“I-I'm, you know, I'm, I'm obsessed with-with, uh, with death,” Alvy asseverates, and sallies forth to purchase books. ‘The Denial of Death’ and ‘Death and Western Thought’. He feels there are two kinds of life. He puts blind people in the category of the horrible, their resilience amazes him. And the miserable is “everyone else hat's-that's all.
So-so when you go through life you should be thankful that you're miserable, because that's- You're very lucky ... to be ... to be miserable,” he tells Annie Hall, the eponymous heroine. Expressed in the language of Emil Cioran, “What is that one crucifixion compared to the daily kind any insomniac endures?” As he sees the trouble with being born.
That to tell troubles to those we love is to only make them suffer. He does not forgive himself for being born. For it is as if, “creeping into this world, I had profaned a mystery, betrayed some momentous pledge, committed a fault of nameless gravity. Yet in a less assured mood, birth seems a calamity I would be miserable not having known.”
But does there exist any string of morality in this lopsided view of life?
For Rudolf Eucken, morality, at its highest points, is power: for elevation, not degradation; for liberation, not oppression. However, the Kantian idea—exercitiorum virtutiuos, to be valiant and cheerful in performance of duty (animus strenuus et hilaris)—that Eucken thought led to reconstruction of the Prussian State may not be thoughtlessly applied in all social systems. For its mindless application in the framework of Caste will be leading to disfigurement of an already bedraggled set-up rather than improving the moral life of Indian people.
So, to put it simply, the act of throwing dead bodies of the pandemic victims into rivers involves the question of morality.
As India is not witnessing something of this nature for the first time—and to strengthen this point properly, one hundred years ago, in 1918, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’ observed the river ‘swollen with dead bodies’, in Dalmau, a town on the banks of the Ganges—this kind of death, perhaps because it seems undignified, needs a sympathetic analysis. Some may ask again, what role can sympathy play here? It, in fact, is a suitable question.
Sympathy, for Hume, is congealment of idea into impression (imagination serves as the catalyst). This ethical connection with others allows us to study a human act, which is a manifest state of human mind. Even Russell writes, “in studying a philosopher, the right attitude is … first a kind of hypothetical sympathy…"
Unfortunately, and Russell advises against the attitude of contempt, we have looked askance at the act—the act of throwing dead bodies into rivers. The question is, what ethical boundaries did those who carried out the act breach to deserve imprecations that the ideal citizenry has been hurling at them?
We did not contemplate the question of morality/immorality that this act throws on the ideal citizenship, let alone pursue this as an ethical dilemma.
However, the ideal citizenry, even after possessing holier-than-thou attitudes by dint of their location at the top of political, economic, socio-cultural hierarchy, was caught unawares by the second wave of the ongoing pandemic in this country that is rightfully theirs.
And by the logical extrapolation of Louis Dumont’s Homo Hierarchicus, those at the bottom assimilated the viral culture—this time, it is deadly—of those at the top, but it is like every other time, when acculturation, alas, remains incomplete.
In doing so, those at the bottom, too, were caught unawares. They lack basic amenities, indispensable to Karma Kand, the rituals that those at the top prescribe and approve of. Did I miss to specify that in an average shanty of 6ft. x 6ft. of agriculturally landless—When will Bihar, for instance, implement D. Bandyopadhyay Commission’s Recommendations for Land Reforms? So those, who do not find a space in the commons for religiously correct cremation, may rest, perhaps morally, in peace in at least a few decimals of land to call their own? —bottom-dwellers, self-quarantine is a luxury.
Well, why doesn’t the ideal citizenry ask the government to jack the corporate tax up, and expand the tax bracket on luxury items? To tell them the truth, this has a religious—and moral? —authorization, as discussed frankly in the vedic text of Brihadaranyaka: Prajapati asks all the three classes of his sons—deva, manuṣya, asuraḥ—to interpret the syllable ‘Da’. They conceive it, respectively, as damam (self-control), danam (charity) and dayamiti (compassion).
Still, those top-dwellers, having understood that resolution of this moral dilemma will ultimately play havoc with their miserableness, will follow what their true teacher Manu preached about Anviksiki, or the science of inquiry. Those misled by the system of logic question Vedas and Dharma Sutras must be excommunicated.
Followers of Manu, however, will value the Karma Kand above the Jnana Kanda, against the logical tradition, and much to Manu’s chagrin. To defend the system, they may offer woods, shrouds, and whatever razzmatazz rituals demand, thus, suturing the lives of subalterns to Damul, the state of peonage until death. The vicious cycle of labour, moreover, will ensure that each thread of shroud and all paltry kind of firewood that liberated the impure should be paid off in the end.
The condition is to silently quit the human condition without registering a word of dissent, so what shall Alvy’s horrible—you impoverish them: subalterns? bottom-dwellers? —choose?
No sane mind will choose Damul.
What they are left with, then, are holy rivers, the mothers. Their banks, the laps of motherly love.
And shallow concern of the miserable for environment, already on the edge of collapse because of their extravagant consumerism, that this relatively natural act of biodegradation would bring doesn’t concern the basis fact that those bottom-dwellers forced, horribly, to dump dead bodies of their loved ones—do not forget, that those considered primitive by 'modern' men also follow extensive customs to honour the departed—have their lives marred by a slowing economy, perennially disemboweled by the inhumanely stratified system, and their shared trouble—of course, with being born—that has been exacerbated by the multiple waves of this pandemic.
They must fulfil expectations amidst a chaotic hand-to-mouth dispossession: to rub multiple kilograms of pure ghrta on the scales of dead, draped in silky shrouds which their lived experiences show no trace of, and adorned with well-wrought naulakha necklaces, on board the pyre of aromatic woods for the last voyage, and for priests of death, empowered by sacerdotalism, to drool over lavish gifts that kartas, who perform karma of Antyesti, cannot afford themselves?
Carvaka school of materialism, in their act of rebellion, takes the words right out of my mouth. “All these ceremonies for the dead—there is no fruit anywhere, / All the well-known formulae of the pandits, jarpharis and turphari, etc. / These were invented by buffoons, and so all the various kinds of presents to the priests, / While the eating of flesh was similarly commanded by night-prowling demons” (Sarvadarsanasamgraha). And instead of attacking the whole affair of ascribed wretchedness, which arrests upliftment of so-called immoral men, the agenda is to humiliate their minimum existence?
Heralded as the dawn of social morality, what they piously popularise as ethics, majoritarian-style.
The author is a journalist and researcher
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.