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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Mass Destruction of One Life

 From  C P Surendran's latest novel, One Love And Many Lives Of Osip B, published by Niyogi Books, we give below excerpts from a chapter titled,  The Mass Destruction of One Man. The excerpts deal with the disintegration of a writer, Arjun Bedi, facing allegations of sexual misconduct , who is the mentor to the teenage protagonist of the novel, Osip B.

When I arrived at Whispering Woods, there were already people in Arjun’s living room. The smell of alcohol and tobacco mixed with perfumes licensed the air. The hall was packed. It was late, though guests still trickled in.

‘But you had a birthday party earlier in the year!’ I said.

‘This is the roaring ’20s. We hurtle from one drunken party to another.’ Arjun put an arm around me. ‘That was for Maina. This one is for me, but it is quite political in its purpose.

I must fight by all means the daily and mass destruction of my one life. With silence, cunning, and parties, pagans and vegans all welcome!’


‘They want to see blood. The crowd needs to see fresh blood. It has a way of turning everything into a sport.’

It seemed unfair to ask him for help.

‘Everything all right?’ Arjun asked.


‘What’s it?’

‘The thing is…Can you come to my school?’

‘What for?’

I told him in an urgent whisper, every word I uttered more absurd than the one preceding it.

‘This is serious business, OB. How did you get into this mess? You are worse than me. But I am afraid I can’t get into this, not now.’ 

‘You are a famous man. A great writer.’

‘Fame is what they can use against you. Remember what I told you some time back? You wouldn’t believe it, it is organized frenzy.’ Arjun looked around. ‘These little parties I throw are my way of holding on to what little I have. It’s a dangerous world now, anyone can work out their revenge from rest rooms, you understand? These are toilet revolutionaries,’ Arjun grimaced. ‘But, what the hell are you up to? An affair with your teacher followed by murder?’

‘No, not murder. Exhumation.’

‘It’s as good as murder. Hell, it is worse!’

Three retired men of the military came up to Arjun and wished him happy returns loudly. Their chests were covered in stars and medals. The shorter, thickset one, with a luxuriant, twirled mustache, seemed always one step ahead of the other two.

‘You must formally join our political party, Arjun Saab,’ the short general said, staring hard at Arjun. But his eyes twinkled. ‘You promised.’ They had, it turned out, recently started a political outfit at the behest of Arjun.

‘Ah, my generals,’ Arjun said. ‘India’s best.’

‘We registered the party. You can’t back out now,’ the second man said.

‘The New India Political Party, NIP,’ the third said.

‘RIP?’ Arjun said.

The generals laughed helplessly, holding on to each other's shoulders.

‘Arjun Saab, Arjun Saab,’ the leader shook his head as if Arjun was too much. ‘Really, you are our star. Our torch. Our…’ He looked around at his friends for help, but they only smiled in encouragement.

‘Of course I will join NIP. On one condition, but.’

‘What’s that?’

‘I’ll be the treasurer. For life.’

They all threw their heads back and laughed again. They were an uproarious bunch.

‘Jokes aside, Arjun Saab, the retired soldiers of this country can no longer bear to see the nation going down the drain. It’s as you might say, RIP India or NIP India.’ The short general said. ‘We are looking for a writer with the rank of a general.’

‘All right then, I will be your Maxim Gorky.’

The generals raised their eyebrows.

‘He was the head of Union of Writers under Stalin,’ Arjun said.

‘M. applied to him for two sweaters and a pair of trousers. He didn’t get the trousers, I think,’ I said.

‘This is Osip Bala Krishnan. He is Russian,’ Arjun repeated his old joke.

They ignored me.

‘Let’s talk about NIP.’

‘Aren’t we all a bit too old to start a change-India party? Mind you, I am not talking about me,’ Arjun said.

‘You will bring the average age down, Arjun Saab,’ the second general said. Everybody laughed again. One of the generals shook his head as if to say this is just too much. He had tears in his eyes.

‘Really, we are as good as the young,’ the short general said. ‘I challenge anyone here to hand-wrestle me.’ He looked around the room, but mostly in the direction of a woman in blue jeans and kurta. There was a bespectacled young man with her, holding her wine glass as she was answering a call; her other hand was in a sling. ‘What corruption! Moral, financial, physical. Is this what our founding fathers sacrificed their lives for?’

