Aswatthama lives.

‘Nebuchadnezzar’ ,William Blake,1795.


We were standing at the Bakery junction just behind the campus where the better off amongst the designer students came alone or in select groups to gorge on buns at teatime.

Freshly baked and still warm and soft, the baker slit them open swiftly and expertly with an extra sharp long thin knife roughly slapping in a whole 50 grams of yellow butter that dripped down the sides …
Post the curfew there was no one now standing at the junction .In this somewhat upmarket quarter, there was little outward sign of that nightmare of violence…

“Do you know how they do it?” He whispered, “With knives…”
He made a quick gesture of measurement with his hand “This long…They do it with Calmpose”

“The pillion rider behind the scooterist slashes open the sides of bystanders on the road who often do not realize as they run as to how badly wounded they are… Till it is too late. The sharp edge of the knife blade is lined with calmpose, you see…To numb”

To numb and kill…To kill and numb…
Numbing to Kill… Killing to Numbness…
Killing and Numbing …They go together …
They have to …

To numb and kill…To kill and numb…
Numbing to Kill… Killing to Numbness…
Killing and Numbing …They go together …
They have to …

Without numbing, there can no killing…
Its action, unlike that of the crushed calmpose spread along the crude edges of the knives, is total.
It numbs the being…
It numbs in a way that spreads across peoples…like the intricate veins in a block of ice…Across buildings … roads…Across markets…Billboards… Signs… Things ….
It has a way of sitting on the skin of the tea the morning after.
.. Of scattering in the dusty air of the bus terminals
It crouches in the tense tired eyes of lone travelers white-knuckled furtively clutching their grimy little bundles… like a hunted wary animal about to give up hope…

We realized we were almost alone on the road…

Fear finds its relentless way in like a draught of cold dry air through the tiniest chinks…
It quietly enters the lungs pervading the perennial motion of that dance of dust in the air remembered from an old school Physics class
It dances with slow convulsive steps in the blood…

Numbness begins where hope ends.

“A pogrom is the elimination of a selected group through an operation that is marked by advance planning.”

He told me. He had a way of keeping his eyes carefully expressionless. Even in the throes of extreme passion.
“In this aspect, Pogroms are different from Riots. A pogrom is measured, well laid out, you see. It is infinitely neater…”
Almost like a prize-winning garden of Red flowers that bloom in premeditated, regular intervals…Like they do in one of those free calendar- type screen savers…
30 seconds- blood…30 seconds- blood…30 seconds – …

“Pogroms” he continued “begin with signs…It is so advanced in fact that it has a distinct and sophisticated language that is read almost electrically across bodies.”

Instinctively we moved a little closer. Our cold hands were almost touching…
Fear is a smell that engulfs in a flash flood of pheromones.

“Visual signs of course help in the efficiency of …” he cleared his throat slightly “…the ensuing actions”.

Harassed already by unending chores, a Mother notes that Baby has not stopped crying …It is almost like he is afraid of something.

It is like something that is passing from mother’s hands into the soft worn cotton cloth of the cradle…
Only today it is not comforting. Not soporific and soothing .

N N Rimzon, ‘Mother at the Forest’
(acrylic on fiberglass and marble dust, 2009)

Signs help.

Often they are already there on the doors of people who are as yet not unsuspecting yet not sure either as to what is coming…
The incertitude is uneasy…
Like the stifling humidity of a southern summer…

The cat is wary.
The dog on the leash is on an edge and barks incessantly.
Everyone is jumpy, snapping.

The sign is sometimes a crude chalky cross on a rough-hewn pine plank door…. unobtrusive but damning.

How damning the grainy photos in tomorrow’s papers will tell.

Tomorrow’s History Book is in the printing press.
Yesterday’s told the same tale too …
But to the credulous inattentive reader, it did not quite read clearly or well …

There, amongst its illustrations, on a page titled with figures representing another time in another country, the sign was a certain Star… which, starting from a scribble on a few doors, grew bolder and bolder and began to mark out streets … then gates …and finally walls that sprang up like graphic special effects marking out zones of enforced community … Ghettoes…

Finally, it came to stay …with such singular, unambiguous meaning and violent force that it disappeared altogether

It crossed boundaries
It became the norm
It became


Gujarat, 1985:

My father shaves his prized good luck French beard for the first time…

“It is better to do that, see” My professor’s voice crackles in a trunk call to me over the phone “The station is situated in the Old City and the goons will trouble themselves to pull his pants down to check if he is circumcised only if they have the time. Otherwise, anyone with a beard of this style is simply ‘sshhchwickkk’ …Out!”

