© Vinay Nagaraju
“When a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake”. Circa 1984; Rajiv Gandhi allegedly made this remark in the aftermath of his mother Indira Gandhi’s death. He was obliquely justifying the anti-Sikh riots that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The following gallimaufry of words will not do anything of that breed. It will only throw a few questions in an attempt to analyse on what ensued the death of Dr.Rajkumar in Bangalore and elsewhere and also attempt to paint the larger jigsaw puzzle of life.
Death and grieving : Death, cannot be better described than with the clichés of being a great leveler or the only thing certain in this world. However, certain sections of the humankind have also not given up on holding steadfast to beliefs of immortality et cetera. Dr.Rajkumar’s death brought in an unforeseen jounce with a flavour of sorrow, shock, despair, distraught and a sense of loss to entire masses in Karnataka. In many cases it was a medley of such emotions. The immediate reaction of disbelief translated into helplessness to many.
It was around 2:30pm in the afternoon when I received a call from my home with the usual imperviousness. Amma was on the other end trying to share the ‘incredulous’ news with me. She just asked if I had heard of the news of Dr.Rajkumar. She never even mentioned the word death in her conversation. It was understood. She was being appropriate. I said no and turned to Google to help me. Within the next few minutes the air was filled with messages carrying the incredulous news through SMS and phone calls. Many of my friends at office were on their feet in their own territorial cubes. Then they huddled to share, express and tried to assimilate the news. Strange are the ways of the civilized or the educated. We always like being appropriate. We have invented, practiced and bequeathed appropriate ways of grieving. So much so that crying in public view is an embarrassment for many, unlike another diametric emotion of laughing. This isn’t true for all classes of our society. The not so educated and the not so ‘conditioned’ classes do not consider it inappropriate to express their emotions in public. They do not consider any public display of anger, sorrow, distraught or elation improper. A common example may be a woman abusing her drunkard husband which each one of us has seen an umpteen times. Similarly, during times of death we have seen people grieve without any qualms on how they are occurring to others.
In Cultural perspectives of grief: an expanded concept analysis, Cowles KV of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Nursing writes and I quote “The concept of human grief has been of interest to scholars and practitioners for many years. However, there are many aspects of grief about which little is known. One of these is the role that cultural heritage plays in influencing the individual, intrapersonal experience of grief. Through the use of six focus groups, each consisting of persons from a specific cultural background, the investigator explored the concept of grief. The data were thematically analysed and the findings then compared to the findings from a previous concept analysis of grief drawn from professional literature. The findings indicated that individuals from a variety of cultural backgrounds whose knowledge of grief was derived primarily from their personal experiences defined grief in much the same way as had the authors of the professional literature. Most importantly, the findings also clearly indicated that although cultural differences are perceived to exist in mourning rituals, traditions and behavioural expressions of grief, there are no particular differences in the individual, intrapersonal experience of grief that can be attributed to cultural heritage or ethnicity alone. Implications for future research and considerations for practising nurses as they pertain to the highly individual and pervasive nature of grief are presented.” Some researchers such as Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and others have posited sequential stages including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
In the case of Rajkmar, for millions of homes across Karnataka it was a personal loss. The land was bereaved of its beloved hero. He was a hero who had transcended his area of work to shine as a leader, representing the ethos of the Kannada culture. He was synonymous with Kannada and Karnataka for decades. One main reason for this was the timeline of his career and that of the state. Rajkumar entered the movie world in 1954 and Karnataka was formed in 1956. In many ways his growth can draw parallels in the milestones on the state. He came to stand up for the cause of the local culture innumerable times. Few culturati or intelligentsia from other fields came to acquire the charisma that he had. So, the sense of loss to the common man was palpable. They had lost the last icon on the horizon of Kannada culture.
State in the neo-liberal world: In the neo-liberal world, economic liberalisation has not gone hand-in-hand with social progress. Political-economic philosophies of free market have shaken the high tenets of social progressivism that were supposed to govern societies. Aggressive affirmative action has not been appreciated by the elite.
