The Dead Need No Reification: Vasanth Kannabiran
Guest post by VASANTH KANNABIRAN
Kannabiran died on 30 December 2010. As per his wishes and ours, and based on previous discussions we declared that the last rites would be simple, speedy and secular. The secular part we ensured. There were no flowers, no lamps, no mantras, no ceremonies. But the clamour for progressive “traditions” was what I found troubling in the extreme. In doing away with religious orthodoxy, all we have done is replaced it with other orthodoxies.Last respects (in the form of flowers and slogans) must be paid. A “last look” at what? As his wife of 51 years I did not/could not relate to the mortal remains of Kannabiran. My grief was for that indomitable fighting, smiling, tender spirit that had left us. We had agreed long ago that if our only son was far away there would be no waiting for him. Kannabiran was a public figure. He belonged to the people who loved him. There is no disputing that. But did that mean that the public, or their self appointed representatives, which consists of so many conflicting groups should have the right to dismantle his body and take it in different directions?
We all need symbols and some reassurance. But the slogans we raise however loud and clear – can Kanna hear them? Will they, like the traditional mantras, take his soul to heaven? Who are we reassuring? Why are we afraid of silence? Why are we making our radical orthodoxies more rigid and meaningless than the reactionary ones? What is reactionary and what is radical? Why are we in such haste to raise monuments to the people we love? If Kannabiran cannot live in the hearts of people, are tributes and memorials going to bring him to life? To be loud in praise is easy. It dies out in a moment.
The truth is that the dead no longer matter. What matters is our own visibility, our public personae. We want not just to grieve, but to be seen grieving. We need those TV cameras to capture and convey our grief and compassion to our constituencies. And the media rules the day. Rather than digging out file shots and meaningful clips from their archives they would like to focus on the dead body, on the cotton in the nose, on the grief (loud or quiet) of the mourners and place it before the “public”. This is just another manifestation of the blurring of the boundary between public and private by reality shows on television.
Instead of recreating the dead man in imaginative ways that would bring him alive to the public that loved him, we would rather show the dreary details of his funeral. How many people? How many placards? How many organizations? VIPs came out of respect for the dead person. The first sign of respect is to leave your gunmen and security guards outside. To visit KGK with a gunman beside you is the ultimate insensitive insult to his spirit. We need to think afresh and we need to learn the value of silence. We need to stop thinking – what will I get and what will my organization get in all this. It is not enough to write obituary pieces and hold meetings without any reflection of our conduct and attitudes.
The dead need no reification. Kannabiran was the voice of the poor. He never projected himself. He never needed to.