In a crowded planet, even the last undisclosed, nameless location is getting mighty claustrophobic now that Elvis, Netaji and Michael Jackson have to make room for Osama bin Laden. The arch-terrorist's body has already been sighted off the Gujarat coast. How long before he is seen alive, perhaps
teaching rabbits to smoke pot and play ball while strapped to little dialysis machines?
The Americans were in a tearing hurry to despatch Osama and get rid of the body of evidence to pre-empt the birth of a new radical martyrology. But they opened the door to a bumper crop of urban legends, which is already ripening very nicely. The founding father of al Qaeda apparently collected balls. He raised rabbits. He grew pot at home. The world's leading America-hater drank Coke and Pepsi in industrial quantities. Maybe that's what rotted his kidneys and put him on dialysis. Sure, that's a wild surmise. So? Post-Osama, we're in a highly speculative market.
But seriously, what will this do to the brand image of the two cola giants? Imagine the terror of being accidentally endorsed by a mass-murdering, rabbit-fondling pothead on the lam. And is there no future for 'Islamic' colas, which Osama clearly abjured?
Anyway, RIP Osama. The man had died and risen so many times already that Orpheus, Osiris, Jesus and Lazarus have lost first-mover advantage. He first died in 2002. And then he died again and again, as reported by the Taliban, Iranian state radio, Bush administration officials and Benazir Bhutto.
Between these fatal episodes, conspiracy theorists in high places claimed that he had been put on ice at a secret location unknown even to Elvis, to be thawed by Republican spin doctors just before a US election. Ironically, he has now become campaign fodder for Barack Obama as he runs for a second term. No wonder the popular, unofficial spelling of his name is now Usama. USAma, get it?
And no wonder there are so many conspiracy theories going around that Abbottabad sounds like Roswell. Intelligence imperatives - and plain vanilla intelligence, too - suggest that a man who created a huge network which touched lives and extinguished them from New York to Bali should be taken alive and pumped for information, not shot in the head and dumped in the sea.
But it appears that the only way Osama could have avoided being shot dead was by being naked. The SEALs who attacked him were told that he could have explosives strapped on, and they should kill him if they didn't see him in his birthday suit. I suspect that very few people sleep in the nude in Abbottabad, so this amounted to an order to execute him. I'm dying to know why this was considered to be a better alternative than capturing him. I bet I'm not alone.
It is said that some people are alive only because it is illegal to kill them. Now, the Americans have demonstrated that the law is not necessarily a deterrent. But the high-strung public relations bungling which followed could prove to be as potent as Ajit's liquid oxygen. Osama is dead, and yet he is as alive as Netaji and Elvis. And likely to grow livelier in the popular imagination.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine
The views expressed by the author are personal.
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