“As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport.”
King Lear: Act 4, Scene 1.
The pavement dwellers of Mumbai may well have expressed these sentiments if they had the sophistication to do so. On December 7th 1993 filmstar Rajkumar’s son Puru Pandit became the first Bollywood actor who ended up crushing sleeping people under the speeding wheels of his car. Neither was Puru jailed after that incident nor is he facing charges of homicide. He was let off after paying some money which would roughly amount to Rs one lakh. Now Salman Khan will probably be let off on bail. Or even if he is jailed, how many furloughs will he manage to get under various pretenses like Sanjay Dutt?
What is more shocking than the drunken escapades of these privilegedsonnenkindren that result in the death of “dogs” and undesirables as a prominent playback singer would have it, is the immediate reaction of the film industry whose fortunes depend on them. Ranging from denial to outright sycophancy, India’s glitterati has proved that they stand behind their own, and conscience is a lower class myth. It is at moments like these that we are reminded that class exists. Either you are privileged or you are toast. There is a clear divide and the film industry has drawn it for us today.
We, for years have cheered on, and poured our money, into the tills of an industry fuelled by machismo and misogyny, encouraged the rise of role models that channelize our deepest craven desires, and now, with great joy lick our chops at their anticipated downfall. But there will be no downfall, because it is we who will pick them up and place them on their pedestals once more. We shall read the comments of the film industry, exclaim and outrage, only to slobber salaciously once more over the Page 3 of the Bombay Times that the Jain Temple so obligingly supplies us with.
But there is something more.
Do we even know the names of the victims we are deeply commiserating with today? They had names, like you and I, they have left behind families, whose worlds have ended. Calling them “footpath dwellers” or hit and run victims to identify them is as good as calling them dogs, make no mistake. For anonymous as they were in life, human refuse to skirt past while walking on the street, they have been robbed of their individual identities and become “Salman’s victims.” No unknown pauper’s grave is so thoroughly insulted as when they are reclaimed by their killers or oppressors even in death.
And that goes for all of us too. For, in this life we have thrown away our identities and become either somebody’s fans or some brand’s loyal consumers. We are statistics. Walking rupee notes. We do not apply our brains. We do not admit that class exists and that the world we are helping to create willingly is the playground of the rich. There is a juggernaut that rolls over us every generation, driven by our oppressors. those on the other side of that divide, like that car over the American Express bakery steps, that dehumanizes us, and at the end, robs us of our identities. I don’t think any of us even know what being human means any more.