One nice thing about writing this column is that total strangers want to help you. And they want to help with the toughest part: ideation. Not a week goes by without suggestions from readers. They would share a link or a screenshot and say, “Why don’t you do a column on this”. Well, 99.99% of the time, I don’t use their ideas. Not because they are bad, they are brilliant. I don’t use them because they unfortunately assume a level of protection for free speech that went extinct in India some eight years ago.
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But last week, I am happy to report, I got something that belonged to the 0.01%. A Bengaluru-based reader sent me a link to a news report with the headline, ‘Skull found near Jayanagar Park’. For some reason it got stuck in my head.
I know nothing about Jayanagar Park. But I guessed — correctly — that it was not a place frequented by skeletons. The first question that pops up when you read the headline is: did the skull bite anyone? The reporter doesn’t keep us in suspense. She tells us right away that it could not have because it was missing the lower jaw and sitting quietly on the plinth of a transformer box.
Most reporters would have moved on at this point, but not this one. She tries to get different people interested in the skull: she contacts a medical professor, the police, and a teacher who happens to be passing by. Unbelievably, and sadly for this reporter, no one is excited by the skull, or even curious. The universal apathy drives her to despair, leading her to write what is perhaps the most poignant sentence to come out of Indian journalism this year: “Does nobody care?”
It is understandable if no one cares that India is turning into a loonarky, that its economy is halfway to being organic fertilizer, and your neighbour is mutating into a sociopathic lynchophile. But indifference to a new skull? That’s a new low for public apathy, and for exposing this most shocking aspect of contemporary Indian society, this news story deserves a Putlizer.
It wasn’t so long ago when all of us would be excited by skulls. Don’t you remember being a kid and wanting to touch that skull in the biology lab? Then you brought that skull home to show your sister and she got so scared? And your mom thought it was disgusting? And your dad thought you should return the skull immediately to the school and you threw a tantrum because you wanted to track down its actual owner? Where has that sense of humanity and civic duty gone? Today, as you are reading this, there is a headless human skeleton desperately scouring every park in Bengaluru for the skull it had lived with all its life. And yet, nobody cares!
Just think about it: one day, maybe a hundred years from now, it could be you (or me) sitting, like Rodin’s Thinker, on the plinth of a transformer in Lodhi Gardens. Wouldn’t you expect some show of interest — if not attraction — from passers-by? Of course, for that you should ideally not be missing a jaw. I would suggest securing your jaw bones with a couple of screws just before dying. Also, an easy way to counter the growing public apathy towards skulls is to keep them well groomed.
It’s widely believed that the skull is a great equaliser in the looks department. You could be Marilyn Monroe, and your neighbour, a spitting image of Crime Master Gogo. But as skulls, both of you would be equally beautiful, or can be, if you remember to do one thing: eat lots of vitamin D pills and calcium tablets before you die. It will keep your bones strong and ensure your skull retains its shape.
All this used to be common knowledge: how else do you think Cleopatra’s skull looks so good 3,000 years later? But after the Mughal invasion, people in India lost their connection to bones (a skull is essentially made of bones). The government must therefore raise public awareness, maybe through a Skull India Program. It might be more effective than all the existing ‘Yojanas’. Imagine if the Gurugram municipality had done G-20 beautification with skulls instead of flower pots. Do you think any property developer would have loaded them into his SUV? Also, isn’t a skull just a great symbol to have around: be it in the park or wherever, especially in a country blessed with so many pirates?
G. Sampath, the author of this satire, is Social Affairs Editor,The Hindu.