last time, in this killing? Will death be alphabetical? Or will they join hands, the four, and, at the apportioned time, depart together? Will one gallows do, or will they construct four beauties? Will they reuse the rope? If death begets death, what is the reasoning, the logic, of the cycle of life?
Tomorrow, before we awake, during the time that Sunday weaves its charm, after it gives way to the foreboding of another working week—who knows when, for death and secrecy have made a lovely pact of bewilderment in our deliberately arbitrary ministrations of death?—four more men will be hanged by their necks in a prison in Karnataka. They will become more trophies to this record-breaking President, footnotes to decisive action and means-ends administration that we have so come to pine for. They will writhe like trapped butterflies, for less than a minute, or like netted fish, choking, the blood and air mixing in unwholesome ways. They will writhe, and they will stop writhing; like clothes strung out to dry, they will be taken down from the gallows. Who knows, maybe they will have soiled themselves in awaiting this death—their shit and piss, the vomit and gore, the blood and terror, the deracinated compounds of torn flesh and organs and knotted blood vessels, and coagulated dreams and desires, forming vital and vulval evidence of this brutal confrontation between living and killing? What are the thoughts of these four men, as they see death hovering over their lives, ready for them not in some biologically-inevitable way but realized in a legal-bureaucratic fashion? What are their feelings at knowing their ends? Will they eat tonight, or ‘live’ (anatomically of course, but also spiritually) before death—what are the mechanics of living for a legally-prescribed, collectively-awaited, fantasized death? Will they think of their pasts, of the ephemera of their lives? Will they visit the bathroom in the morning, one last time? Will they sleep tonight before they are proverbially put to sleep?
As I write and as you read, time is offering us the opening, imaginative vignettes of their everyday—the rising scenes that will collapse into a culmination of legal reason, the opening notes of a song of cruelty, the terrifying waiting within the fabric of the ordinary life-world—that is also the final climax of our politics. This time of the everyday that I am imagining here, and this politics of death to which that everyday has become hostage, are showcasing (at once as they are also camouflaging) the crescendo of shrill, satiating, pleasurable revenge—it is a crescendo that forms the background white-noise, its fundamental raison d’être. But what organizes this imaginative time? What orders this deathly politics? What fuels this erotic revenge? There is a connection to this bureaucratized everydayness of life lived in the shadow of impending legal-murder, this politics of killing, and this desire for revenge—its logics, to me, announce the advance-guard of terror. Rationality and pleasure, tied to the singular pursuit of decisive ‘action’ realized in killing, can portend only one finality—annihilation.
As dusk passes into darkness, metaphor and cliché, perhaps, serve us best in Gandhi’s land: the thirst for blood meets its match tonight (again) in the seeming routinization, the banal bureaucratics, of killing—the circulating files and orders, the competing/concurring authorities of the state and the impending nooses, the gallows and funerals, the documents and extinguished dreams, the killing in our name and dying of families—the collective, mass-fantasy of correction and a sanitized world. This is an age where everyone is thirsty for blood: we have a president and a state and an age given to the narcotisation of taking life. The fantasy of achieving a cultural and legal sanitation in living finds its activation in the narcotisation of bureaucratic killing. The law, politics, bureaucracies, revenge, pleasure tend to one logic—death in the everyday, and an addiction to that death.
Zygmunt Bauman revealed the shocking links between our modern tryst with reason and rationality, and the arrival, plague-like, of the Holocaust. That plague, in other words, ensconced within it, reason and bureaucratically rational ways of doing death. This was the shock—that the ingredients of mass-murder were celebrated and feted in other walks of the everyday, or that the most celebratory ingredient of modern life—reason—was also responsible for the spawning of mass-death. This was not diabolical celebration but, instead, an ignorant, myopic one. The Holocaust, then, was the perfection of our age; it was, in Baumann’s scheme, the apotheosis of our way of life, not its contra. It was, in one sense, a necessary and destined plague. What this plague also ensconces, today, as we await the confirmation of the stilling of those writhing bodies hung from the end of expectant nooses composed of sturdy ropes, is the shock of knowing that we are addicted to legal-murder. Ours is a necropolitics, pure and simple.
And so, like addicts, we go, from one fix to the next, until we will turn on ourselves, cannibalizing our sense of empathy and pardon. And that turning will happen, if it has not already. When the thirst for blood becomes a narcotic, and the mechanics of reason and bureaucratic routine swing into the service of organizing the next dose of bloodlust, there is reason to despair and there is cause to be scared. That organizing may seem to begin in the courts and end with the President of this republic; in reality, it forms the integral logic of our selves. We have forgotten in our mania to kill, in our addiction to the pleasure that derives from it and from revenge, quite simply, the meaning of life. This is the final cliché but it is a useful and a scary one. When the state forgets too, gearing its infrastructure of reason and power and rationalized action to the achievement of killing—a Holocaust in (and of) the everyday is not unimaginable.