Thursday, June 25, 2015

Far from the madding crowd

Two images from last week are stuck in my mind. Both involve cats trapped in crowds. One was a moving image, the other, still, but both revealed something about the hostility of such gatherings.
The short film, posted on Facebook, was about the fate of a lioness trapped upon a small rock, surrounded by a multitude of very angry Cape buffalo. The film did not show how the lithe feline came to that predicament. It just concentrated upon the herd mentality of the buffalo as they closed in for the kill. The lioness was tossed around like a rag doll; and stomped upon by half a ton each worth of milling hooves. Her defiant roars and snarls were barely audible above the thunderous lowing of the bunched up bovines, their hoof stampings, and the sickening thuds of their massive horns. Towards the end, the cat’s cries sounded piteous. She did not escape.
This was a natural encounter in the wild. To kill and be killed, to eat and be eaten, are the unwritten laws of wild creatures. They don’t know this, and they are none the worse of it. We do, but our opinion does not matter to them. Survival, and natural selection have their task cut out. Emotion is not part of the process.
The static image was of a leopard, lynched from a tree by a mob in West Bengal []. I was naturally drawn into the action on the African plain, but repelled by the murder of the leopard. The prequel to the hanging was a familiar story. The leopard was spotted near some fields. Given chase, it took refuge inside a hut. The hut was locked from the outside, and the authorities informed. Meanwhile the crowd of onlookers began to swell. The identity of the prisoner was known, so all were armed with lathis, iron rods, and sharper stuff. Upon arriving, the person of authority went straight to the hut and unlocked the door. All hell broke loose. From the depths of that confining human abode, the petrified cat sprang towards freedom. All it wanted was to escape that madding crowd and return to its haunts. But frenzy was at fever pitch. A bull-headed mob mentality kicked in and the cat was beaten, clubbed, and stabbed to death. However, the mob’s pent up fury, or its fiendish frustration, wasn’t satiated. The mobsters cut off its paws, and docked its tail. Then they swung its carcass from a tree.
It was a depraved state of utter senselessness. Those that are hanged unto death, are graphic messages to the living, of an impending fate if the prevailing law of the land be violated. Onlookers comprehend the deathly image, and spread the word. But who was this sign for? Were there leopards in that milling multitude, or just craven chest-thumpers who found joy in the message hanging from the tree, “fear not this one, it’s done for.”
Frenzied mobs have an ancient history that’s remained static through the march of civilisation. Amok, they return to the anarchy of the uncivilised. The cerebellum shrinks, the upright stance disintegrates into a crouch, the club is hefted in the hairless hand, and manic sounds emanate from quavering throats, bolstering one another’s puny angst. A mob may wrest the license to kill, unto itself. It may be absolved of the crime too, especially when the victim is not even considered a fellow citizen. But will the mobsters be able to absolve themselves of the cowardice of their act? Cowardice is an inherent element of a rampaging human mob. Individuals that comprise it would not act thus if they were not in a group, surreptitiously ignoring each other’s wrongdoing, mutually drawing courage from each other’s hubris, slyly complicit in the horror of their act.
The hanging was dastardly because the men could have left the animal alone. Prudence is a human prerogative. It was foolhardy in that the spotted one may have been an invisible vigilante protecting the fields of its murderers, from hungry hooves.
Though it’s best to stay far from a madding crowd, the buffalos seemed the saner in this instance, compared to the psychopathic dementia of the berserk humans.
I hope there is an inquest into this crime. The law of the land is clear, but do the enforcers have the will, and the teeth? 

1 comment:

Harsh Bhargava said...

Superb narration Aasheesh. With you entirely.