‘Are you addressing me, or my neighbour, general?’ Arjun said. ‘Careful. That’s Dev and Diya. They represent the rights of the underprivileged and head a social media campaign against me. I have some trouble on the patriarchal front as you might know.’

‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.’ The general with tears of joy in his eyes said.

‘Love thine own neighbour, not mine,’ Arjun said.

This time the three generals nearly doubled up with laughter. The short general put out a hand in the direction of Arjun, pleading with him not to be so funny. ‘I may be gazing elsewhere, but I look up to you,’ the short general said, straightening up. ‘As for the campaign against you, it is chaff in the wind, Arjun Saab. Nothing will shake our faith in you.’

The short general hugged Arjun briefly, and turned their attention to someone seemingly important entering, a politician, from the white khadi he was wearing, and marched toward him.

Arjun swallowed a drink neat and gravitated to Dev and Diya, who had moved out into the balcony. I straggled along by Arjun’s side in grim fascination.

‘I have had to work on through someone to make them come here,’ Arjun whispered. I later learned that the 'someone' was the old man with the German shepherd. He was Diya's uncle—and Arjun's friend—and the couple were living in a flat of his in the building, a rent-free arrangement, Arjun said.

Dev and Diya were stiff, and it was clear they wanted to stay by themselves. They had done Arjun a favour dropping by.

‘Dev and Diya, Thank you for coming.’

‘We will be only a minute here.’ They seemed assured and self-sufficient in the strength of their good intentions.

‘Of course. I know you are fighting a good cause. And this is perhaps not the time to ask…’

‘No,’ they said in unison.

‘I am not a tactful person…’

‘We know that, don’t we, Dev?’

‘I knew this was why he insisted we come. Don’t tell me I did not warn you.’ Dev said to Diya.

‘I can’t help it, and I didn’t think I would say it, but all these daily mass mails to publishers, festivals, editors …,’ Arjun said.

‘Well?’ Diya said.

‘It seems so much work.’

‘Mr Bedi, please don’t worry about our workload. We will stop when you apologize,’ Diya said.

‘Apologize for what?

‘For your nude dancing and provocative comments and sexist columns. There were many good people in that party. They are deeply offended.’

‘It was a rave party…so many years ago.’

‘But only you were nude. And you put your arm around a victim’s waist.’

‘I was wearing something, not much, I admit, but something.’

‘But you were the only one nude,’ Dev said.

‘There were others in other rooms.’

'Mr Bedi, a writer must represent the spirit of his age, and overcome it. You have failed,’ Dev looked away in resignation.

‘At a seminar, you said, “What’s everybody’s problem with the dick!”’ Diya said.

‘It was both a joke and a question,’ Arjun said.

‘Your whole discourse is wrong,’ Diya shook her head.

‘And your columns! We can’t allow that kind of writing. You may think it is daring and intellectually provocative. That is your vanity. It is just bad form and poor taste.’ Dev shook his head of long curls. ‘And one poem that turned up on my computer last night, something about the Dark Spider.’

‘“Dolomedes Tenebrosus: Spontaneous Male Death” was the title. The dark spider eats the male partner after sex.’

‘You called the female spider a “b…h”. Language is a social tool, Mr Bedi,’ Dev said. ‘There are norms to be observed. These are sensitive times. There is a historical correction to be made in favour of the female gender…’

‘In favour of Dalits and children, too.’ Diya’s large, earnest eyes left no room for doubt about her commitment to her cause.

‘In favour of the wronged people. What we stand for is a certain much-needed correction in patriarchal politics,’ Dev said. ‘We are conscientious citizens of this country, Mr Bedi, and we can’t let a few things happen on our watch—even if the government is not of our choice, and we have no executive powers,’ Dev’s eyes bored into Arjun’s. ‘We have an obligation toward civilized society. But this is no place to talk about such matters, is it?’

C P Surendran

‘You are depriving me of my right to earn a living, in effect. That’s not a constitutional or even a liberal thing to do. Any accused has the right to speech and work. In any case, you are not the court,’ Arjun said.

It appeared to me that the intended reconciliatory meeting was not going the right way.

‘If the State is regressive, and the institutions are failing us, the citizen must step forward as the culture dispenser. There’s no space in our world for exploitation of any kind,’ Dev said.

‘You know you are guilty, don’t you, Mr Bedi?’ Diya said.


‘The fact is your kind of voice has had its day,’ Dev said.

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