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Saturday, April 15, 2006

"Annavaru" Sheds His Earthly Body

Good morning. My name is Rohin Kallat and today I'd like to talk to you about the death of a star. I will explore the events surrounding his natural demise and whether or not they promote his simply iconic status, or his God-like radiance that hundreds of thousands of his fans claim to have lost as they mauled the Garden City in desperate anguish.

The day was the 12th of April, 2006...the day before the day before yesterday, to be precise. Dr. Rajkumar, the most famous icon of the Kannada film industry, had been hospitalized the week before, or therebaouts. And it was commonly accepted that his health had continued to deteriorate after his brother passed away a couple of months ago. Yet, as is always the case, it is most human to be waiting for something and to still be as surprised as if you had no clue it was coming. Yes, such a thing is death.

Well, he died of cardiac arrest in the afternoon, at about 1330 hrs, approximately. And I happened to be having lunch with a friend and trying to get back to work. So, I stopped the first empty autorickshaw that came by and I asked him if he was "gonna go my way". He seemed an honest man, one who wished to live a life of least trouble, especially by not inviting he said to me that he'd heard that there had heen some fighting in the Shivajinagar area...which is where I was trying to go. Although it didn't strike me immediately, in a couple of seconds I started getting flashbacks of the scenes that transpired after Dr. Rajkumar was kidnapped by "the forest brigand" Veerappan. After a brief conversation, he agreed to go, for whatever reason and not because I'd offered him more money or anything.

Merrily on our way, I asked him when he'd heard about this and he said about five or ten minutes ago. Well, we made to work alright, but when I walked into the office people were already on their way out...they were expecting some trouble in this area apparently. Not being one to need more than one hint when it comes to leaving this place early, I grabbed my bag and headed out again. My friend, Asif, who'd accompanied me thus far, said he wanted to "grab something from the mall", and so we headed off to Garuda Mall, on Magrath Road. Still, in spite of looking at all the furniture shops on Infantry Road packing up, it still seemed a bit of a chicken thing to do...back to this in a moment.

We got to the mall, paid the auto guy, and made our way in. As we walked in, however, something seemed amiss. Was it because there seemed to be more people on their way out than in? Was it because most of the shops seemed to have already closed for the day? Or was it because the little stalls outside had been turning customers away for the last half an hour? I don't quite know, but it must have been a combination of these three things. Also, Asif was hungry and our quest to feed him found us running from one eatery to another. In fact, the chase took on such a desperate and drastic twist that we found ourselves on Residency Road in no time at all. But, just as elsewhere, there wasn't a shop that hadn't already closed or wasn't already in the process of lowering its shutters. Nope. Not a shop in sight. It was as if a fear had gripped the city in a matter of the shockwaves caused by an atomic explosion.

Everywhere we turned there were people hurrying home. No one wanted to be the last person to be caught off guard, and outside some sort of secure shelter. The smell of fear lingered in the air; an aperitif of sorts. And it made no sense to me, or to Asif, as we headed on up to M.G. Road to try and catch the ever eulsive autorickshaw. And believe you me, they were being extra-elusive today...some of them even refused to make eye contact with those of us on the sidewalk, vigorously shaking their heads in defiant refusal to whatever places we were offering to take them. The time now was roughly 1500 hrs, and it was hot, and after almost giving up, one kind autorickshaw said he was willing to take us to where we wanted to go. Thank God! Isn't it funny that God makes an entry into conversation kind of like an afterthought? Well, so far no trouble to be seen. But the fear in the eyes of the people simply couldn't be missed. It was like I was standing on a street in downtown Tokyo watching Godzilla turn the corner or something.

I finally got home. Not without the inconvenience of being shepherded on the longer, more scenic route, by the police of course. And, because I wanted to be sure, I dropped Asif home before heading home myself. The time was about 1630 hrs when I walked into the house to inundate my aunt with the whole slew of madness that I'd just witnessed. But she was one up on me because she told me about incidents of minor carnage that she'd seen on TV.

What was happening to Bangalore? Why are people causing grief to other people around them as they try and grieve for their loss? Was this some sort of misguided and ill-expressed emotional outburst? Or were there other elements out there who were looking for an opportunity to cause chaos and destruction as they are wont to do? Was this the plea of a people who were now a minority in their own city without a leader to show them the way? Or was it just an excuse to come out and commit random acts of senseless violence in the name of a revered icon? Well, these were the questions that were on the minds of most Bangaloreans on the day that Dr. Rajkumar passed away.

These were the questions that remained on the minds of most Bangaloreans the following morning as well. There were some people, like us, who felt that things would return to normal once the good doctor's body was cremated. But this couldn't have been further from the truth...or the way events unfolded in front of our eyes. The scene I remember most vividly was shown by the Siti Cable channel. Moments before the procession made its way past a petrol bunk, there was a mob gathered around tearing the place down. It was on live TV! How's that for reality TV, eh? And as if that were not enough, the crowd seemed intent on disallowing the family to perform the last rites in peace. In fact, his three sons took it upon themselves to plead with the coagulated mass of human bodies to make room to allow them to perform these rites. But no. The crowd wasn't interested. So the police tried to help.

The less said about the police the better because from where I was sitting, at home in front of the TV, the word "planning" seemed to have mysteriously deleted itself from the police vocabulary. So, as is usually the case, the mob turned on the cops and I think one of them even died; they beat the living daylights out of him. So, all this in the wake of the death of Kannada cinema's biggest star...a man who lived past the age of 75, and died a natural death

Last but not least, I'd like to revisit the idea of the chicken-ness, in terms of the shopkeepers and everybody calling it a day. One can't really blame them for doing this because the last time something happened to him, playing the role of dutiful kidnapee, violence erupted around the city. That was five years ago, yet the damage and destruction wrought on Bangalore seemed to have left a scar on the peaceful, law-abiding psyche of the average Bangalorean vendor. And this is what I hated most about this entire affair. The fear that has the potential to strangle the life out of a city is something akin to broiler chickens turning on each other in sporadic fits of fury for no apparent reason. This is not to say that there isn't a reason here. It's just that as a reason for causing violence and disrupting the peaceful lives of other citizens wasn't good never is.

I happen to think it was a lot of misplaced grief and anger. I know people who think it was the "rowdy elements" that used this as the perfect opportunity to do mischief. I also know people who blame it on the "uneducatedness" of the masses who caused the destruction. Ultimately, as a city, as a nation, even as a race of people, we have to live and let live...or at least find out the best way to go about this. I think the violence after the death of Dr. Rajkumar wasn't something he would have wanted. But I'm sure that arguing this point would only result in "The Ass-whupping of Yours Truly"...hitting theatres worldwide in the near, hopefully-not-too-near future.
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