‘Ssshhchwickkk’ purportedly was the sound of a long knife encountering the unresisting flesh of my father’s 50 plus throat.

In the time when the passions were still running high, no one had the time to raise killing to the status of a fine art lacing their daggers with calmpose.

Usually, docile husbands changed now into a ravenous pseudophage of a massive seething amoeboid mob, were too busy yet to consider taking out the family Bajaj with a friendly killer on the pillion to prowl around the silent traumatized city squares for survivors who were out risking their cheap lives for a packet of milk.

“Riots seem to be a climate disorder” mused the professor,“… They never strike in winter”

Heat and Blood…

The Leader:

“Aa joouo! aa joouo!” [“Look at this! Look at this!”]
The Leader screams pointing at the pictures.
In between, he has the presence of mind to make signals to followers in the crowd.
The moral indignation is pure theatre…

KM Madhusudhanan The Marx Archive, 2014 Charcoal on paper

A well built tall gentleman wearing ear studs, with sheer outrage in his dark ringed eyes opens his mouth to speak…

Besides himself in shock at the uproar, he quickly closes it… A little later as he talks he begins to weep.
He is a teacher, suspended for refusing to betray his arrested student… He is a senior University Faculty resisting official coercion to suffer not only fools but also goons gladly…
That is certainly not theatre

I think I can understand the ‘Aajuo’ shouting Leader as he stands grabbing the mic and making an utter fool of himself in front of the TV camera…

Quite a shoddy contrast, in fact, to the short-haired, bare-faced social activist from the metro besides him…

He is aware that his western full shirt- pants polyester ensemble complete with a tilak on his forehead cannot quite keep up beside the Fabindia / khadi homespun [ironically!] upmarket look… And he eschews all good manners, all semblance to any sense of etiquette, let alone upper crust etiquette.
He is, in fact, underlining the difference with gusto and projecting himself as an authentic son of the soil facing an urban English speaking metro import who he loudly alleges is nourished on Foreign funds.

Brazenness and lack of apology are his trump cards…
The act is pretty sophisticated really in its display of unsophistication, in the way it deftly stirs up allergy-causing xenophobic dust…
His bluster is a shot in the arm that apparently antidotes various social complexes typical of all lower-middle-class upward-looking aspirants, by splattering it upfront in Kingsized fonts upon the billboard of his entire person.
He is speaking on behalf of an entire class as he says barely between the lines “You can go to hell. Go back to where you came from. This is how I am …This is how WE are … WE decide things here”

Google :

Let us run the search engine for this ‘We’ of the Leader, that he has presumed as the prop and mainstay of his political Life …And what or rather who emerges?

See the numbers who throng spoken English classes who promise what sounds like some sort of a dubious clinical procedure-‘Guaranteed MTI removal in 2 hours…’?

They are not people who ever attended upmarket private schools. They are youngsters from the mofussil dreaming of making it big with spoken ‘Inglish’, polyester full shirts, personality development classes, and fairness creams…They are learning to utter convincingly in a single arc of breath that dips down to exhaustion through mechanical repetition:’Thisisdish-dash-dish-from dash-dish-dashhowmayIhelpyousir?”…

They may or may not make it to their aspiration to coax a Jessy out of a Jaswinder, a Nancy out of a Nazeema, a Kris out of a Krishnamachari, a hectic working day out of a night that repeats its half-hearted attempts to shut down the time-zone resistant laboring body that is attached to plugs and cords by which dreams in five figures come to roost in the family savings account, though at several times the price.

Success is a Visibility game after all–Won or lost in accordance with how bodies speak, how accents are pronounced, how clothes are chosen and worn; How uncritical sensibilities are cosmetologically shaped and reshaped…

There are some however like Leader, who sweep aside such models of betterment that calls for circuitous exhausting ant-like labor, with a clear notion that the goal is ultimately Power… and that there are shortcuts to it that may be hit upon in the course of a vulture-eyed survey of fault lines, a swift assessment of weaknesses which may be capitalized upon and shortchanged as strengths.

Thus a certain kind of nourishment for a certain version of the oughts, shoulds, and musts is grown that is extracted from this reactive alchemy of reversals by which weakness is made strength and strength, weakness…


Shivani Agarwal, Metal &Thread,2015

‘Parampara’ is part and parcel of everyday life in the sections from where the Leader mobilizes his blustering strength.

It is there in the steam that rises from home-cooked meals. It is there in the women who keep their vrats (ritual vows) with pride, who cook special foods keeping track of all the rites in the lunar calendar, It is there in the family hierarchy…The early training to keep to one’s assigned place and await one’s turn to wield authority with a willing stoic silence.

