THE RETURN OF THE NAKED

By Javaid Iqbal Bhat

It was a narrow escape. The stone missed my head by not more than a few centimeters. The previous night news had spread in the town that a well known cameraman has been caught with his pants down (and specs off) in his back alley studio shooting objectionable content with a group of girls. To add weight to the news clips and obscene (kindly do not bring in the blurring of distinction between obscene and the modern art in urbane and cosmopolitan spaces of India and the other areas. For the simple reason that the place of occurrence of this episode is a dingy, confused-hence conservative, backwater town of India) pictures were passed before the local news channels could give the information. Unable to control the rage the people had ransacked the shop �fairly named as Mona Lisa, for as the clips proved the work done inside does not leave much to be desired. It has signs of a perfectionist. The afternoon went by in eerie calm as the minds were still trying to arrange the dots into order, and making themselves believe that the sweet-tongued, Quran and Hadith peppering conversationalist can actually stoop his backbone so low as to fit in the frame of an uptown Californian gallery of porn gymnastics. The dusk fell and the night enveloped the kill-him-shoot-him-burn-him nerved people of the bent on the agitation. How long could the night clothe the frayed nerves? In the morning with contradictory rumors buzzing in the head we took tentative steps in the direction of the office. Just a few hundred metres away from the town, with a lightening speed a stone hit through the backside of the bus whizzing past my head. The panic for a brief moment was followed by a silence, which was deafening. The small pieces of broken glass lay on the floor and the seats. A woman carrying a sick child in her lap to hospital saw small drops of blood gather in the first hair of her scalp. A shard of glass had fixed itself there which she removed under her falling tears and surrounding consoling words.

The conversation returned to the passengers, and so did, of course, arise the quiet questions. To be fair to him, no one inside the moving bus saw the stone thrower. Only the direction could be guessed. But everyone knew the motive; to instill fear among the drivers not to ply the vehicle, and back off to their resting stations. As to why the stone thrower wanted to do that the reason was only hidden from the people who did not know about the unseemly episode of the preceding afternoon. The rest were familiar about what the meticulousness French term in their language as the raison ‘d etre. The throw of the stone encapsulated a nice set of things together; the denser, the thicker and faster the rain of stones the more richer is the set of these things. They are a total loss of faith in the British-inherited rule of law, an unsatiated hunger for swift justice, anger at the disordered, unattended Crowded Place �incompatible with the current times, hence a breeding ground for the sin-vice hormones- and the sheer abandon into which the ruling class has thrown the care and pulse of the common human beings of this wretched piece of earth. A common person who so often is underlined with red ink in policy documents, and his identity reemphasized in speeches from high platforms yet remains tragically absent from the practical side of these policies. The common person phrase arose here because, one, the stone thrower is part of the undifferentiated mass termed ‘common,’ and second he represents, if not entirely, but to a significant extent the inner rhythms of others, including those who themselves or whose babies receive shards and shrapnel. The bus incident, among other things, shows the same. A vehicle full of passengers could have easily overpowered the “invisible” thrower. Or, minimum, could have come out and hit counter stones. No one made any expression to that effect. Leave away the statement of hunting down the guy with the stone; no one issued a word against him, except for some customary remarks inconsistent with edge, bite and sharpness of the context. It was an understandable mixture of care, anxiety, cynicism and an unexpected subtle sympathy with him, and perhaps with his trained hand. Basically the sympathy, on a broader level, remains divided. With the woman carrying the sick baby the sympathy is clear, tender, intense and immediate. It does rouse the passion on seeing an injured baby. However, as the experienced political mind of ours reflects on the incident, the picture of the Desire behind the stone gets bigger; larger than life. The intention seems to be to vent out the anger, and more importantly to reawaken the memory linked with the present scenario. Not many months back a scandal broken out in the town, of the same kind as witnessed now. Everything through which the town is passing through on this occasion was done at that time. The immediate moral shock was followed by a strike, protests, stone throwing, a few token arrests and then it was life as usual. The masses and law-abiding citizens are left wondering about the meaning and implications of the idea of rule of law. Those who were publicly known and identified as the mainstay of the previous eruption of the racket are freely roaming in the area. The memory revives further deeper memories. The 2006 Habbakadal centered, Sabeena-revolving wider scandal brought out after a rather tedious legal process thirteen convictions. Meanwhile those convicted are enjoying the perks, privileges and even, in some cases, the promotions. Their freedom is a regular affront to the ethically conscious citizens. Keeping in view the measure of resentment stoked by events of this nature it is quite natural that the reaction would be of this kind and strength. More so when it understood the guilty would come unscathed once the expanding anger recedes. The rage and the subsequent manifestations are a logical outcome of the state of inaction or heinous indifference against the foregoing wrongdoers. If only the old Roman way of “flogging the rank and file, and flinging the ringleaders” had been put into action then may be the protest this time round would have adopted a different form and color. That did not take place. Hence the stones and the death of a youth. On the other hand without a befitting punitive example the offenders are getting emboldened and casting the legal niceties to the winds.

