One in a thousand

Couldn’t pull myself away from reading Rajini Krish’s posts all of yesterday. Context: Krish, or Muthukrishanan Jeevanantham, an MPhil student at JNU, reportedly hung himself to his death on the morning of March 13, 2017 (I say ‘reportedly’ because Krish’s mother has alleged that it couldn’t have been suicide). After reading his posts – on Facebook and his blog – I wrote about them for The Wire here. I couldn’t add a paragraph in it because the copy had already been passed to the editor and was being processed for publication, so I’m putting it down below. It’s about an intricate relationship between equality and self-respect, particularly epitomised by India’s elderly (though not always): when their children get married and split off into nuclear families living separately, it has become a matter of self-esteem in many households for older members to be seen to be independent, depending on no one else for their living but themselves. Similarly, in Krish’s story, he recalls a conversation he’d had with his grandmother, Sellammal, in Salem (where he lived) before he moved to Delhi. He asks Sellammal why she has to make her living cleaning “kid’s asses” at a local school, earning a paltry Rs 750, when she snaps back:

“Paiya [boy], don’t talk too much like a big man, We old people have some reasons to work here, and I don’t want to disturb my sons. That’s why I [sit] in silence, always in my room, though my sons are nearby.”

In the Tamil film Aayirathil Oruvan (‘One in a thousand’, 2010), which explores the adjacency of freedom and self-respect, a historical war between the Pandyas and the Cholas has ended with the Cholas going into hiding. When their hideout is finally discovered by three adventurers, they are appalled by what the once-resplendent kingdom has been reduced to: a collection of a few hundred people living in squalor underground, with no apparent sense of dignity and with the false belief that they are still revered by the world outside. At one point, the Chola king sings a song telling the visitors that, though it might appear humiliating to preside “over a kingdom of skulls”, and for his ‘subjects’ to see him so, his people and he have been carrying on because they are used to their freedom to determine their own fate – and intend to hold on to it even when they emerge from their cocoon. And for as long as such a deal doesn’t seem to materialise, they will continue to be the way they are. The song is called ‘Thaai thindra mannae‘ (‘The earth the mother ate’) – and its last four verses (before the final refrain) are heartrending. The lyricist was Vairamuthu.

I can only offer two lines of the four in scant consolation to the spirit and soul of Rajini Krish.

Endro oru naal vidiyum endrae iravai chumakkum naalae, azhadhe / The day holding on to the night in the hope that it will dawn someday, don’t cry

Endhan kannin kanneer kazhuva ennodazhum yaazhae, azhadhe / The youth who would cry to wash away my tears with yours, don’t cry