Raj funeral violence: Anger at outsider affluence

Churumuri is pleased to introduce a new contributor, SRINIVAS BHASHYAM. Film journalist turned film maker, Bombay-based Srinivas has worked as a deputy to two South Indian greats, Kamal Hassan and Mani Ratnam.

In his first despatch, Srinivas says the violence that marred the funeral of Dr Raj Kumar was partly motivated by the frustrations of Kannadigas who have become aliens in their own planet.

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EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK.

Yes, this is a little bit like that.

A FEW THINGS YOU WANTED TO SAY ABOUT KANNADA BUT WERE AFRAID TO BLURT IT OUT.

Sad but true. Dr. Raj Kumar’s death and the partly predictable chaos that upset the saleable new image of Bangalore was fascinating to put it mildly.

The television channels and their anchors based mostly in Delhi and a few in Mumbai juiced it to death on that lean, mean day. They played the footage of the lathi-charge and the mob’s retaliation in tedious loops.

If you heard the voice of a man who tried to be unnecessarily defensive and explanatory, whining like a pathetic bureaucrat from the city corporation post his lunch-time, you guessed right, it was the Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy.

The film actors mouthed worse clichés than we all keep paying them to spout onscreen and indulged in their favourite vice of ‘eating footage’.

KAMALAHAASAN was consistent in that he spoke about himself and his movies but to give the self-proclaimed narcissist his due, he actually managed to somehow connect it to Raj Kumar every now and then. Kamal repeated the fact that Raj Kumar was an unusually humble star and carefully avoided any remarks about his acting skills or movies.

U.R. ANANTHAMURTHY came up with an ‘original insight’ (he prefaced it thus himself), that Raj Kumar was the first actor to bring the realism of a social drama to the mythological characters and the drama of the mythological to the social (sic) characters he portrayed.

No point in denying the second part of the postulation but the first part is very debatable, if you know what I mean. But original nevertheless.

RAMACHANDRA GUHA tried to explain the inherent ties between politics and films with language in South India. He pointed out that all the top male film stars in the Southern states have always made an issue of their respective languages. They have always proclaimed that ‘they would die for their language’. The author of several books on cricket, quickly slipped in a reference to the game, somewhere along the way, of course.

But he didn’t have the time to elaborate on this: Post-independence, the dominant language of the South, Tamil, has been rebelling against Hindi, the dominant language of the North (Tamil Nadu was the first and only state to refuse to telecast the compulsory Hindi news at primetime in the days when Doordarshan ruled the telewaves; just a couple of years ago, ZEE network was neither available and nor in demand in most of TN!).

Similarly Karnataka has always been insecure about Tamil and its undeniably aggressive culture.

GIRISH KARNAD was the sole voice who took the calculated risk of being slightly undiplomatic. He said that in the West, they actually plan elaborately for the funeral and various arrangements, in case one of their prominent personalities is unwell or old; in our culture it is considered apashakuna (inauspicious) and ill-mannered to even consider such matters.

Karnad implied that the family and the authorities could have anticipated and avoided the organizational eff-ups that provoked part of the violence.

Karnad obviously is an ambitious man–sense over sentiment? Now, if he is really a brave man, he should proffer his postmortem to the Tamilian populace in reference to their s-u-p-e-r-s-t-a-r, RAJNIKANTH?

It’s a pity the television channels didn’t ask for the expert opinion of Thomas Friedman but then let us wait for our NRI friends from across the Flat World to forward us his column in the New York Times.

The migrant populace, a substantial percentage of them having moved into Bangalore during the last decade, were unaware of the kind of sway that Rajkumar held over the masses before his semi-retirement.

So, most of them, like the television anchors up North, were puzzled by the thousands of youth who were seen reacting passionately to the death of a 77-year old film star. “If so many people still loved him so much, how come his films had stopped becoming hits long ago?” they whispered as they stared at the broken glass façade of their office complex.

THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT THING to blurt out now are the open secrets–those that most of us familiar with Karnataka and Bangalore have known for long: All the curious mobs that took ticket-less train and bus rides from all over Karnataka to land in Bangalore on those two days were not necessarily the ones who would buy tickets to a Raj Kumar movie.

Most of them were semi-literate, under-employed youth and have fostered a growing resentment towards the capital city and its culture. It is not difficult to see that they resent (and are jealous of) the visible affluence of Bangalore which is obviously a mismatch with the rest of the state.

Most of these fancy buildings they gawked at housed IT and MNCs who pay their drivers the kind of salaries that their fathers fantasized about.

In this, their moment of spontaneous pus-eruption, they took the chance to vent their frustration.

To make matters worse, they know that most of this sudden affluence belongs to the non-Kannadiga in Bangalore. The same kind who is usually just not interested nor has the time to learn the local language or be sensitive to its culture.

This is undoubtedly the only capital city in the country where there are resident families who have been here for decades without bothering to acquire a functioning knowledge of the local language. It is also a fact that in many areas of Bangalore, this is simply not necessary. The eager-to-please Bangalorean ensures that you can function with a smattering of Tamil, Hindi or English. No other city has as many rickshaw drivers and shopkeepers who can manage some English, Tamil, Telegu and/or Hindi.

The kind that owns and patronizes most of the malls, pubs and shoppees that are symbols of Shining India’s indulgent façade. This potent scenario is starkly similar to the Marathi versus the Gujju-Punju-UPite one in Mumbai which the Shiva Sena tries to exploit every now and then.

The three professions that have a majority of Kannadigas and Kannada-speaking men and women in Bangalore are the police force, the autorickshaw drivers and the bus drivers/conductors.

And most of them, if you ask them, always complain about this ‘outsider’ phenomena, although rather lamely and minus the kind of virulent fanaticism that one will encounter in their counterparts in Maharashtra or Tamil Nadu.

The Kannadiga-mob has been feeling alien in its own planet and their pet xenophobia needed to be taken out for a walk on the wild side. Perhaps for the first time after the Cauvery riots of long ago, they have exploded briefly.

When this hero of the marginalized local, the last pop-symbol of their language/culture died, they hardly needed an excuse to swing their collective fist and scream a F***K YOU! At all this which they failed to exploit and achieve in their own home ground.

It’s got a perverse logic of its own.

So, it’s all a little bit like the topic of sex. It’s everywhere and we all exist because we all have been doing it. But we want to avoid talking about it. It is indeed complex and can’t be fully understood.

So maybe we should do the safe thing and avoid discussing it. Thankfully, the legendary “parvagilla, adjust maadi” temperament of the Kannadiga lulls him back into his complacency ASAP.

One plate khaali dose and by-two kaapi later, God is back in his seat and all the bisi-bele particles in this chow-chow baath universe begin to settle down. Justtt….