"Will you kill?"
One evening, a long time ago, my friend and I decided to visit the Bahai temple. Although I’d been in Delhi for long, it was embarrassing that I still hadn’t been to the Lotus Temple. So, off we went but, as luck would have it, we were late and were denied entry into the premises. Not knowing what else to do, we started back, driving aimlessly around for most part. Now, my friend likes to play this game and, unwittingly, I get sucked into it. He believes that all of us have a price and his mission in life, especially on days when there’s little to do, is to find out how far we’re wiling to go to get what we want. In his words, to find out how low we can sink before we sell out. And, since nobody else will indulge him, I end up being the guinea pig on most occasions.
I could be wrong about this but, from memory, the first time he unleashed this game on me was way back when he and another friend came to visit me in Bombay. Having shown them around, I took them for the customary trip to Fashion Street. I can’t remember whether he and I bought anything but, what I do remember is that the ladies were still busy looking around, haggling and buying. As a result, we had time to kill. Now, he’s always had a thing for flats overlooking the Oval Maidan and thereabouts. The fact that that happens to be prime real estate notwithstanding, I can’t blame him. Because not only are those flats nice, they’re also located in town, which we just love. Anyway, as we stood there, waiting for the other two to finish shopping, he asked me if I were promised one of those flats, would I be willing to sleep with XYZ, a popular model. Before I could explode in righteous rage, he thought it necessary to qualify the ‘offer’ by assuring me that this was a hypothetical situation (yeah, as though I didn’t know that!) and that I shouldn’t let my relationship with one of the ladies shopping six feet away have any bearing on my decision. (Sure, why would such a piddly thing be on my mind, pal !!) He is nothing if not persistent and unless threatened with grave physical harm, doesn’t usually give up. Actually, who am I kidding, he never gives up and you have little choice but to play along. The trouble is, as the discussion goes along, he keeps adding weird clauses to what was a ridiculous situation to begin with till it becomes absolutely bizarre. So bizarre, indeed, that suspension of disbelief becomes a Herculean task. The last time we played this game, for instance, he asked me if I would sleep with this right-wing politician if it could bring about world peace. Knowing my aversion to raw onions and right-wing politicians, this was bad enough. Then, he asked me if I would be prepared to spend one night sleeping between this male right-wing politician and his girlfriend of many years. The trade-off, again, world peace. Eww! Just the thought of this hypothetical situation makes me want to go and take a bath – soap the terrifying thought away and to cool down a bit. World peace my arse! Not for world peace, not for the ozone layer...not for NOTHING!
As my lousy luck would have it, most such situations that make me want to slit his throat occur when he is driving. For larger public good and safety, therefore, I’m forced to curb this insane desire to pound him till he is senseless.
But, I’m afraid, I’ve digressed way past the point of this post. So far past it that I’m beginning to wonder if there’s any point in going on. But, as Magnus Magnusson, the host of the BBC quiz show Mastermind, used to say, I’ve started, so I’ll finish.
So, while we were driving around, on our way back from the Lotus Temple, he started off with his game. For some reason, perhaps due to the nature of the question, fortunately, this time the game didn’t quite go down what had become a rather familiar path. It actually developed into a serious discussion. I can’t remember how it came about but he asked me, if India were to go to war with Pakistan, would I volunteer my services and join the armed forces. Of course, at this early stage in the game, it wasn’t obvious to either that this was going to get serious so, as usual, my first response was delivered without much thought but with the greatest conviction. “Yes, I will,” I said. “I’ll probably be the first to enlist,” I finished, sounding like the pompous, self-proclaimed chest-thumping patriots, all empty sound, fury and bluster. “Does that mean you’ll go and fight? Live the rough life? Brave the bullets?” “Sure, I will,” I continued confidently. “And, will you fire at the Pakistani soldiers? Will you kill?” That, I have to admit, knocked the wind out of my sails. This was no longer a game. Or, certainly not one to be taken lightly. Because loss of life to an accident, to a senseless act of violence, war or riot always affects me in a way that natural death never will. I remember sitting there in the car, taking deep breaths as though I were right there, in the battlefield, a gun in hand and facing the ‘enemy’. Will I kill? It was like a moment of truth. And, then, the answer came quite easily...no bloody way! Not for my country, not for India, not for any bloody thing...I’m not going out to kill anyone.
Of course, I’m a human being and human beings are nothing if not petty and contradictory. Therefore, I can only be as certain of this as my limited grasp over my wild, ‘animal’ side will allow me. Who knows, then, I might end up killing someone in a fit of rage in, what is commonly known as, a moment of madness and under extreme provocation or to protect someone or something. You never know, I may. And, you could too.
If you’ve read this blog recently, you’ll know that the last post was about Bombay, written just two days before the horrible blasts. Looking at all the mangled mess and bloodied bodies, I couldn’t help wondering, as I’ve done so many times in the past, about the people who’ve done this. Another similar moment that I remember clearly is from the time of the riots in Bombay. I was standing at Chembur station at the dead of night. Although it seemed like that, because there was hardly anyone else on the platform, it couldn’t have been that late because I’d just had dinner. From the two beat constables who were also there, I learned that a man had been beheaded at the next station, which was precisely two minutes by train from where I was standing. I remember I had exactly the same thought at that time as well: how can anyone kill? How can anyone chop off another person’s head? Plant a bomb and kill so many people? What kind of a person does it take to kill? What are this person’s thoughts as he goes out to kill? Can killing be justified?
Can any reason or any amount of provocation justify killing? I don’t think so. But, at the same time, I don’t think I’m even qualified to answer these questions because I’ve never been at the receiving end of what people belonging to various minority groups have to go through everyday. I don’t know what it feels like to be the target of a pogrom orchestrated by the very State that is supposed to safeguard my right to practise my religion, right to earn my livelihood, right to buy property and, indeed, my right to life. I don’t know what it feels like to be looked at with suspicion all the time and to be called a traitor. (Well, actually, I’ve been called that once, while watching a cricket match and I didn’t like it, but that’s only a small matter.) I don’t know what it feels like to be chased by a savage, bloodthirsty mob, sometimes with swords and tridents and sometimes with burning tyres. What I do know, however, is that we live in highly troubled times, in a deeply divided, volatile and communal society. What I can understand is that these are the perfect conditions for troublemakers to drop their bait in and fish. No, I don’t think anything can justify a killing but I think I can understand that if you push someone too long and too far, chances are, s/he will hit back.