Shorts In The Dark

The World, This Week: Three images that broke my heart into three thousand pieces

We are often told to not dwell on sad sights. But confronted with these three pictures, how could I look away? The taste of their despair settled deep within my mouth.

 |  Shorts In The Dark  |  5-minute read |   29-06-2019
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It’s been a week of defining images.

Pictures, they say, speak louder than words; these images are screaming howls of anguish. They bring into relief us — the mute spectators.

tabrez_062819053609.jpgTake my money and belongings, take what’s yours and what’s mine. Let me go. (Photo: Twitter)

The first image is of a lynching, a man in Jharkhand being beaten for seventeen hours, until he dies, chanting the mantra of another religion.

ap_062819054347.jpegI’m trying to re-live when I swam across the river with my darling daughter. (Photo: AP)

The second one is of a father and daughter, dead, lying face down in the muddied waters of the Rio Grande River in Mexico, an immigrant dream that sank like a stone but made it to the front page of the NYT.

siberia_062819054401.jpgI am the polar bear, the new immigrant to your city — please don’t lynch me. (Photo: Twitter/The Siberian Times)

The third is of a bewildered forlorn polar bear, having strayed a long way from his natural habitat, foraging for food in a Siberian city known for producing nickel.

Together these images are saying: I don’t want your heart to bleed on an iPhone in an air-conditioned room. I don’t want to drink your poisonous concoction of religion and politics. Just give me a minute of silence.  In that prolonged sacred minute, shut the doors of your room, switch off your gadgets (and cynicism), and reflect.

These are matters of life and death, not fodder for opinion kabaddi. But of course, these images will be forgotten. Tragedy will have a new face tomorrow. The tragedy will be harvested by the media, creative folk and NGOs. There is money to be made in moral outrage, brownie points to be earned.

The other side, tilting to the Right, has a brazen knack for keeping it simple. The lynched man was a thief, so was his father. Why were the immigrants trying to cross the river in the first place? Stay in your own land, no. And the polar bear, oh well, it happens — a freak occurrence. Climate change is a myth.  

I marvel at the matter-of-factness and clarity of thought.

There must be another way of doing this, I’m sure, with a clear eye and heart. There must be a way we can be the skin of the man being beaten to death, of a father trying to save his daughter in swirling waters, of a profoundly lost bear in an industrial city. Is it not advisable? Weren’t we taught, growing up, not to dwell on things — to not be overly sensitive, to learn to hurry on, than linger.

I am the lynched man with folded hands, tears streaming down my face, blows raining on my body, being kicked in the stomach, chanting a religious slogan when religion is the last thing on my mind. Here, take my religion, take my money and belongings, take what’s yours and what’s mine, but, for Ram’s sake, leave me be, let me go home to my wife. I taste my blood on my lips; I can smell the stink of foul mouths; the sound of my bones cracking is the sound of a rock being broken in two. I am a tree being stripped of leaves, axed, uprooted.

I’m trying to re-live the moment when I swam across the river with my darling daughter; we really thought we had it in the bag, having vanquished the strong currents. All that was left was the return swim to fetch my wife, all my daughter had to do was to sit on the river’s edge quietly, nibble on her dripping lip — and daddy would be back to gather her in his arms and dry her hair.

I see her slipping back into the river, unable to bear the separation even for a minute. I swim back to her, I’ve got her in my grasp, her face is inside my t-shirt now, the t-shirt is a tent, a dry boat. It will protect us. But it doesn’t; I feel her nose pressing against my chest, we’re gulping air and water, there’s no ground beneath our feet. I want to go home, God damn a better future, border patrol, the might of the American state, a river’s natural fury.

I am the polar bear, the new immigrant to your city — please don’t lynch me. I’m looking for food because you destroyed my natural habitat. I understand your greed. You need to put food in your boy’s mouth. We all have to procreate, protect our territory, draw boundaries. They say life is the deep end; only the fittest survive. Trust me; it’s my instinct for self-preservation that brought me here, to your high street filled with goodies.

If I hang around here long enough, I’m sure I’ll start to like what you like: vodka, chocolates, lipstick, sound systems, fur, leather, Putin.

But seriously, can I please go home now? Can you buy me a one-way ticket and put me on a flight first thing? Is that too much to ask? Look, I’m in no hurry, as long as you give me something to eat. A road trip is fine too.

Like the father and daughter drowned in the Mexican river, I too was forced out of my dwelling. I wouldn’t have left if I had what I needed where I lived, but I don’t and that’s why I am here, knocking on your door. Can you please stop surrounding me and taking pictures? Can you switch off the blaring sirens and blinking revolving lights? Does anyone have a pair of Aviators they can lend me? I promise I’ll return them to you.

Also Read: Blue hai paani paani: Swimming pools? Well, they're pools of very weird stories too


Palash Krishna Mehrotra Palash Krishna Mehrotra @palashmehrotra

The writer is the editor of 'House Spirit: Drinking in India'

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