Pure fiction which often anticipates fact.
In the Lt Col P.S. Purohit affair, life imitates art — almost. Back in 1991, the Hindi writer Swadesh Deepak published Court Martial, a play about a soldier on sentry duty who shoots his own officers when they fail to answer his challenge. His real motive is revealed during the trial — the sentry was low-born, his officers oppressively casteist. That night, when the officers were drunk and he had reasonable cause, he opened fire.
Court Martial, which is still performed by Asmita, was prescient. It came out well before rage shootings became common in the armed forces, overstressed by anti-insurgency operations. It suggested that the only Indian institution believed
to be undivided by caste and faith is not immune to social realities.
I wonder how Swadesh would take the news that he was just a whisker off the mark — that the Army’s image would be blotted by faith and not caste. I’ll probably never know. After a long battle with bipolar disorder, which gave a jagged edge to his writing like Van Gogh’s textures, Swadesh went out for a walk and never returned. I like to believe that he lives on out there, one of our myriad gumnami babas.
Now, as the police follow Purohit’s trail littered with swamis, sadhvis, mahants and armed activists, it is clear that there is something rotten in the Army. Not just the one bad apple that’s been found so far. What’s really rotten is the pleasant fiction of a band of brothers in idyllic limbo, untouched by the tectonic forces of identity that are polarising the nation. It would be far healthier to acknowledge that men in khaki are not automatons, that they may harbour political opinions like you and me so long as these do not interfere with their duties.
Meanwhile, in civvy street, Purohit’s political masters remind me of a Hindi classic, Premchand’s Bade Bhai Saheb, a tale of two brothers. The dutiful elder religiously ticks off his younger brother and keeps him to the straight and narrow. But he is actually slow in the head, keeps flunking in school and very soon, his sibling leaves him behind.
The BJP, which loves to teach the Muslims what’s what, has responded to Malegaon with specious sophistry about bad Muslim terror and good Hindu ‘activism’. About the same time, led by the Deobandis — who had earlier issued a fatwa against terror — the Muslim clergy congregated in Hyderabad for a conference to deprive terror of religious sanction. Rather than dodging the issue, they are acting purposefully to salvage the image of their community. As a responsible citizen, the kid brother of the Indian polity seems to be leaving its bade bhai saheb behind.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine