Of humanity, Keshav and anonymity
An ordinary man has reinforced our belief in humanity. First the story and then a poem:
Surat: A man, who tried to prevent three men from molesting a woman in Surat, succumbed to burn injuries at Surat’s Civil Hospital. Thirty-five-year old Keshav Vishwakarma tried to prevent 40-year old Lilavati a mother of two from being harassed. Four hours later, the accused allegedly doused him with kerosene and burnt him in his house in the Pandesara area of Surat.
Just before he died, Keshav recounted the horror. “I tried to reason out with them that it was wrong and help the woman. Instead, they set me on fire, he said. Such was his willpower that even after sustaining 75 per cent burns, Keshav walked about two kilometers to the Pandesara police station and reported the matter.
My friend Annie was moved and inspired by this act and immortalised Keshav Vishwakarma who may never acquire the status of this towering hero but will continue to reinforce our faith in the essential goodness of human beings. Here is the elegy composed by Annie –
This much is set, Keshav ji can I call you Keshav?
I feel an affinity, an ease, that is hard to explain,
Considering we’ve never met, and now, never will
Yet I’m sure you won’t mind my speaking so plain
This much is certain: you will get no memorial, no statue
No marble slab with metal plaque, saying,Keshav: martyr
Nobody will say you died that we might live, or less poetically,
That you upheld a nation’s head, honoured our civilizational charter.
What you died for were killed for was too much an everyday thing
So you will not go down as a human rights champion
Nor the leader of a bunch of people with a cause
Nor a just warrior for the aggrieved, the downtrodden
Nobody’s going to write that you’re a victim of what we’ve become
Nobody’s spine with tingle with the dread of this fact.
At least, not beyond next week, when you’ll be a statistic –
For that’s the way people keep their minds intact.
Don’t mind, Keshav, it is not on purpose that
Nobody will write you a full-length obit, or
That only one paper bothered to go and dig up
Info on how you lived, and who you lived for.
Keshav, if you knew (did you?) what they’d do
Perhaps you’d have shut up and let it be
Some insults, a woman it happens all the time
Harassment and women like sand and sea.
You see, we women rarely bother ourselves
We’ve learnt to shut up and stay shut; some say
Our eyes are glazed with the cataract of silence
We’re told, to live safe, there’s no other way.
Keshav, stupid Keshav, what made you take on
The mantle of hero? It is not as if
Someone was looking, and those who were, looked away
(as they do). Did you think they’d help? As if!
Keshav, young Keshav (only thirty-five, good God!)
They’ll forget. Oh, they forget, they forget each time
They’ve begun to forget the mobs of new years past,
And Meher of
Lucknow? Her too! This forgetting’s sublime.
Keshav, it’s true, I cried for you, but so what?
You burnt, you died, and those three will live.
Noone’s clamouring for a public hanging (women’s security
Isn’t ‘national’) so yes, some sentence the court may give.
That is, if the police finds those three.
You actually thought they would, and you walked
After being set on fire two kilometers!
To the police station and there, you talked.
What did you say, Keshav? What were your dying words?
Were you angry rather than scared? Or both?
That I can relate to; it’s the same with me.
That tremulous rage frustration and fear both.
Did you wonder, as you walked, if you’d actually die?
Did someone tell you, it was your own fault?
Did they say, why couldn’t you guess at
The demons-in-waiting? That you should, by default?
That’s what they tell us; that’s how we go on.
They tell us all the time and that’s how we know
No alone. No dark street. No panga. No sharp words.
No smart clothes. No reds. No smiling. Nono.
Where did you study, Keshav? Which school?
Which blighted, mind-altering, twisted-soul place?
Who taught you? Or forgot to? What kind of friends
Did you have that they tell you the rules of this race?
This race. These people. We. Our nation.
Women. Children. Cosmic pawns playing parts.
What shall I say? Keshav, should I say something like,
You’re a hero and will live in our hearts?
Oh, who cares? Heroes! I bet you’d rather just
Have been alive and maybe all heroes feel that way
To live! That would be nice, they must think, but
They go ahead and die if they must, anyway.
Not that it matters to you any more, Keshav
The writing of this. Any words. Anything.
You were burnt alive before you were properly burnt
And maybe you never did care of what poets sing.
I’d bring you flowers if you had a grave.
I’d build you a statue, if I had a piece of land
I’d write in big letters Look! This is our shame
And this our pride. This murder is man.
Listen, Keshav, it is too late, but listen.
Wherever you are, lie in peace, now it’s over.
And know that you stepped up higher than man.
(And lower than man even God sank no lower)
I’ll spare you the platitudes about how you are free
Or how, in heaven, the apsaras long to kiss you
But this fight you’ve fought, I’ll fight to the death
But Keshav, brother, in the meantime, we’ll miss you.