Tag Archives: Cassandra

The Venus Flytrap: Cassandra In The Kingdom Of Closed Eyes

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A boy is knifed in a train and bleeds to death on his brother’s lap on a station platform and no one sees. A young woman is stabbed and bleeds to death on another station platform and no one sees, but someone covers her with a shawl so that her womanly shape isn’t visible, for that is all they can see of her. Something cold sits on my heart, listening to them; how do they do it, looking me straight in the eyes and blithely revealing that they are among the unseeing?

They don’t register the headlines, the statistics, the faces, the stories. They demand proof even as it plays out before them. They claim blips and skewings, and when faced with facts, claim conspiracy. Last weekend I saw someone carrying a poster with a version of Bob Dylan’s words: “How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?” Some – no, many – deaths don’t count because some (many) lives matter less than others. There’s a quota that can never be filled enough for them to say “Enough”. That’s not a riot, they say. And a riot’s not a holocaust. And at least a holocaust is not… well, no one will be left to finish that sentence.

And someone will ask me (I know the script) – how can you connect them, the boy with the skull cap and the girl with the stalker – and like a fabulist I will have to try to prove a theory of invisibility. About how there are reasons why some people can only see some things and not others. And I will play right into their hands when I tell them: when a girl was raped on a bus five years ago, you lit candles and raged, when the same thing happened to another girl in Salem a month ago, you scrolled past her, just like you did the one whose body was towed in a garbage truck, the pregnant one found brutalised at the bottom of a well, the one who was never written about at all but whom you would have ignored anyway.

Then they’ll say: where were you when the earth first wept (not yet born), or when that other silence stuck like tar (raising my voice, then as now, but it didn’t carry in the wind) or when those other dead were named (I hadn’t known then – but you had). As though their wilful, obstinate unseeingness is vindicated because of my not being omniscient. And they never turn the same question on themselves: where are you now, as this unfolds, and why do you justify it? And if you ask, they say flatly, “But there is nothing happening.”

They cannot see the forest burning for all the ashes in the trees. Cannot see structure, system, sense. Cannot see anything beyond their own noses, even as they fill with noxious smoke.

Here’s what I see then, if you can tolerate a Cassandra in the kingdom of closed eyes: nothing we have not already seen. Nothing humanity does not already know. Nothing humanity can forget – unless humanity has forgotten the meaning of itself.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on July 6th 2017. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

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The Venus Flytrap: Democracy And Apocalypse

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The word “apocalypse” is from the Greek language, in which it means: unveiling, uncovering, great revelation. To be post-apocalyptic, then, is to be fully in possession of knowledge. Where does that place us today, when this word is used as though the naming itself will protect the world from what is being unleashed on it by the accretion of greed? Some people would call it an accretion of fear, but I beg to differ. To look into the bloodied face, even in a distant photograph, of a child and affirm the belief that that child has less of a right to exist than you do is not fear, only greed. “The less there are of him, the more there is for me.”

There are two more Greek elements worth weighing in these times. One is from mythology. The other is from politics.

When Paris brought his conquest Helen to Troy, the prophet Cassandra met them at the port and tore the veil from Helen’s hair, only to be dragged away and silenced. Cassandra had been cursed by the god Apollo, in whose temple she had been a priest, that her prophecies would always be precise – but that she would never be believed. She was Paris’ half-sister, and had warned at his birth that he would destroy the city.  The moment Helen set foot in Troy was the moment when its destiny spun irrevocably into bloodshed. Cassandra saw this, and cried herself hoarse trying to convince the people around her. There have been many Cassandras. And there still are, speaking the truths that most will later claim not to have heard at all.

The second element is democracy, which is generally held to have first successfully been attempted in ancient Greece. I recently learnt that the philosopher Socrates was opposed to the concept, because democracies are wholly dependent on education, i.e. the ability to make informed choices. Let’s consider this angle. If we are to fight fascism, we must examine why democracy sometimes fails. There is the basic stratum of education: that which we are taught, and the system already excludes many on this count. Then there is the next: that which we go forth and learn. As adults – beneficiaries, rejects or merely survivors of that system – we complacently educate ourselves on forwards, memes and propaganda. This is entirely a choice. And ostensibly, so is everything that happens in any democracy as a result.

In the first few days of what is becoming seen as a post-apocalyptic / apocalyptic / apocalypse bardo world, I found myself very quiet. In actuality, this was neither the end nor the beginning. The warnings had been issued, the teachings had been shared, and to use the language of the new world disorder, solidarity had been pronounced. What else was left to say? So I sat for a while and thought of beautiful distractions, as an attempt to soothe myself. Until even that led to futility: the question of what the purpose of making art is, if all the stories already told did not keep us from allowing these ones, the ones we are enacting and witnessing, to come true.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on February 2nd 2017. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.