January 02, 2005

Gentle Claw

The question that I ask myself, incongruously and stupidly, is this: am I a voyeur for noticing the swell of a breast on this sad form that tells me she once was a woman?

She lies there on the shore outside Nagore, impossibly tangled in fishing nets. A small crowd is gathered around, and a large earthmover arrives to do the miserable job that now has to be done. First, it digs a gaping hole in the ground next to her browned body. That's done quickly, brutally, the maw rising and falling in quick slashes and dumping the mud to the side. But when it's ready, the maw turns almost gentle. I know there's a man operating a lever, but the effect he has on that large claw is nearly magical. It turns thoughtful, contemplative: gentle.

It hovers above her, trying to decide how to pick her up. Then it descends and almost does it. But ... no, what about this other way? It turns slightly, descends again. No, that's no good, after all, better go back to the first angle. In this way, the thing finally cradles her -- dare I say it? -- lovingly. Carefully. Like a baby. Moves to the right and ...

... she slides off. The nets the poor girl is tangled in are firmly meshed themselves in a whole mess of nets and bushes and pans and timber. The strands pull her back. Not yet, they seem to be saying. You died, but you don't get buried that easily.

The maw does its contemplation again and ... she slides off again.

By this time we are sick and sad. But such are the details a tsunami leaves the living to work out. Someone calls for a knife, the man in charge has decided to hack away the fishing nylon. It arrives. One man holds up the offending strands and the other hacks through them, right next to the girl's head. Both are holding their noses and almost gagging. Will the earth mover manage what it has to do, this time?

Not yet. The man in charge shouts, first the photo! First the photo! I protest, but he comes over to explain, the police need every body photographed for enumeration and for claims. But who will know who this faceless tragedy is? Someone actually leans over and lifts a scrap of cloth away from her face, but even if her hair wasn't sprayed all over it, it would be impossible to know who she was. But the police must do what the police must do. So a man arrives and takes the picture.

Then the maw gets back to work. Lovingly again, she picks up this young girl, lowers her into her grave. Quickly, she has put an end to this final indignity the girl has suffered, this tug of war between machine and net in front of a few dozen men.

It's then that I notice that someone else also took a photo. A young man in a dhoti, blue shirt and sunglasses, using his mobile phone. Now he shows it to a small crowd of gawkers. Is he a voyeur? Are they? Am I?


Please also read the excellent reports from my travelling companion, Amit Varma.


Shobha said...

Hello Mr.D'Souza, all I can sayis that it pains me to read this post. Its terrible! :(

Anonymous said...

I understand what you are saying. No, I dont think its a horrible thing. We are only human, and we notice things and we are curious! I find myself looking at pictures and sometimes I cant stop. Its so upsetting and heartwreching, but we are still curious.


wise donkey said...

just 2 sad. tough 2 judge. but cant understand why someone would want to take the pic other than police etc. sure a pic can say a 1000 words, but when u have a tragedy at this level, do we need pics to convey it? well varies perhaps with individuals.