National

A Timeless Video Loop Of Disaster

A temple was touted as a mosque; a process of ‘othering’ began soon after; and, sabotage permeated the media, WhatsApp and everything else. But for now, we must give dignity to the dead

A Timeless Video Loop Of Disaster
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“Olpo olpo megh theke bristi shristi hoi,
chotto chotto golpo theke bhalobasha shristi hoi”

(Small clouds create rain, small tales create love)

­—­From an unclaimed notebook found in the strewn on the tracks at Bahanaga, the site of June 2 three-train pile-up

The half-finished poem on a piece of paper is the beginning and an end of an obituary. The final list of the deceased photographs of the Balasore train accident, released by the North 24 Parganas District, has numbers pasted on the mutilated bodies of the dead. At 9 pm on Friday (June 9), I am looking to locate a poet. It is an ambitious task, an exercise in futility and a deeply disturbing endeavour. Smashed heads, half-open eyes, crushed eyes. I started writing an obituary. But how can I disregard any possibility of the poet being alive. Until the government confirms that the poet is dead, I will keep searching. The poet didn’t sign off with a name. The diary was found next to a bag. But there were no markings on the bag. No name, no address. The poet had drawn a peacock on a page, and a rose on another. Then, there was another fragment of another poem about clouds. More flowers on more pages. More words. Never any name.

Railways officials have said the bodies are so crushed and mangled that it is difficult to identify them. Fingers are lost in many cases or have been mutilated so badly that even thumbprints can’t be taken to find their identities.

The government has said 288 people have died so far and more than a 1,000 have been injured. Since the tragedy struck, a lot has happened. The Prime Minister has vowed to catch the “culprits” and the railway minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw, has said the “root cause” of the accident and the people behind the “criminal” act have been identified, and the railway officials have indicated that a possible “sabotage” with the electronic interlocking system led to the mishap.

A CBI probe has been ordered.

While they are at it, can they help me, a citizen of this country, to locate the poet? I have waited all these days to find out this one little detail. Can you help me Mr. Prime Minister? With the AI and the intelligence systems that make you so formidable as a leader, I am reposing my trust in you to help me find this poet whether dead or alive. Poets are precious beings. The poet was in love. Love is such a rarity. I don’t know the poet, but the subject of this love must be informed of any eventuality. You must restore my faith that no love poems remain suspended in time without an address or a name.

I tried but I can’t finish the poem for the poet. All I am asking is for a closure.

When you find the culprits, I promise I will clap for you. A standing ovation. Nothing less will do. People tell me you can do anything.

This magazine needs to go to press for printing, but I can extend the deadline until the next issue and the one after and yet another, until you find the poet. We will wait.

***

This issue is a dedication to the dead and the ones who live to bear that loss. RIP is an acronym for Rest in Peace. It could also mean they were ripped apart. The people on the train. Death is never the leveller we’d believe it to be. The poor die and they become numbers. Hence, I am looking for the poet; to humanise the narrative.

Sabotage is a strange term. In this case, it seems the human wreckage has been sabotaged. I am well aware of my freedoms as a press person. I keep them locked in a safe. I won’t say no more. But we can speak in metaphors. Like poets. You must always turn to the poets in times when truths are dissolved.

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Last night, I was talking to someone who said we, the English-speaking kinds, the ones who might just qualify for the “Khan Market Gang” tag, are living in a bubble. The mass media is television and they have been demanding for the culprits to be booked. They play the disaster GIF animation over and over again. The mangled bodies of the train coaches wrapped around each other on the train tracks look like a sequence broken, a total collapse of symmetry, a refutation that parallel lines don’t meet. They crashed into each other. They came off from their own chains and lay upturned, abandoned, lost. Inside the coaches, there were people. These people had lives, dreams, love and losses. Now, they are numbered. They are a bunch of photos that will haunt some of us for a long time.

The narrative device of our digital times believes in the power of looping. The GIF animation of the wreck is how we remember the tragedy now or at least are asked to. Not with human faces. There is just an endless loop. No beginning, no middle, no end. Can a disaster be moulded like this? Can a human wreckage be reduced to metal and rubble? Is that why we forget too easily? Where are the dead and the injured?

They keep going. These looped disasters. A spectacle almost.

Empathy, we were told in another era, when journalism meant some responsibility, is the key to writing stories. We are aware of the powers of the television media, their reach, their dedication to the nation, their ability to alter anything, their belief that they represent the masses. ‘Lowest common denominator television’ is a name for a mass media production strategy, where programming is produced not to create the strongest possible response in viewers and not to offend some. I have decided to discard all of this. You can dismiss us as esoteric.

***

There are reports of body mix-ups. If apocalypse were to take over, this could be a teaser for it. Nameless and numbered faces.

But we have limited pages and limited readership. I, as an editor, have decided to search for the poet. I want to acknowledge the poet among the rest.

I know we can’t ask for too much. But there was a story someone wrote about a maimed doll with arms missing. I have this urge to fix the doll and give to the child who lost it in the tragedy. I don’t want to even entertain the possibility of the child being lost forever.

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The issue is also to offer a moment of respite from the endless looping of the fake narratives, the relentless pursuit of the bizarre. But can a poem break the looped disaster? Can it refute the conspiracy theorists who thrive on othering? Can it counter the sabotage claim?

I think a poem has immense possibility. Like love. A tragedy has occurred. A number of lives have been lost. There are things the dead left behind. Slippers, limbs, toys, poems.

“Bhalobeshei toke chai sarakhhon, achis tui moner sathe …”

(With love I need you at all times, you are there in my mind at all times)

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This was the other poem.

If you are out there, this is from us to you. We return the poem with love to you. I hope you can finish the poem.

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