Even as this is being written the town wears a deserted look; the normal crowds are missing and an uneasy tranquility covers the streets and roads. This state of affairs would continue with intermittent stones and the tear gas shells. It would pass as time gives a slip to the pursuers of the “wicked.” Though underneath the surface is the firm belief that the sense of revenge or the pursuit of revenge against the ethical offenders is an illusion. Soon the crowds would begin to mill around and eventually when the dust is removed from the shops, they will return to their homes with a wounded fascination for justice.
Even as this is being written some parts of the town are wearing a deserted look; the usual crowds are missing and an unease covers the streets and roads. This state of affairs would continue with intermittent stones and the tear gas shells. It would pass as time gives a slip to the pursuers of the “wicked.” Though underneath the surface is the firm belief that the sense of revenge or the pursuit of revenge against the ethical offenders is a mirage of the desert. Soon the crowds would begin to mill around and eventually when the dust is removed from the shops, they will return to their homes with a wounded fascination for justice. The desire to see the “criminals” behind the prison walls would remain an illusion. There is a tangible reason behind such belief. For quite some time the gap between the governing class structure and the common has widened so much that it appears there are now only two surviving classes in Kashmir. The modes of thinking and manners of behavior of these two entities are far away from each other. The governing structure is caught up in unfeeling figures and statistics, worried about power point presentations before the guests coming from outside. They love to offer tempting superficial pictures and wax lyrical about overall prosperity and happiness of the people. Why speak only of their crisp and impressive presentations in front of the dignitaries coming from outside, even amongst themselves they are broadly content and uniform in their opinion about the life and times of ‘aam aadmi.’ They tend to get a view of this ‘aam aadmi’ from high flying helicopters, from tinted glasses of the nice Boleros and Ambassador cars, from the prim routes which are cleared for their hassle free passage through places congested with the rant and dirt of ‘aam aadmi.’They also frame an idea about him from the wooden and cumbersome reports of bureaucracy, and yes through their fat salaries, without excluding the luxuriant perks and privileges. With life of this nature it is not difficult to understand that the sound and the fury made by lay men and women appears boring and bizarre, one which distracts them from routine ‘business’ of administration. To them it is important that from Lolab to Pahalgam Kashmir is bedecked with flowers, colors and scents so that not only the tourists are brought in but also their own pleasure �culture mixes properly with the surrounding. It is not necessary to pay any heed to backward-moral-obsessed people in remote districts like Islamabad. The very ‘moral’ or anything connected with morality is an anathema to them. For the meaning of this word does not rhyme with their newly-rich, pleasure-hunting drift of their homes and offices.

