What is truth? Who can tell what happened and why? These are questions we confront everyday of our lives, particularly in the realm of politics. It may be an exaggeration to say that even god faced with claims and counterclaims by political parties may be bewildered to find one definitive to answer to these questions and may be driven by despair to leave humankind to their own devices and go away, but readers will surely understand that this exaggeration is in place in the narrative. Readers would likely concede that only a child by virtue of her innocence can dissuade god from taking this extreme step. “Silly You!” describes a chain of recent events in India, but something like this can happen anywhere in the world today. The story is included in my forthcoming collection of short stories Passage to More Than India.
It came as a big embarrassment to God, -- ([/ɡɑːd/, US; /ɡɒd/ UK/] [N], [Usually U., Sin., Mas.], alternate names: the Creator or the One or the Idea] that the human species in growing number, --though a small number, still, but enough to poison the rest of humanity-- was using reason and intelligence bestowed on them in such creative ways that he himself couldn’t fathom them. They had cultivated a sophisticated art of deception and were able to hide truth even from him. They could cause malfunction of his hidden phones and cameras placed in every nook and corner,--he had started using modern gadgetry to take care of many of the routine tasks,-- and leave no record of their lies and misdeeds. Without even blinking an eye or a face muscle, he found they could pass lie detector tests. They could manipulate tests of blood and viscera with equal dexterity. Perhaps due to his increasing reliance on digital technology, his reputation as an Omniscient and Omnipresent being had received a serious jolt. He decided to take aggressive measures to restore his honor.
One of the measures involved his personal presence on the spot whenever a murder was going to be committed so that he could identify the perpetrators. Countless cases of murders were taking place on a daily basis because of religious/ political intolerance since the time of Gandhi Ji’s assassination in 1948, --to take an example of a country, not to go farther back, --and most of the murders remained shrouded in mystery. He would choose a couple of murders of intellectual luminaries of the subcontinent, and track down the killers to re-establish his reputation as an all-knowing being. Although great many of murder mysteries would remain unsolved, the chosen cases should demonstrate to the world that killers can’t escape the long arms of the law, as these would be the trickiest of cases to catch the criminal without the murder weapon found anywhere in the vicinity, not to speak of the murder suspect. He could be relaxing on a beach in another country or under the careful protection of the Intelligence of an enemy nation.
Luckily, God had the power to know of the time and place where a murder was going to take place and the details of the life of the murder targets. Only the true identity of the killers eluded him because of the cunning and deception employed by the agents. The actual murderers would, of course, be hired goons, and the real agents multiple times removed from them, the intervening space filled with individuals crossing party affiliations, religious groups, and nationalities. It could be generally assumed in certain special cases such as instances of individuals who offend the deep sentiments of their fellow beings—beliefs in god and hundred assorted practices done in his name --stand a good chance of being killed by the offended, whatever the proponents of the right to freedom of expression in a democracy might say.
One might naturally raise the question why God would not prevent murders in the first place. Let there be no mistake about it-- Death of any living creature deeply saddened and pained him, especially those that met unnatural deaths like murder. Unfortunately, he could not do anything about it because, to take the instance of one country--of the law of Karma—hane baraha, writing on a person’s forehead--whatever was destined to happen will happen, --whatever will be will be--no matter what. Nobody could change a person’s destiny. God wouldn’t meddle with the long established law in practice from the time of the Vedas and the Upanishads, and scriptures of other lands. That would create chaos. If Madhav, a character in Saligrama Aithal’s famous classic, “Squaring the Rushdie Circle,” –reprinted with the revised title “A Peace Treaty” --saved Salman Rushdie, he had no objection. It was entirely a different matter, responsibility fully falling on the shoulders of Madhav or his creator.
Quickly, God identified three likely murder targets: Narendra Achyut Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, and Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi. He chose them because they were prominent rationalist thinkers and the killers would, knowing that the government would leave no stone unturned to catch them in order to stay in power lest they should be attacked by the Opposition as no good to maintain law and order, surely adopt their finest skills to escape the law. These three men had earned the wrath of many of their fellow citizens by their criticisms of social mores such as idolatry, superstition, sham rituals, miracles, black magic, godmen. God thought his stunning disclosures of the identity of their killers would draw wide public appreciation and halt forthwith the erosion of his powers.
A little before the appointed time, day, and place, god reached the spot: 7:00 am, Tuesday, August 20, 2013, Onkareshwar Temple, Pune, Maharasthra. To his astonishment, he saw the surrounding atmosphere blackened by a thick fog of emissions from two great internationally known industries ABC and DEF and their umpteen number of shifting and changing constituent partners, companies, franchises. Al Gore and company were not, indeed, spreading baseless fears of the coming doomsday and the end of the world! God couldn’t see anything even on this bright sunny morning. He could, of course, hear the sound of a motorcycle engine running and quick and hurried, shuffling footsteps. That was all. Exactly at 7:20 am, the assigned time for the murder, he heard clear sound of four round of gunshots. As people rushed to the spot to attend to Narendra Achyut Dabolkar lying in a pool of blood on the roadside, God quietly retreated, disappointed not being able to take a snapshot of the killers.
On the two subsequent visits to the sites, God carried special night infrared stealth goggles. The goggles were of no help to penetrate the fog. It turned out to be the same story in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, as Pune. At 9:25 am, Monday, February 16, 2015, Govind Pansare was shot and he died four days later on February 20, 2015. In Dharwad, Karnataka, it was a repeat story. At 8:40 am, Sunday, August 30, 2015, Malleshappa Madivalappa Kalburgi was shot and killed in his home. All God was able to get from the spots were the sound of the motorcycle running and of the gun shots.
Under the circumstances, God had no choice but to press the button of his reasoning power and intelligence to draw conclusions about the identity of the murderers, as the killers remained untraced. He reasoned that the killers should surely be Hindu fanatics because they were the ones angry with the rationalists who insulted Hindu gods in their lectures, articles, books, and websites. The country also held a similar view. If all intellectuals and writers in the country did not say so in so many words while condoling the deaths of their colleagues, they implied as much in their petitions to the President of India while referring to the ugly monster of intolerance suddenly raising its head after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, as if the intervening years were a great time of religious tolerance. Writers, scientists, and film personalities returned their awards to the government to express their anger and marched to Rasthrapati Bhavan, New Delhi. Short of asking the President to dismiss the government, they spoke of the dire time to come. There were of course a few defenders of the government, but they were far and few, dismissed as government stooges.
Although god initially leaned towards what seemed to be a settled view by use of reason and logic, his imagination cautioned him against making a complete endorsement of the view, and ground realities also weighed in. The killers remained untraced, as mentioned before. The reports appearing in later newspaper editions were not as confident as before about fanaticism as being the only motivation for the killings.
While he was thus interrupted by imagination and realism after a long reasoning exercise, God chanced upon an article, by sheer luck, which sort of summed up the final stages of the thought in his mind. Given below is an extract:*
Dabholkar, who spent much of his life exposing sham rituals, miracles, black magic, and godmen, was murdered in 2013 by two men who then escaped on a motorbike. Two years have passed but the police are yet to identify the attackers. In a cruel twist of irony, when all avenues were exhausted, the police resorted to hiring a tantric so he could commune with the late Dabholkar and offer clues to his murder.
The identity of Dabholkar’s killers may be unknown but most columnists are of the belief that he was killed by Hindutva elements. This may or may not be true, but the sway of this opinion is so overwhelming that it is blasphemous to suggest Dabholkar may have been killed by people hired by piqued godmen — godmen who have a fanatical following in our country, but who also have nothing to do with this “beast” called Hindutva. The word beast is callipered in quotes as Hindutva has been described by the Supreme Court as a secular way of life, the writer of this landmark judgement none other than the late Justice J. S. Verma. But then again, it is blasphemous to suggest anything that might offer an alternate, entirely logical, viewpoint.
In a court of law, would any of the arguments that implicate “the Hindus” or “the Hindutvavadis” or “the Right Wing extremists” for the cold-blooded murder of Dabholkar stand a chance? What if the judge asks: “Tell me, Mr Columnist, are there fanatics among Hindus?”
“Yes, your honour,” would reply the columnist, correctly.
“What about among Christians – are there fanatics among Christians?”
“No doubt, your honour, there are.”
“Now then. Are you aware that Mr Dabholkar and his organisation MANS, the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti, protested vehemently against the canonisation of Mother Teresa by the Pope?”
“No, your honour, I wasn’t.”
“Were you aware that Mr Dabholkar even wrote to the Pope asking him not to make Mother Teresa a saint?”
“No, your honour, I wasn’t. This fact never comes up in any of the hundreds of opinion pieces on Mr Dabholkar and his murder that, if I may add, has become a metaphor for the death of Rationalism, birth of Intolerance, the murder Freedom of Thought, and the assassination of Free Speech, not to mention the creeping and suffocating…”
“Answer briefly, please. Is it not within the realms of possibility that Mr Dabholkar might have offended a fanatical devotee of Mother Teresa who wanted her to be anointed a saint?”
“Possible, your honour.”
“Leave aside Mother Teresa for a moment. We all know that godmanship is a multi-crore industry in our country, do we not?”
“Indeed, your honour.”
“And what was Dabholkar doing? Was he not opening the eyes of the clients of these godmen; was he not making a dent in their earnings by exposing their nonsense?”
“He was, your honour.”
