Friday, April 12, 2024

Anda-Curry and Silent Killers

23-Jun-2023, Friday

The crowd gathered at the corner of Lane No. 4 and 5 was an indication that something was afoot. On my way to my anda-curry dinner, it was a situation I would have usually ignored but my neighbour indicated that the hullabaloo was about a snake. The recent rains, the first of the monsoon, meant that it would be the pretty and non-venomous checkered keelback that had the public's attention. Except that it wasn't.

The alternating stripes of black and white curled behind a tile meant that it was the common krait that I was seeing. Considered to be one of the most dangerous snakes in the country, here was a venomous celebrity that I was seeing for the first time in my life. Giving it the minute of appropriate awe, I made a call in the experts. As luck would have it, one of them was at the gym and the other in the shower. Third time lucky, I got through and brought Bittupan in.

The sacks of capture were porous and the sticks of restraint makeshift but the operation of making the snake reconsider its secure position behind the tile and the hedge began. It almost led to disaster for Coco chained to the gate as the reptile made a lunge in his direction, to escape from us it must be added. To my surprise, I lunged towards it with my stick and pinned its head down. The needed reaction of making the snake reverse direction was achieved but in retrospect, it was rather amateur of me to do that. No doubt that it was fuelled by my concern for the chained dog but it was not backed by any actual expertise in handling snakes, let alone venomous ones.

I survived the attempt and the snake found the sack. Put into another sack, it was finally secure from us and us secure from its painless fatal bite. In the darkness of the forest, we opened the sacks again and watched as the creature emerged stunned, shocked by the short journey from our society enclosed in aataa packet and a gunny sack. A few groggy seconds later, it glided away towards the security of the trees for another night of hunting, saved on this instance from violent retribution for just being a snake. On my part, anda-curry at the mess tasted notably of achievement, if only temporarily.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Of 'Maus' and Men


If ever in doubt about how serious a graphic novel can be, pick up a copy of Art Spiegelman's "The Complete Maus". There have been many other visual creations which had much more profanity, violence and explicit acts (so-called adult content) and there will be many more such but none will be able to match the desperate darkness of this straightforwardly told tale of mice, pigs and cats. If the thought of reading yet another Holocaust story induces eye-rolls, still give it a thought because this portrayal of its madness is unlike anything else.

To begin with, there is the author Art Spiegelman's personal trauma borne out of his father's strangeness. In a happy place in a happy time far away from the events, years and lands that scarred his father, it is difficult to comprehend the experiences that made him this way. Not being able to do so renders a distance between father and son which is a different kind of torture and perpetuation of sadness. Even as his father delves into the horrors of his memories, the son's sympathy for him is tempered with the practical realities of handling his Dad's insufferable behavioural quirks. The son understands (now) where they are coming from, that still does not make them easy to put up with.

That by itself is the genius of "Maus". It humanizes through allegories of animals, bats for understanding despite tremendous imperfections of the victim(s) and perpetrator(s). It tells of how easy it is to be manipulated to hate and how we understand this periodically only to forget it once again. Experiences of the desperation to survive whilst ensuring the same for those closest to you and the terror of failing to do so in the face of industrialized in-humaneness would have been too much to take if not told in the form of a 'comic book'. It offers the reader a
thin veneer of a story of fantastical talking animals to hang on to, all the while knowing that the skeletons underneath are cold hard facts. Even so, "Maus" is not for the faint-hearted.

Wars burn throughout the globe again - Russia-Ukraine, Israel-Palestine, Iran-Pakistan to name a few. A rising crescendo of identity politics based on race, ancestry, geography and/or religion encircles it with determination and speed. Innumerable are the number of occasions where history has shown the inevitable failures and tragedies that this leads to. Yet the illusion that all the ills of "I/we" can be blamed by fixing "You/them" continues to sell like hot cakes. In any circumstances, "Maus" is not a joyful read but always a necessary one.