To be fair to them it is not always a conscious omission of the specific moral related anxiety of the ‘aam aadmi.’ That is it is not always that they are aware of the kind of peculiar web of things with which the idea of morality among common people is connected. There are these blinkers of love for their comfortable life, love for their new-found pleasures, and love of just being in love with their unique idiom of life, which inhibit them from entering the complex mesh of problems in which the ordinary mind is wrapped. They have generated a culture of their own; a culture which is merrily oblivious of the ‘boring’, ‘medieval’, ‘conservative’ obsession of the stone throwers. Deep down, some of them must be asking themselves in wonder, “if there is consent between two adults, how on earth does it harm other people?” Yes, of course, these thoughts must be passing through their minds. This is the specious spin put on the CD racket in higher circles of our society. It is being said in private that if a group of women entered into a tie-up with the proprietor of the Mona Lisa studio and shot the sexually explicit pictures, how on earth anyone is going to prevent them. I find it very hard to buy that line of thought. For the very simple reason that the life and environment of ‘aam aadmi’ is not compatible with the notion of ‘consent’ and the other notions associated with consent. An ‘aam aadmi’ whose life has been made miserable by across-the-board corruption should, in right reason, be understood from a safe distance from the West-borrowed consent. Further, in a democracy-pursuing set up it is invariably preferable to put forward public consent ahead of the individual consent. An individual or a group of individuals cannot be permitted to disturb the peace of society. Today if there is widespread public outrage, it is only because of the implicit patronage, protection and promotion given by the governing class to the elements which care two hoots for the ethically conscientious citizens of our neighborhoods. Their sense of hurt is left unaddressed; with the belief that they will ‘grow up’ and see the wider reality around. This way of dealing with situations smacks of insensitivity, and gross indifference to the principles of preserving common minimum good of the people. I feel eager to bring in a brief conversation between Mr. Muzaffar Husain Beig and Mr Farooq Abdullah.

The context of the conversation is Mr. Omar Abdullah’s dramatic resignation over allegations of involvement in the sex scandal. In a heated exchange of words on NDTV Mr. Beig, precise and insightful as always, made a remark which is still buzzing in my mind. With an air of spontaneity he said that one of the important causes of the rise of militancy in the late 80’s of the previous century was the degradation of moral culture in the higher circles of the society, especially the ruling class. For the first time did I hear any figure of the stature of Beig connecting gun with the lavish and pleasure-hunting ruling class of those times. The idea is not groundless. A closer look at the background of the militants as given by a Doctoral thesis of a student of the University of Kashmir reveals that a majority of them came from poor and marginalized sections; those segments of population which are more prone to radicalization. Not only where they motivated by the theme of subjugation but they were also told, better still knew themselves, about the fairy tale life style of their rulers. They became conscious of the gap or the distance between themselves and the rulers. The rulers were rolling in wealth and luxury, copying the foreign habits, their subjects seeing such a condition inched closer towards radicalization. Before the ‘unclean’ ways and habits of the King could go down to the bottom and contaminate their lives, the symbolic worm turned, and the rebellion happened. It goes without saying that a clean King, like the clean and upright head of a family, makes clean subjects. The worm of the disease comes from the highest seat. It is not really out of my mind as to how much a good number of people enjoying high chairs or way too removed from the men ,women and children crawling �groaning- on the ground, hate the word ‘morality.’ This word brings up images of Bin Laden and Mullah Omar into their mind. However I believe that it is intimately linked with the compound and complicated existence of an ‘aam aadmi.’When he screams in favor of morality, there are enough signs to read the miserable abandon into which he has been pushed by the foot loose and fancy free rulers and rule makers. It is not just about religion.

To round off this discussion the episode of Islamabad combines three things: I) Without fear of punishment such things would recur with greater frequency and magnitude ii) The gap between the governing class and the governed is too big to describe iii) The higher classes are refusing to listen sincerely to what Arundhati Roy calls Grasshoppers, the men, women and children scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Javaid Iqbal Bhat is Research Scholar, Centre for English Studies, JNU, Delhi & Assistant Professor Post Graduate Department of English, South Campus, University of Kashmir. Email: javjnu@gmail.com

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