“Are all godmen hindutvawadis; are they Right wing; do they call themselves Virat Hindus; do they bemoan Western thought and culture; are they paranoid schizophrenics hell-bent on dictating who gets to head ICHR? Are Nirmal Baba or Sai Baba from the BJP; or the RSS; or the Shiv Sena?”
“They aren’t, your honour.”
“Is it not within the realms of possibility that Mr Dabholkar incensed a godman and that the latter ordered the hit?”
“Possible, your honour.”
“You want to request for a recess?”
“Yes, your honour.”
Two months before Dabholkar was killed, MANS got to know of a 10-year-old girl in a village in Vidarbha. Her grandmother had dreamt of a goddess who wanted to drink blood. The grandmother, along with 10 villagers and the sarpanch, plotted to sacrifice her granddaughter. The girl was kidnapped, taken to a forest. Her throat was slit. The blood that poured out was drunk by the grandmother and her accomplices.
This is India. Dabholkar was trying to change India. He was trying to stop people from believing in things that had been believed in for thousands of years. He was trying to stop grandmothers from killing their grandchildren and drinking their blood.
This is a nation where the sitting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court can say in an open court: “Yes, why not. An idea can be punished.”
Govind Pansare, a politician belonging to the Communist Party of India and a friend of Dabholkar – and, it is now being argued, a rationalist – was murdered in February of this year. Again, the needle of suspicion pointed to “Hindus”, “Hindutvawadis” and “Right wing fanatics”. Among the motives suggested by the columnists, one was that Pansare had spoken against Nathuram Godse a month before he was murdered.
If that be the case, then this author, too, is counting the breaths he has left in him; for he, too, thinks Godse was a psychopathic murderer who, far from being glorified should be reviled.
It is quite possible that some fanatic who idolised Godse took offence at what Pansare said and killed him. But could there be other, equally plausible reasons, reasons that are never brought up, consciously or subconsciously?
It is well known that Pansare was a raucous anti-toll tax activist. Indeed, early reports of the attack on him mentioned him only in this capacity, and not as a rationalist who riled Hindus. In days and months prior to Pansare’s murder, his anti-toll tax campaign had led to a violent agitation against the company that collected the toll-tax. Pansare had also led a popular agitation against the Maharashtra government’s SEZ policy.
Here, the judge, back from recess, would ask the columnist, “Is it not within the realms of possibility that actions of Mr Pansare offended a few devious businessmen or land sharks and they ordered the hit?”
Take the third case, that of MM Kalburgi, killed last month in an act of cold-blooded murder. Within minutes, anyone who could write or tweet – including this author – lay the blame on fanatics peeved by Kalburgi’s rationalism and his fight against religious intolerance. Some went further – including this author – linking the murders of Dabholkar and Pansare with the murder of Kalburgi, decreeing the prevailing atmosphere in the country, an atmosphere where freedom of speech is threatened at the drop of a hat and rationalists survive only because they haven’t been popped off yet by extremists. This, mind you, remains a possibility – that all three murders were carried out by Hindu zealots. But what is the job of journalists if not to present all possibilities? Days later, it came to light that an academic or a property dispute could also be the reason behind Kalburgi’s murder, although other reports rule out the latter.
One can imagine very well god’s plight. He didn’t know what to do next, after he had exhausted all his reasoning and imaginative faculties. He pulled his hair and beat his chest and thumped his feet in despair. He decided to leave humankind to its fate and move on to some other part of the expanding universe.
As he was about to leave, he passed by a house. Printed on the door was the name RIYANA HOUSE. In the front yard, a small child was playing with her toys, all alone.
God greeted her, “Hello!”
The child was happy to find someone to break her loneliness. She said, “Hello there! Do you want to join me?”
Riyana was on a visit to India with her parents and grandparents. She was living in their outhouse Riyana House in New Delhi. She was yet to make friends with children in the neighborhood. Leaving her in the care of her Granfather, Nana as she called him, others had gone out to meet friends and relatives. Nana was carrying on correspondence online with his former colleagues on the subject of growing religious intolerance in the country, so he had left her in the front yard with toys to play with.
God couldn’t say “No” to Riyana’s invitation, although he was in a hurry to leave. He said, “OK, Just for a few minutes.”
“My name is Riyana. May I know your name, please?”
“I am God,” God said, dejectedly.
“The One, right?” Riyana asked to confirm.
God nodded his head, “The Creator, The Idea.” And laughed.
Riyana was thrilled to meet God and play with him. She wanted to know the name he went by for the day, time, month, year, and geographic location that day because she had heard and seen pictures of many Gods with different names. But she resisted her curiosity, reminded of the proverb Nana had often quoted “Curiosity killed the cat.” Right at the start, she didn’t want to ask personal questions.
“You look sad, but why?” Riyana asked God with a genuine concern.
“Because I am not God, all-knowing, anymore,” he replied.
Riyana was not prepared to accept this confession.
She asked him, “What happened?”
