Bitofwit: Nuts about whodunits

  • Vikramdeep Johal, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 09, 2015 11:37 IST

There isn't much difference between really killing someone and only wishing him dead… we're all murderers, more or less.
-- from Flight Into Darkness, by Arthur Schnitzler

If you are expecting a frothy piece about the bubbly side of life, read no further. I've written this one with a keyboard dipped in blood (no, it's not tomato ketchup). Still around? OK, then answer this: Have you ever felt like killing somebody? Come on, don't be afraid, I'm not going to charge you under Section 302. Well, some of you have raised your hands. Another one: Have you ever wanted somebody truly, madly, deeply dead? I see more hands up. Those who are saying no-no-never should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, provided they pass the lie detector test.

Back in 1979, when Amol Palekar's moustached lie got nailed in Gol Maal, he begged Utpal Dutt to forgive him. The latter roared: "Maaf nahin, main tujhe saaf kar doonga." Dutt didn't carry out his threat despite having a gun at his disposal, but he underscored the great human temptation: to eliminate from our lives any person we hate. Dear reader, I know that most of you, just like me, often feel like pressing the Delete button to get rid of your obnoxious boss, irritating neighbour or ill-tempered spouse. The fact that you don't actually do it doesn't mean that the milk of human kindness flows through your varicose veins. It simply implies that (a) you don't have the balls to pull it off, (b) you are not good at disposing of bodies, or (c) you don't have a super lawyer who can pass you off as 'not guilty', even though your fingerprints are imprinted on the victim's throat. Given half a chance to get away with it, you might start bumping off people the IS way, as if they were flies being swatted.

So, when a high-profile murder like that of Sheena Bora hits the headlines, it's natural for us to be all ears and eyeballs. Getting a much-needed outlet for our dormant 'killer instinct', we hungrily gobble up every crumb thrown by the overexcited, self-righteous media. Everything else becomes boring, be it fasting ex-servicemen, striking trade unionists, tumbling Sensex or skyrocketing onion prices. Of course we feel sadistic glee on seeing the high and mighty laid low before the law. And we can also afford to put on holier-than-thou airs, having neither the big bucks nor the clout to commit and then cover up a cold-blooded crime. If a slum-dweller kills his daughter for 'honour', it's dismissed as local news, incapable of keeping the nation engrossed day after day. But every influential murderer becomes the stuff that legends are made of, even if he or she is handled like a petty thief by ruthless cops and ends up behind stinking bars.

It's no surprise that Agatha Christie remains one of the most popular writers on earth. Her murder mysteries and whodunnits ignite our morbid passions, pump blood into our heart of darkness. She promptly gives us a freshly murdered body in one novel after the other, and we all feast on it like cannibals. No different is the Maharaja of the Macabre, Alfred Hitchcock, who knew very well how to terrorise and mesmerise the viewer at the same time.

I've no clue when and how the final chapter of l'affaire Indrani will be written, but one thing is certain: it has exposed the barbarian that lurks beneath over-civilised skin. Sartre said: "Hell is other people." I say: "Hell is oneself." Wonder whether both of us are right. Think about it, while I wipe the ketchup off my keyboard. Yes, it's just tomato sauce, unless my maid has tried to murder me with a kitchen knife - for repeatedly rejecting her advances.

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