How we deal with death says a lot about us. So how did Mumbai do this week?
The news this week was grim and all about death, so I’d like to lighten the mood by talking about something light and funny for a change; death.
Death is a funny thing. Some people think death is cruel. I disagree. Hitting a dog is cruel. Forcing your friends to dance to “Aa ante Amalapuram” at your sangeet is cruel. Life is cruel. Death, though, is just sad. And funny is just sad with a tablespoon or three of perspective.
This week, our popular consciousness, our culture, and our news-cycle was forced to confront death. In death, we processed the lives of some famous (and infamous) people. When it came to discussing the life of one of those who passed, we glossed over all the bad parts.
We glossed over his impact on Mumbai’s destiny and then awkwardly cheered what a nice, warm-beer and cigar-loving man he was. For the second dead man, we did the opposite. We only talked about the bad parts, and his impact on Mumbai’s destiny, and not about the fact that he was a brainwashed little puppet. And of the third we said “WTF PONTY?! JUST. WTF?!”
I’ve never tried it myself, but on the whole, dying seems pretty horrible. In fact on a list of horrible things to imagine/dread, dying comes second only to “That inevitable World Cup match in which Pakistan will finally beat us, because that’s how the law of averages works, dumbass.” So yes, the thought of dying seems horrible. But the thought of dying in the public eye seems like a whole different nightmare.
First, the media shows up, and starts breaking news in your name. Then your supporters (or haters) show up and start breaking things, also in your name. And then the rest of us sit there breaking our heads over the fact that if those Swedish House guys packed up and went away so quietly, then obviously they’re not exactly a very badass mafia.
Death doesn’t negotiate. The best you can hope for is that you’re allowed dignity in it. As a public figure though, that dignity is often denied to you. For a public figure, dying is like planning an Indian wedding; you almost never get to do on your own terms, everyone has an opinion that overrides yours, and you can’t do it during Diwali, because that’d be a logistical nightmare, and in the words of one great 16th century poet, “a real bummer.”
But here’s a thought; you have here a person who chose to live in the public eye. This person chose to polarise people with their opinion. This person often chose to actively anger people with it. If that is okay, then it’s okay for people to be polarised by the aftermath of said person’s death. What isn’t okay is the Palghar police arresting somebody for a Facebook status. Unless that status is “Jst 8 mi brkfst. Hyurz a pik. ROFLPONTY!” in which case, you bring the cuffs, I’ll bring the gun, and Wren & Martin.
And then there’s Ajmal Qasab, the boy who lived. Some of you read that sentence and got the Harry Potter reference, but have no idea who Ajmal Qasab is. To you I say, “I’m glad IB students read this column.” His death raises two important questions.
1) “Is the death penalty a barbaric practice?”
2) “I’m confused, is it Qasav, or Kasab?”
The answer to Q. 2 is “It’s spelt ‘oh thank god, no more traffic at Arthur Road.” To Q. 1, there is no answer, only room for debate. And it’s a debate worth having. At least more worth having than “Shah Rukh yaan Ajay; kaun tha iss Diwali ka sabse bada phataaka?” Some suggest Qasab was a mere pawn, and that his death changes nothing unless we go after the forces that created him.
There’s some merit in that argument, but here’s where I stand; if your kid almost choked to death on a badly-made game-pawn, you’d want to sue the guys who built the game. But you sure as hell would never want to see that pawn again.
In the death of others, we confront and confirm our own attitudes to life. And I’m not entirely sure what the last eight days say about our attitude to life as a culture. In the way we dealt with one death, we showed a strange unwillingness to write our own history with any real honesty. In the way we dealt with another, we acted like we’d closed some doors that we should perhaps still leave open. And as for the third, just… WTF Ponty. WTF.
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo. You can also contact him on www.facebook.com/therohanjoshi