“It is a long story and you won’t understand if I tell you,” God answered. “I don’t like deception people employ. So I want to abandon them and leave for another planet.”
“You mean I am a cheat?” Riyana quizzed.
“Did I say that?” God quickly denied having said or implied anything of the sort. “I didn’t say you are a cheat! I love you!”
“I know you love one and all.” Riyana said. “Nana says the One is the embodiment of compassion and love.”
“I used to be, but now….” said god, falteringly, not sure what to say.
“Would you please love all and forget about leaving, for my sake, please?” Riyana pleaded. “How do I get my toys, if you go away? And chocolate cream, candies, ….” She gave a long list of things she prayed for, some of them she received, but some of them got lost in mail delivery, leaving aside prayers parents objected to her to make “No! not this, because it is not good for your teeth.” – “No, not this, because it is not good for your tummy!” –“No, not this, because it contains …whatever.”
On hearing Riyana’s plea, God immediately gave up his plan to go away and promised to stay put. He regained his faith in humanity, however humanity might treat him. He knew that they would need him, if not in times of happiness, but in times of sorrow and despair. He hoped in time they would mend their ways on their own. He would show people love and compassion, and inspire them to do likewise towards their neighbors.
Riyana was happy to hear god’s decision.
“Shall we play the game of pretend?” Riyana asked.
She loved playing this game with Nana. In the beginning, Nana used to say “No, I am not a lion” --“No, I am not a crocodile”--given such roles to play pretend. She would then urge Nana, “Nana, pretend you are a lion, please.” –“Pretend you are a crocodile, please, please.” After a few such exercises, Nana had become an expert in role playing.
Being true and honest, God didn’t know how to pretend to be someone else he was not. Riyana had to give him a long tutorial to play this game for great entertainment.
“All right, let us exchange our positions,” Riyana suggested, after the lengthy explanation of the rules of the game. “You be Riyana, and let me be God.”
God was delighted to take his devotee’s position. This was the first time he did anything of the sort.
“Do what is right and just,…” God said, in a high solemn tone, playing Riyana.
“Silly you,” Riyana said. “Remember, you are to play Riyana. I am God. Those would be my words to you.”
“Silly you”? God was for a moment thrown off balance, shocked and aghast to hear the words, not used to American dialect. But the shock passed quickly. Regaining his balance, he saw endearment and boundless love in Riyana’s words.
“May I give you a hug, Riyana?” he asked. He immediately corrected himself, “May I give you a hug, God?”
Riyana happily agreed, and stood up and stretched her arms wide, which could take a whole world in.
Coming down on his knees to be level with the child, God gave Riyana a hug, a bear hug.
At that point, Nana came to the door to check on Riyana.
Nana was alarmed to see Riyana in someone’s arms. In a panic, he rushed out of the door, shouting “Take your hands off my child!”
As he ran towards Riyana, he slipped and fell on the steps. He got up and rushed to Riyana with broken eyeglasses and a bleeding nose.
God suddenly turned into a blaze of light illuminating the whole neighborhood and vanished.
With Riyana safe in his arms, Nana was relieved.
“Nana, you spoiled our game,” Riyana complained.
“Who was he?” Nana asked.
“He was God, one of your own objects of devotion,” Riyana said.
“He was?” Nana exclaimed in disbelief.
With Riyana in his arms, Nana went out of the gate and looked up and down the street. There was not a shadow to be seen.
Seeing disappointment in his eyes and wiping the blood from his nose, Riyana said, “Don’t you worry, Nana. I am God. God and I exchanged our roles.”
“Indeed, you are!” Nana said in bafflement.
It took Riyana a lot of effort to explain her pretend game to Nana’s unbelieving eyes and ears.
*The text in italics above reproduced with permission from the author. Anand Ranganathan. “The death of rationalism: Who killed Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi? When clues don’t emerge, biases do.” NEWSLAUNDRY.COM, September 14, 2015.
Saligrama K. Aithal (aka S. Krishnamoorthy Aithal) has published two volumes of short stories "One in Many" and "Many in One," both published by AuthorHouse, 2013. He has forthcoming a third collection of stories "Passage to More than India." Several of the stories in these volumes have appeared in national and international journals: Critical Quarterly, Short Story International, Unlikely Stories, Long Story Short (where his “Enter, Search, Select, Click” appeared as the STORY OF THE MONTH for February 2012), Journal of Postcolonial Societies and cultures, Indian Literature, New Quest, Contemporary Literary Review, Sci Phi Journal, Journal of South Asian Literature, and eFiction India. Besides creative writing, Dr. Aithal has published books and articles on a wide range of authors--Indian, British, and American. Currently, he lives in a suburb of Washington, DC, and teaches English at universities/ colleges in the area whenever an opportunity comes his way. He has a doctoral degree in English from Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA.