Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Tigress Gets an Outing...

Stories are weird beings. Sometimes they jump out, fully formed like Athena, from your head and take very little polishing. Or else, they seem to begin with a scrap of memory, or conversation, or just an image and feel like an interminable CPWD project. And those, like CPWD projects, even when they are complete, feel a bit spiky and ugly and a bit off. And then, sometimes, it seems that decades of memory, fantasy, speculation, experience and conviction, all come together to form a tight little knot. Something of the sort happened last year, when I wrote a tiny story about a woman suicide bomber.

Somewhere in the back of my mind were the horrific images from the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi - one reason Dhanu seemed like a good name for one of the characters. Then there were images from Mani Rathnam's Dil Se, all green and humid like memories of my childhood in the north east. And overlaid on the top of it all was the hegemonic discourse primarily from western media and governments that insists that suicide bombers are either deluded dupes, hate-filled fanatics or psychotic killers. No Hollywood or European director is going to a take a chance with a film like The Terrorist or Dil Se in the near future!

But more specifically there was a telephone conversation about the Aamir Khan-Kajol starrer, Fanaa! Some friends who had lived over two decades in the USA (and have returned since to India) called me up in distress and fury. How could a terrorist be shown to have a "love life," they asked. Wasn't this a mafia-run Bollywood pandering to the nefarious Middle East? Wasn't this threatening the Indian nation-state and indeed, all morality? Wasn't this sympathy for a mass-killer undermining the morale of our law enforcement officers and soldiers?

All their arguments were distilled from post-9/11 American media, with resounding echoes in the various European ones. In face of their passion, all my arguments sounded hollow, sentimentalist, pathetic even. I pointed to the ways the film echoed Mother India, that it was about taking a stand against "terrorism" even when it was at personal cost. That in India we walked a fine line that ensured that we didn't succumb to seeing any "other" as non-human. But to no avail! My friends remained angry and distressed. And I found myself wondering why they believed a "terrorist couldn't love anyone"!!

Perhaps it was that question that provided the final spark for the story. From nearly fifteen years of wondering and questioning why some people chose to kill by dying, a tiny narrative was born. It brought together every news report and book I had ever read about terrorism. And yet, strangely enough, it went back to those first images of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination with blood-soaked pinks and greens, of fragments of flowers in the midst of the charred horror. And to those initial identi-kit sketches of Dhanu in the newspapers.

Not surprisingly, the story as it was born, set itself in Sri Lanka. With its deep emerald woods. With rich silks and heavy perfumes. With a Black Tigress at its centre! And it distilled all that I had read and heard and watched for over fifteen years.

I have been saddened by some of the responses I have received for the story. It is not a justification of those who die to kill. It is not even a justification of those who kill. The story questions all of life that drives them to such a step. It is a step at understanding. Because as my grandmother always told me, "with understanding shall come the solutions."

The story, Tomorrow the Tigress Will Hunt, is out now in the new issue of The Drawbridge, along with a lot of other thought provoking writing.

I think its a sad story. And one that makes me angry. And its a story that needs to be told.