It is not something to be glossed over in the course of a liberalist secular democratic urbanized discourse…It is not something to be dismissively brushed aside in embarrassed silence or as a hard-to-cure fad amongst the household’s elderly womenfolk.

In doing so we would only be continuing the historical error of underestimating a vital ground for understanding.

In fact, we have already almost forfeited our claim to what is the most creative and vital of a dynamic, sensuous and vibrant 5000-year-old heritage by permitting those with interests that could not be grosser, to usurp it for their own dangerous and petty ends.

We all practice our little rites of exclusion. And we need to, especially when we are not feeling so sure of ourselves. Those are little ego games whose littleness assumes a certain deadliness however when it becomes a large scale agenda that is linked with wresting of political power.

The Leader is playing the same game. In this sense the Leader is the classical trickster playing at high priesthood; who via a dubious shortcut that preserves unreflectiveness and subservience conjure up the security of certitude by taking on the construction of a valorized collective identity through tactics of exclusion. And he is of course only a small one amongst much bigger guns.

…And who knows, ‘Leader’ may tomorrow return as an MP, or even, (who knows!) a VC, proudly decorated with the three proverbial stripes on his back, the Lord’s legendary mark of appreciation ever etched upon the humble squirrel for his mite towards building the bridge to Lanka to route the unholy villains…

Post-Script 1 [Self]:
More dangerous yet though, is the potential High Priest-Tricksters lurking like a virus within ourselves … within the modes by which we choose to experience our selves, our lives…
In the way we listen, we respond and in the way, we make our decisions… Life is not in the couch potato complacence of the consumer whose certitude rests in the assured and faceless renewal of the stock on the super market’s shelves.

…And all said and done what really matters has a way of stubbornly surviving and aiding survival; Of protecting itself and what is essential in those who risk taking on the task of such a protection.
The question is ultimately to ourselves as to whether we have the courage to be that opening through which Life shines its light and emerges despite the gloom around us…

Post-Script 2[The Tehelka confirmations]:

Aswatthama: Son to a Father whose life is marked with the recurrent motif of the humiliating thwarting of the desire to be acknowledged, rewarded… to rise in social standing.

A son in whom is invested his thwarted father’s entire desire for the avengement of his humiliation.
Aswatthama grows with a mind clouded and bent against every vestige of natural compassion. When the formidable Drona, his father is finally slain in battle by a clever psychological ruse, Aswatthama, avenges his death terribly by killing all of Draupadi’s children while they are asleep, hacking at the corpses with such fury that it seems the handle of the sword with which he struck stained as it was with such a thick sticky mesh of clotted blood that he could scarce disengage it from his palm after he was through.

The mass murder that Aswatthama carried out in the Mahabharata shocked by the way it was carried out shattering every bound of human decency [whatever sense such a term as ‘decency’ can make in the total indecency that is war!]

Still not content with his revenge even after decimating the entire next generation of the Pandava clan, Aswatthamma then turns to attack Arjuna’s grandchild, still, a fetus curled asleep in Uttara’s womb, with the dreaded Brahmastra that burns up Life at the very root. At that time Krishna intervenes and turns his compassion into a living shield that entering Uttara’s womb as Light, sheaths the fetus Parikshith, so named for having survived such a trial even before he was born, from Aswatthama’s insatiable murderousness. For this unpardonable crime, he is finally brought to court where Krishna leaves the verdict to Draupadi. Aswatthama is remorseless but is both shamed and spared, or rather is shamed in being spared finally by Draupadi’s pardon.

“Let him live” She finally sighs, “…For his death will not bring back those he killed …And he too was, after all, born to a Mother who will weep like I now do for my own slain sons…”
Bhima roars once in uncomprehending puzzled rage at Draupadi’s stance .
Arjuna contents himself with a symbolic decapitation by tonsuring Aswatthama’s head with his sword and decrowning him.

“Yes”, concurs Krishna brushing aside the Aswatthama’s plea to be executed humiliated as he is that he now lives on a woman’s pardon.
“Let him live and forever stinking with the pestilence of violence and revenge, raging and yowling without end across the worlds.
What worse punishment for him than this…”

Aswatthama is not dead, they say…
He lives.
As War.
As Pogroms against the helpless.
As the Pestilence of Vengefulness and Violence, he stomps across the worlds through us.
Through governments; Through leaders who speak of horrors with bluster and affix their personal signatures upon them with a flourish of numbing pride.
Aswatthama lives……
And I now know that amongst the worlds, he finds his most fitting home upon this earth of ours where once we knew how to live and how to die
… With lightness.

#pogroms #terror #indianmythology #mahabharatha #aswatthama






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