“Non violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience?” – Arundhati Roy
Joe Bonham understands. A soldier who survived the First World War- he has no arms, no legs, sockets for where used to be eyes, nose, lips and ears. The only thing that functions is his mind which remembers, relates, and operates normally. Lying on a hospital bed where he is kept in isolation, he attempts suicide by suffocating himself, but realizes that he has been given a tracheotomy which he can neither remove nor control. Since death is not an option, he wishes that his lump of mass be placed in a glass box and taken around the country as a symbol of protest against war. He devises a Morse code to communicate this wish to his doctors and nurses, and even though a nurse understands his message, it would be politically preposterous to carry out his desires. Thus he spends the rest of his natural life in the condition that he is in.
For anyone who has read Dalton Trumbo’s ‘Johnny got his gun’, the above summary is an understatement. For those who haven’t, it’s a plea to do so.
So Joe Bonham lives, and Sharmila too lives.
Without an audience.
This year we commemorated 40 years of the picture of the ‘Napalm Girl’.
We have immortalised the image of the green eyed Pashtun.
Why doesn’t the picture of a woman with a nose pipe and dishevelled hair capture our imagination? Why do we not let her into our collective conscience? Is the image too disturbing or is it not disturbing enough?
Really, let’s kill her.
These mundane editorials on loss of conscience, on double standards of government policy, on questions of national security, on marginalisation, on non–violence, on dissent… they are lost upon a polity which has witnessed fancily orchestrated, well merchandised, replete-with-candles-protest- movements with more photogenic cast and better equipped sets. Social protests are televised every Sunday morning along with our brunch. We digest both with equal fervour and excrete both with equal ease.
Time, it seems, also has its political affiliations. In some time zones, 12 years is not enough while in another time zone, 7 days is what it takes to make puppets of men.
What happens if she dies? Does the image finally become immortal? Or at least, as our Roving Editor writes, “At least the pain stops.”