Egalitarian (in all connotations of the word) society does not seem to be the guiding principle of the democracy that we are. The state and its machinery are increasingly seen as a protector of the rich and the influential elite. The police force has not come out of the mindset of British Raj. Passive resistance movements expressing dissent have not acquired the required critical mass that it can dictate the ways of governance. The gap between the haves and have-nots has widened into a deep gulf. This in particular is perceptible in the big cities of developing nations. Bangalore is a good instance in the case.
What was seen in the aftermath of the demise of Dr.Rajkumar needs to be also seen in this light. The lynching of a policeman, torching of police vehicles, damage to property that are representative of the state are expressions of ire against the state. Private property was damaged without any consideration. People in general having subtle inklings of the ways of the new world where they are marginalised and their voices don’t transform into intelligible words that have impact find themselves indulging in acts of violence against the state and the elite.
“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate." - Noam Chomsky (The Common Good, 1998)
Bengalooru and Bangalore: The state of Karnataka came into existence with the passage of the States Reorganisation Act (1956), with the incorporation of districts under the dominion of Bombay, Hyderabad, Madras state and Coorg within the existing state of Mysore State. Linguistic reorganisation was the premise that drove the formation of the state. Bangalore located on the Mysore plateau (also known as the South Karnataka plateau), is located close to the three other southern states of India. The British setup the Bangalore Cantonment that resulted in a large influx of immigrant workers from neighbouring states. Bangalore’s character has always been evolving and assimilative in nature. However, in the last decade with the onset of neo-liberalism and the emergence of the city as a knowledge hub of the country in particular the IT industry, the city is more a city of implants with people from all over the country drawn to this place. In many senses it has become two cities, one land. The Bengalooru of the quintessential Kannadiga, and the Bangalore of the elite. ‘Bangalore’ has not made much effort in catalyzing the process of assimilating itself to the local culture. The original intention of the formation of the state seems to have been lost in crossroads. Dr.Rajkumar represented for millions in Bengalooru the pride of the evaporating Kannada culture. Some of the feeling of being thwarted in realising the intention of preserving and developing the local culture was evidently expressed in the aftermath of the thespian’s demise. There is no doubt that the image of the city took a beating. It brought into focus the fact that many stake holders of the city and its image were not in picture earlier.
Governance or the lack of it: The final angle that I am going to address is that of the state administration or the lack of it. And this is not not true in various other parts of the nation. The response of administration was termed guarded and restrained. Add to this the indomitable, evil designs of elements of the society who took advantage of the chaos. A state funeral without the chief minister ? Varanata deserved a more honorable farewell. The peaceful sea of humanity that turned up to witness the farewell did not draw attention. What drew attention was the chaos created by a seemingly smaller groups. Emergency responses were lackadaisical at its best. There have been few instances of exigencies being dealt with power and grace.
Dr.Rajkumar belonged to them… : Minutes after the news of the legend’s demise, his fans had laid siege to his house to catch a last glimpse of his mortal remains. On the one hand, the administration came forward to ‘conduct’ his funeral and the burial, claiming the actor to be Karnataka’s asset. On the other hand was a vast multitude of people who came from far and near to take part in his funeral. When there was confusion on where Dr.Raj will the laid at state for the public to pay their tributes and when the last journey had already begun, there were groups of people who visited his home demanding that they be allowed to catch a last glimpse. It was a heart rendering scene with Parvathamma Rajkumar, his wife pleading to them that ‘their’ Rajkumar was already being taken to the Kanteerava stadium. The people had taken over ‘benevolently’ upon themselves the task of performing the last duties and the last journey. Dr.Rajkumar no more remained his family’s man. He was the asset of the masses. Ravi Beligere said, “It is a day of shoka for all homes in Karnataka”. The legend’s sons had to jostle with the common man to be with their father. Their appeal to maintain calm fell on impervious ears. Perhaps never before was this disconnect evident than on the last day. It was a paradox. The legend was always listened to and emulated. Today, there was no other leader of that stature anywhere who would get the same listening as he did. It would be incredulous if it happened elsewhere. The maestro belonged to an entire generation. Celebrities elsewhere should perhaps just be willing to just give up on their privacy when they are alive. But, here not just in living but in death too.
After the demise of Dr.Rajkumar, someone rightly remarked that he was a phenomenon in Karnataka. Indeed he was. Annavru of the masses. Salutations to the cultural icon !