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The voice of an excluded star

Following the tragic death of Rohit Vemula. His intelligible yet painful letter had all the trappings of a battered youth.

Good morning, I would not be around when you read this letter. Don’t get angry on me. I know some of you truly cared for me, loved me and treated me very well. I have no complaints on anyone. It was always with myself I had problems.

Dear Rohit,

It is with utmost sorrow I come to grips with your dreadful act. You were at the top of your game, a research scholar already and animated about science and social issues. Angry? Not at all, while cowardice act sure it is, my conscience is bound with a rope, so is our society’s uncouth and reprehensible psyche and social stereotypes responsible for this tragedy. What discomforts me is not the death of one guileless man, but the stench of our society’s dead conscience.

Casteist ideologies, right-wing dominance and urban discrimination have by no means ceased being the bane of our backwardness. You were literate enough to convey your feelings on a written note, think of those dozens each day rounding the drape on a fan as a result of incalculable torture, depression and pain. Not just the Dalits and Tribals in institutions such as yours, but the many spread out in the corners of our country – the stigmatized woman, children and the infirm strangled and immolated with no note, no press coverage or even a decent burial.

Who speaks for them? The ragging of a poverty-stricken kid, molestation and rape of the destitute girl, the cover-up of the murdered father, engineered trials that are a travesty of justice, wives tongue-tied in the patriarchal casteist environment. If only God had bereft us of willpower, suicides would have been a dreary sight. While some are born with a golden spoon, others toil right from the time they are pushed out. But Rohit, to quit…to angrily snuff out life…should have been the last thing on your mind.

The true soldier, once said GK Chesterton, fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him. Your letter evidently shows you cared for your family, Dalit sentiments, BR Ambedkar and yet you failed to see how a frail woman with a sewing machine fought all the odds to get you a PhD. And the architect of our Constitution whom you revere, was so ostracised that he could only drink water when poured into his mouth…he fought it harder and used education to his advantage.

I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body. And I have become a monster. I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write.

Writing is for the obsessed and with all the real life experiences, a little more holding up and may be you could have eclipsed Carl Sagan. Dint he once define writing as “the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another”.

But you see there is an untold heart ache in your words. The growing gap between your soul and body. That is the tragedy of our times. You think that growing gap and emptiness is a monopoly of the lower rung? Each around has simply found a way to cloak it with all gimmickry and pretend being content. Reality is in stark contrast. Look at the pictures, selfies and time-killing activities …you see a promising, self-confident and enlivening personality? For me, I simply see them crying out loud for attention in their disenchanted life. And why? Abandonment, Loneliness and Boredom. You could bracket them in one of those clauses. Right through their blue eyes and modish looks it is not beauty, but you see a masquerade over sadness and utterly neglected state. As once said, the face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart. So, everyone is on the same page really. To assume yourself alone is a mistake.

I loved Science, Stars, Nature, but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. Our originality valid through artificial art. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt.

The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.

Where there is love there is always hurt. It co-exists. Well some are adamant to not admit, some are weak to show it. That is all, but it is the same thing. You are right in saying how we are reduced to our immediate identity (at least in India). Who could understand it better than a victim such as you? To me, hailing from one of those arrogant Syrian Orthodox families, caste, segregation, was never existent. But true as it seems. It has permeated every fiber of our society, the sizable town, city and home of the lower rung masses breathes it. And university education it appears has simply emboldened evil than enlighten minds.

But you see Rohit, fighting against the system alone is futile. It is the mindset that needs to be stirred. All those protests, hue and cry over your death and the causes would die down with some government benefits to your family and a new cover story. Casteism continues, prejudices pervades, weakness is exploited, fragileness is pounced on, all morals, dogmas, ethics and principles will be brought to shambles.

I am writing this kind of letter for the first time. My first time of a final letter. Forgive me if I fail to make sense.

May be I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency. But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse. My birth is my fatal accident.

I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That’s pathetic. And that’s why I am doing this.

People may dub me as a coward. And selfish, or stupid once I am gone. I am not bothered about what I am called. I don’t believe in after-death stories, ghosts, or spirits. If there is anything at all I believe, I believe that I can travel to the stars. And know about the other worlds.

Birth being a fatal accident! It echoes the mind of many Dalits in this country. How discriminatory to be told, among all the ‘varnas’ you belong to the foot while the Brahmins the mouth and Kshatriyas representing the arm. To be born among the first two was a privilege, but the last was an accident. Times have changed, but the ‘colored’ system still is evidently present in our schools and workplaces.

Looking for answers, some ask me, so why doesn’t at least the Christian God thunder, roar and wipe out the vile in a jiff. The only reply I have is. Only He who bled between two thieves, for being perfectly innocent, and unjustly indicted and shamed, can understand the hurt of a man on the same page. Only one who was scorned, mocked and beaten can understand the pain of the faultless. Only a God who had all the right to vengeance in the midst of that unbearable pain and yet chose to forgive and pray for his enemies, can understand the cry of fatality. Hence, I see, nowhere to run but back to Him.

You go to Plato and he is going to philosophically construe the causes of pain, you go to Carl Sagan and he is going to astronomically tell you “we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe”, but name me one man ever who could gently look to your eyes..and not point to the star, moon and all the jibberishness around, and say in affirmative “COME TO ME, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

That call was more than personal. No rest, and no promise, not even of a 24-carat lover could be true as said- “And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” You see a man who gave such promises and stayed loyal till the time the nails went through, could only be the right shoulder for millions to share their anguish.

If you, who is reading this letter can do anything for me, I have to get 7 months of my fellowship, one lakh and seventy five thousand rupees. Please see to it that my family is paid that. I have to give some 40 thousand to Ramji. He never asked them back. But please pay that to him from that.

Let my funeral be silent and smooth. Behave like I just appeared and gone. Do not shed tears for me. Know that I am happy dead than being alive.

“From shadows to the stars.”

Since you mentioned, life will be the same for all. They will behave just as you said “appeared and have gone”. But your absence won’t be the same for your affectionate parents. There is no prejudice, casteism or isolation in the love of a mother. Everything is non-existent in her arms, but only the debt of love..the debt of love she owes you…and you owe her. But sadly this debt of your’s and her’s will remain a debt unfulfilled, that pain is the most unbearable. And all those you fear will laugh and mock at you, leave them to their own follies. And may that day be more bearable than the laughs of their present. To quote from the Tragedy of Hamlet, “When sorrows come, they come not single spies. But in battalions”.

Your last words “from shadows to the stars” had a loud resonance.  But Rohit, as you wade through the skies, and see through the stars, you will realise the intrinsic value of mankind. As was said, “we are, by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures”. When you wander lonely as a cloud and dance with the golden daffodils and ponder over the “humdrum star” in the galaxy, you will realise, they all nicely serve the laws of nature and physics, but the only thing…the only thing that has the right to choose, to be free, to think..and to rule is man.

From up there, you will simply realise that Man in spite of all the havoc caused is the most fortunate and beautiful of all living things. But when he loses value, worth and meaning, we both could join Carl Sagan to dub man as simply made of silly “starstuff”. But till then, nothing is an accident. Everything just has to begin and end with a Hope of something better to come. The only question to be asked is, where lies the source and basis of our hope. For the firmness and reliability of that alone will tell us what our tomorrow will be. Never measure it by the outward size, for even in the celestial world,  the bigger the star, the shorter its life. But we get all our light from a yellow dwarf star called sun that survived billions of years. So it is, from the stars to the shadows.