Monday, June 27, 2016

“Talvar” - the slippery slope of justice

Jottings : slice of life. – 19
“Talvar” - the slippery slope of justice
The word Kafkaesque means nightmarish, illogical quality of a situation one happen to be in. For Franz Kafka, one of the greatest German existential novelists, this would have been the greatest irony he could have ever conceived -that a word bearing his name becomes an irreplaceable part of English Language. During his lifetime, a reticent, shy and introverted Kafka was virtually unknown; but after his death , the wealth of his novels, letters and unfinished manuscripts were bequeathed to reading public by his close friend and lawyer Max Brod. They were profoundly moved by depth of Kafka’s vision and sensitivity to modern Human condition. “The trial” or “der Process” (in German) was published in 1924. It was an incomplete short novel when Max unearthed it, and Kafka had only written a draft of what could be a possible ending. But it was published nevertheless. It became a literary sensation. It was a story never told before, and in a manner never attempted. Joseph K, the protagonist of the novel, is arrested one day without any reason or justification. Neither is he told why, not does K ( that’s how Kafka refers to him throughout the novel)manage to find out. All that he is informed is he is charged with something amounting to a crime, and it up to the judiciary and its judicial process to decide on what should be done with him now. As the novel opens, we find a confident, articulate and aggressive K thinking and acting with the conviction he will soon get out of this misunderstanding he has inadvertently become part of; but slowly, he realizes that he is powerless, incapable of fighting a system so anonymous and better organized than him. There is a facelessness to his prosecution which slowly begins to overwhelm and consume him, and in the end he gives up completely and succumbs to a tragic verdict , which at that point seems more real, truthful and logical than the actuality of his situation.. The novel ends without revealing the cause of K’s persecution. The subsuming of an Individual within the collective abstraction of a system, and how one becomes helpless in its vicious grip is given its finest expression in this enigmatic work by Kafka.. It is widely regarded as one of 100 most influential novels of 20th century.
There is a specific reason why I began my essay with Kafka and “The trial”. I was in Delhi in 2008, when I woke up one morning to read about the gruesome murder of a young fourteen year old girl Aarushi. Her throat was found slit, while her parents claimed they were sleeping In an adjacent bedroom. The initial suspicion fell upon the servant, but very soon, a second body was found on the terrace (of the servant) killed in similar manner. Sloppy Police investigation managed to wipe away any trace of evidence in first few hours of their work.. In a few days, weeks and months that followed, the case turned on its head, and by strange tryst of fate, the finger of suspicion was beginning to fall upon Aarushi’s Father - a renowned dentist in Delhi. Once that suspicion started gathering momentum, the police and legal system closed upon him with contradictory,unreliable and piles of conjectural evidence. Though, the girl’s father consistently claimed innocence, and many found the Police's theory quite unpalatable and untenable , it seemed as though the judicial system was too deeply committed to proving his guilt that almost every circumstantial proof and sometimes imaginative motives were bought to focus to prove his murderous intent. From incest, to infidelity, to mood swings, to being a heartless father, an avaricious and corrupt doctor - all of them were twisted, pulled, compressed, expanded to suit a predetermined premise. Once the system had decided that Aarushi’s father could be the only one to have a strong motive, means and method, the battle was lost for this hapless individual. In a strangely Kafkaesque way, Not only him, his wife was also dragged into the whirlpool, and today nearly eight years after the tragic death of their daughter, both parents find themselves languishing in a Maximum-security prison in India with no recompense available in the foreseeable future. Like “K” in “the trial”, the parents really have no defense against an inexorable system. It swallowed them heart, soul and body.
In 2015, Meghna Gulzar (talented daughter of Poet Gulzar) directed a film “Talvar” – which is based upon Aarushi’s murder and eventual imprisonment of her parents. It is now available on Netflix, and being interested as I was in this case, got around to watching it yesterday evening. Without going into a discussion on artistic merits and demerits of this movie, I must say, it captured the chaos of Aarushi’s case well. Loosely stitched narratives from different angles, like Kurosawa’s “Rashomon”, The film gives us a good feel of what it is to be caught in a system which strangles you from all sides. For the sake of political correctness, Meghna has diluted reality to a large extent, but what remains is still enough to showcase the plight of an individual caught in its web. Irfan Khan play the role of Police inspector who is not convinced the way the legal system works, and tries to exonerate the Parents.. As usual, he brings credibility to his performance, but he is fast getting into a rut with roles like these. It Is time he moves on. Konkona sen as the bereaving mother and a forlorn looking Neeraj Kabi as the father, show us the bewilderment of Parents finding themselves in a strange and awkward position without any plausible cause or reason. Though the film was widely acclaimed in Indian media, and did gather a few awards, I personally felt the treatment could have been better. If one were to compare it to standard Bollywood fare, this is certainly way above the mark; but as an independent movie with a sensitive subject, Meghna could have chiseled her scenes better. There is an element of artificiality and comical undertone to some of the important scenes in the film, which with a little more care could have been avoided. Anyway, considering the legal and political sensitivity of this case, it is a great effort to not distort facts, and brave enough to step into muddy waters so early in her career.
As I write this, the Parents are still in jail awaiting the outcome of their appeal in Higher courts of law. Young Aarushi would have turned 21 or 22, at the prime of her life, if she were alive. I still remember the deep feeling of sadness I had when for the first time, I saw the face of Aarushi on paper that morning in 2008 ( the family pic in this piece). A profound grief swept me. Eight years later, Meghna’s film renewed that grief. Whether the Parents were responsible, or is it just one of those roller coaster rides of a faceless system, no one knows. As Kafka writes in the “the trial”
“it is not necessary to accept everything as true, one must only accept it as necessary.' 'A melancholy conclusion,' said K. 'It turns lying into a universal principle.”
My pen rests..
God bless…
Yours in mortality,

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