Death of a Salesman named Nasir


“I’ve been thinking about the patience

Of ordinary things, how clothes

Wait respectfully in closets

And soap dries quietly in the dish,

And towels drink the wet

From the skin of the back.

And the lovely repetition of stairs.

And what is more generous than a window?”

– Pat Schneider

We take ordinary things and ordinary days for granted. Like the fortune of waking up to the mystical melody of the morning azaan yet one more time. Another chance to silently watch as our mothers choose tomatoes from the vegetable vendor’s basket, as the wind-chime sings to the ticklish dance of lavender-smelling breeze and the street struggles to contain the unbearable cacophony of car horns and stray hens. Monotony is the privilege of the living. The ability to predict how our days would end, is the closest we have gotten to God. Boredom is simply a misleading word for the lack of tragedy. Everything precious is banal; like sunsets, like water, like a government job. We can never get used to the regularity of touching a lover’s skin. We can never have enough of ghazals and old photo albums, cups of freshly brewed tea, late night drives on the same roads, saying the same prayers or making love to the same person. Arun Karthick’s second feature film Nasir, screened at the Rotterdam International Film Festival earlier this year and at “We Are One” online global festival last week is a story on the specialness of ordinary things against a backdrop of a communally charged city.

Nasir understood the poetry of a prosaic living. He drifted gently in his sky of familiarity, drinking from the mundane puddles of happiness, falling for the same woman everyday a little more deeply, finding meaning in the grammar of his illegibly written destiny .He knew, not all the beautiful things are exciting, some are beautiful only for always staying the same. He ran the most insignificant errands artistically and wholeheartedly, like dropping his wife off at the bus stand or showing sarees to customers at his shop or delivering bulk orders to reckless college kids. He doesn’t think of his child with special needs or his mother with cancer as “baggage” but accepts them as family, as companionship. Attention is the language of love, caring is the consequence of it and one need not be from the majoritarian community to know how to feel.

A salesman as a protagonist in a story is almost always a metaphor for obedience, anonymity and powerlessness in the neoliberal world. They are systemically oppressed for the sadistic pleasures of their bosses and humiliated for the sake of theatrics. The line demarcating their employment from slavery is a faint blur like the luck lines on their palms. They are the pulse of the economy but deprived of the bravery awards, the clapping and clanging of utensils as a vote of thanks, neither considered honourable like the white-collared nor useful like the blue-collared. But Nasir doesn’t have the time for engaging in these difficult nihilistic questions. Or proving his patriotism to the Hindu fundamentalist fringe groups rallying outside his shop or showing papers to a government which is wary of his citizenship. He is too busy counting his debts, trying to articulate his feelings into verses, making sure the women find the sarees they deserve.

Bigotry and prejudice have always been around in India, though concealed in the private. But when the politicians manufacture an imaginary insecurity about the religion which four-fifth of the Indian population follows and the news channels incessantly peddle fake news to make genocides look justified, hatred becomes the part of your dining table conversations. The dignity of the minority is lynched every single day, their self-esteem is paraded naked and the wombs of their hopes are split open, they are asked to retribute for the sins of their ancestors and even their love for Faiz Ahmed Faiz attracts a suspicious connotation. For common men like Nasir who dream humbly and have modest expectations from life, this massive war of religion is unaffordable and intimidating. When the state is complicit in a riot against a community, your personal and political are both reduced to the two sides of a coin which has been demonetized and rendered valueless. I guess even on the political spectrum, the majority is always right. Nobody gets to be apolitical in the world no matter how hard they try. The sources of their bread and butter are dictated by politics. The birth of their still-born children and their imminent exodus are timed by politics. The morality they draw from mythological epics which interpret violence done by “us” as duty and by ”others” as war is also established by dirty politics.

Historically, the majoritarian act of lynching carried out against the defenceless minority, has always been seen as a public demonstration of the supposed moral superiority. The fulfilment of a patriarchal duty which was long due, ceremoniously orchestrated in the presence of silent witnesses who celebrate the act. A lynching is more than just murder. A murder can occur in private but a lynching needs audience. It is a public spectacle meant to demoralise a community, show it “it’s place”, terrorize it to reinforce a clear power structure. This extrajudicial trial where justice is purely based on collective consciousness, is a clear message that you have no rights in this country. That the war has begun and all the soldiers are on our side.

Eric Hoffer wrote in his book “The True Believer”, that the basic criteria for the success of any mass movement or cult is its ability to persuade people to surrender their individuality in pursuit of a ‘greater’ cause. First the individual is immersed in a group. His hopes and aspirations lose their separate meaning and coalesce into a single ambition of the cult. These individuals used to be anonymous faces in the crowd too, like Nasir. But now they are tired of their powerless selves.They instead yearn to be part of something bigger and stronger – a party, a religion, a race, a nation. Identifying with the group detaches them from reality, makes them assume the imaginary identity that the group’s leaders have skilfully created. In their sentimental and provocative speeches, the movement’s leaders ask their followers to sacrifice their hollow present selves for a heroic, utopian future. And thus these “warriors” embark upon the journey of fulfilling their God-given duties of killing hypothetical enemies, unleashing a pandemic of culturally acquired schizophrenia, preparing the ground for another partition.

In the last scene of the film, we find Nasir lying lifelessly on the road to his house, slaughtered by a blood-thirsty mob shouting “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. His dead eyes have stopped dreaming and his punctured heart oozes out unwritten couplets like pus from a wound. As his body spills blood into the loneliness and silence of a guilty, complicit night, I remember the lines from a poem he had written:

“No hold have I on life, neither any grievance

I am not a simpleton to hate it

But today

At the evening of my youth

I stand on one bank of silence.

Merciless time flows in spate

To rest in centuries

On the other bank loneliness comes down in rain

My dear friend, Nasir asks,

what else is life if not loneliness and silence?”

Bijaya Biswal is a doctor and social activist working for LGBTQIA rights in Odisha.

Twitter: @bijaya_biswal




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