Buoyed by the bravery of those we find ourselves in the midst of, sometimes we take safety for granted. The same happened with me, as I accompanied and followed Sadanandan Master when in Kuthuparamba, Kannur.
I heard of Sadanandan Master a little over a month ago. By then, Kannur had already captured my attention. In February this year, a young man Sujith was brutally hacked to death in front of his parents. There was no clear case of provocation, only the fact that this village do-gooder had accompanied a group of people to sort out a neighbourly dispute between two school-going teenagers.
Sitting in Delhi, I skimmed through channels to find visuals and debates and interviews of another young man, Kanhaiya. There was one news item of his being roughed up outside the court house that generated justifiable outrage. Kanhaiya walked away from that surrounded by police.
But in my mind, a parallel timeline of events was playing out. That of Sujith’s death; the fact that he was pulled out of his home at night by CPM cadre, that a plank of wood with nails on it was one of the weapons used to tear his skin from the back of his neck down before killing him, were not mentioned or commented on, or even acknowledged in the media or debate.
They echoed in my head, in my imagination. The only escape from him was to let in the living – his mother with her broken arm from when she had rushed to save him, a woman I would subsequently meet.
I was haunted. Sujith’s mother is a small woman, no more than five feet one inches tall, maybe 35 kilos. I embraced her two days ago and only felt bones rattling against my body as she cried. Amma I called her, the word for mother in Kerala, it only made her cry more, and I felt as if I had wronged her as well.
Amidst this, Sadanandan Master became hope for me. I have never visited a political party’s office, let alone supported a candidate. But with Sadanandan Master, all of those considerations became incidental.
Here was a man who had his legs taken away from him by an act of such barbaric cruelty that my sanitised world of imagination and urban outrage was demolished to the rubble of well-meaning thoughts and comment that it was.
I don’t know who I expected to meet when I first met him. We had already spoken on the phone. He was always pleasant. I had seen his photographs and watched an old YouTube video. They reflected a man of quiet dignity and of a compassionate temperament.
But would there be bitterness? I was to find none. By now, I had heard the stories, of his attack when returning from distributing wedding cards for his sister’s wedding, to the aftermath. I met his friend who accompanied him to the hospital in an old battered ambulance, as he drifted in and out of consciousness, losing blood, losing hope.
His friend carried his amputated legs, they were no good, having been dragged on the ground by his assailants and tossed aside. But his friend carried them to the hospital anyway, hoisting them on his shoulders. Why? So no one could say that Sadanandan Master never had legs in the first place and no crime had been committed.
This was 1994 and as it is today, the RSS had no access to political power in Kerala, a dangerous situation in a state where every institution is politicised. Where even police associations have elections and candidates are backed by political parties and the victories are recorded in newspapers.
As the rest of the country conjectures about RSS’s presumed unchecked power, Kerala is a time warp, it tells you what it was like for this organization for most of its years of existence. Here, Sadanandan Master had picked the losing side.
What followed after his attack, were months of depression. I met the man whose wife used to force feed him, because he refused to eat, sitting in his hospital bed all day staring at the walls. Even his beloved books gave him no company. At almost thirty, this young man who once stood at six feet had lost his two limbs and the will to carry on.
He had also been in love, with a co-student, pushing the marriage till his responsibilities were settled. He now told her to carry on with her life and not waste it on a handicapped man who would only be a burden. She refused.
When I meet him, he laughs about her, she is very determined. “Your soul mate?” I ask. “Yes”, he blushes, “you can call her that”. Together they had a child, a daughter. Together, they built a home, away from Kannur. Together, they restored his dignity. Together, he has learnt to laugh.
His students make him laugh. They treat him a lot better than other colleagues beleaguered by the constant battling of wits with precocious teens. They keep an eye out for Mashe’s (an endearment for Master in Kerala) car, modified to suit his special needs. They rush to open the door and carry his books. They give him little trouble. His story is known to all.
But to hear him tell it. He doesn’t blame his assailants, the CPM men who came to him later to ask for forgiveness. They are forgiven. He blames the masters that sanction this violence, cocooned in their world of privilege, their children in the safe embrace of foreign lands, far away from the killing fields of Kannur.
Moved by his story, I had rushed to garner support, requested people to canvas for him, be his legs.
Many volunteered. I went there ahead of them, on a recon as it is called in the world of cinema, to see if it was safe, to tell more people his story. I hoped the Prime Minister, a popular man, would go to Kannur.
His itinerary leaves it out. One reason could be security concerns. It is difficult to sanitise this area for even the most powerful person in the country. Crude bombs are built in homes and lobbed at passing vehicles. We drive through areas, unguarded, vulnerable; I can taste the tension in the hot breeze.
Lutyen’s Delhi and its strutting masters with security that covers the entire alphabet from A to Z, fill me with a new distaste for something that I have grown accustomed to. The ink attacks and the shoe hurling that finds air-time, and the maimed and dead bodies that pass without comment.
I see it all as I sit to write. Changed, humbled, saddened and all too aware of my own insignificance and that of any platform which will give me space to write of this cruelty in the face of dehumanising ambition and agenda. But I write anyway. What else is there to do when in the presence of staggering courage and the lurking inevitability of violence?
Sadanandan Master’s car was attacked yesterday. He had left it a few moments before the attack. I spoke to him after, he seemed surprised. “It is unexpected, isn’t it?” he asked me. And I realised that he is misled by his own courage.
(Advaita Kala is an award winning screenwriter and author. You can contact her on Twitter here)