Valson Thampu

From a house on the outskirts of Delhi, eleven dead bodies were discovered recently. In journalistic circles this is known as the Burari house of horror. But, given the state of journalism today, no episode has any significance beyond the catchy title it is given and the opium it may yield for the masses. But that doesn’t mean that all of us have to be party to burying normative journalism. We are still free to wonder, if we care to, as to what the eruptions of our times urge us to reckon.

For tabloid journalism, the significance of a tragedy is quantitative. In the instant tragedy, eleven people all from one family perished. So, it is more sensational than an event in which, say, seven, of a family perished. How they perished, and why, are questions that are deemed pedantically academic. What’s even worse is that no attempt is made to relate events to the spirit of the times. So, the ‘why’ of an event the most important of all questions, according to Greek philosophers is rarely raised and answered.

As regards the Burari tragedy, its most crucial aspect is that a whole middle-class family nearly all of them well-educated succumbed to the wiles of an uneducated tantric. The ritual of self-annihilation appears to have been accomplished in strict adherence to prescriptions. The sight of eleven pipes protruding from a wall of the den of death, peering at the world like eyeless sockets of an eerie world, spouts a message of sorts to our world. But, we, alas, have unlearned the language in which to decode its testimony to our times.

Each time an event like this erupts, we slip into denial. It was only in good old days that denial took the form ofan outright ‘no.’ The denial in vogue today admits the event, but turns a blind eye to significance. It embalms the event in journalese, conceding that something horribly wrong has happened, but denies it has anything to do with the path we have chosen to tread.

Hence it is that we are stuck with the numbers. The most shocking thing, we are made to believe, about this tragedy is the headcount of the dead, as though quantity is all. But life is more about quality, and less about quantity. Volume is only incidental to significance. The death of a million people, said Lenin, is statistic; but the death of a single human being is a tragedy. The significance of an event like the Burari suicides stems from the scary extent of human susceptibility. And that has reached epidemic proportions in our times. A whole family has been brainwashed by a lone tantric into doing themselves systematically to death, in the guise of performing a ritual. An eerie collapse of common sense is the seed of this seemingly voluntary self-annihilation.

What is glossed over, however, is the fact that the pattern underlying this event embraces all aspects of our life today. And that pattern pertains to human suggestibility and susceptibility. A rumour is spread on WhatsApp. Five human beings are lynched in quick time. Systematic hatred is spread about a migrant community in Jammu and Kashmir, and a seven-year-old girl is gang-raped and killed in the backyard of a temple. And, what’s worse, this act of inhuman brutality receives widespread support from respectable quarters. Label anyone a cattle-thief; you can kill him and go around thumping your chest as a guardian of gods.

Come to religion. You and I know nothing absolutely, nothing about any other religion. Truth to tell, we know precious little about our own religion. But if some religious bigot tells us that all other religions are nothing but ‘darkness and error,’ we will experience a rare kind of joy in visualizing their practitioners trooping their way to everlasting perdition. It will never occur to us that this communally sanitized malice is the loudest proof that we have become a mockery of the spirit of the biblical faith. Jesus, you’d remember, realized the depravity of Jerusalem the City of God, mind you and wept. That is the only valid spiritual response. Gloating over the perdition of anyone, even over the depreciation of an inanimate object, insults the spirit of Jesus Christ. But we entertain such sentiments with utmost sanctimoniousness; simply because we have been so conditioned.

The truth is simple and scary: there is no limit to our susceptibility. And this truth embraces every aspect of life today.

Let’s return to the house of horror in Burari. That horror may seem limited to either the fact of untimely death or the scale of devastation, as far as journalists are concerned. But not so, for us. The horror is that people can be led by the nose so completely to the farthest boundaries of irrationality by anyone who is unscrupulous enough to do so. We do no know the minute specifics in the Burari tragedy. But it stands to common sense to infer that the cultic ritual into which the victims were cozened was predicated on some presumed mega gain for them either in this world or the world to come. Otherwise, this would be a case of mass-suicide, not of cultic practice. Think of the irrationality of individuals being led to believe that they can gain something fabulous by destroying their own life, which is the only medium and receptacle for blessings!

In the end, the Burari tragedy is a parable on blind faith. It illustrates the diabolic dangers immanent in every form of blind faith. Blind faith is propagated by those who wish to manipulate and exploit human beings, unmindful of the devastation it inflicts on them. They have no good or godly intention, but are classic illustrations of “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” It is my confirmed conviction that the propagation of blind faith is driven by the profit-motive. Profit-motive can turn even erstwhile sheep into wolves.

Today, greed reigns supreme. It makes little difference which the field is. From politics to religion to industry, from education to medication to meditation, from yoga to raga, from sex to soul-saving industries, the creed is just the same: greed is god.

While this is good news to the wolves, it is bad news for the sheep. When a Mallya or Nirav Modi bursts on the landscape of our awareness, we are shocked. But that’s only because we do not know how the system runs and how we lend ourselves to its delusions and deceptions. Once we endorse the creed that greed is god, we must accept that only the likes of Mallyas and Modis are entitled to ‘ache din’ or good days. They, and supermen of their ilk, alone are eligible to be fully enfranchised citizens of this brave, new world.

Prime Minister Modi promised good days. But he, being uncannily truthful, did not say that they will be for you and for me. He only said good days have come. They have indeed come. And those for whom good days have come are laughing all the way to glamorous overseas destinations. I won’t fault Modi. I will only ridicule myself for misreading his message.

If you think that the Burari house of horror is a strange and freak aberration, stop for a moment and think. If tomorrow some demagogue, some religious charlatan, some unscrupulous godman comes along and tells you to behave like blood thirsty animals for the sake of your religion, your country, even your pet dog, are you sure you won’t oblige?

You may be. I am not. The house of horror is larger, my friend, than you bother, or dare, to realize.

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