Our beloved K.P.Sasi is no more. Filmmaker, cartoonist, writer, mentor, friend and above all tireless activist championing the cause of every underdog, Sasi breathed his last, mid-afternoon this Christmas day – after battling a medical condition for months.
I remember the last time I met him, almost exactly a month before he passed away, at the ayurvedic healing center in Trichur he was laid up in. I was aghast as I walked into the otherwise airy, well-lit room. What I saw in front of me was nothing like the Sasi I had known for over three decades. Slumped on his hospital bed, leaning weakly against a pillow, with sunken eyes and voice reduced to a whisper.
He was recognizable only by the fact that, even in this dire condition, all he wanted to talk about was the state of the world and nothing about himself.
“Boss, I have been waiting to discuss with you about what we should do to make sure that Hindutva fascism is defeated in the 2024 elections!”
That was the quintessential Sasi – always concerned about someone else’s problem, somewhere far away.
“Sasi, you have no empathy for your enemies. After what you have done to yourself there is nothing left for them to do anymore” I said. His body was wracked with pain and his breathing labored but his eyes managed a quick twinkle, the cartoonist in him appreciating the twisted humour.
I knew of course that someone like Sasi could not have had enemies at all, anywhere. Even in the most heated and passionate campaigns, whether it be against the authoritarian state, a greedy corporate house or a group of evil individuals – Sasi never had a harsh personal word for anyone. He simply did not have the time or energy for any form of hatred, valuable resources he would rather invest in something more joyous. It was always the issues that agitated him – not the biped mammals that personified them.
Attempts to insult him were also futile as the barbs sailed through, more likely to injure a passing stranger, than his own transparent self. Yes, he was one of India’s earliest documentary filmmakers, associated with a wide range of social movements across the country, a cartoonist of good repute, had an ardent fan following among young people – but he never took himself very seriously. In his own mind he did not exist at all.
Having disposed of the ego, something many lesser beings typically struggle with, Sasi was left free to do what he loved the most. Take up the cause of the Wretched of the Earth – Adivasis, fisherfolk, sexuality minorities, victims of environmental crimes, targets of communalism.
Film was his chosen medium to highlight the issues of all these groups and he was prolific in his output – with over 21 films in over three and half decades – mostly documentaries but including several feature films too. The themes he focused on ranged from the dangers of nuclear power and big dams to pogroms against religious minorities and discrimination against people living with HIV.
And while Sasi’s films got their fair share of recognition at film festivals and through various awards their real purpose for him was always very clear – to bring justice to those whose stories he documented as a filmmaker. So, every film would be followed up with dozens of screenings, in the remotest of places and even to the smallest of audiences that were interested.
This would be accompanied by continuous lobbying with the powers-that-be to change policies, getting the mainstream media to report on the issues involved and mobilising fellow artists and friends to join the battle. The film, for Sasi, was never an end-product to be merely marketed but almost a battering ram used to open doors for those who were too weak to do it themselves.
His music videos ‘America, America’ – a biting satire on the US invasion of Iraq and ‘ Gaon Chodab Nahi’ – an evocative ballad against the ravages of industrial and urban ‘development’ – showed how political critique could be both popular and great fun, without diluting serious content. The term ‘music video’ here is a bit misleading, as the fact is, all of Sasi’s films were videos full of music, always imbued with a great sense of rhythm – Sasi being a part-musician himself and a connoisseur of fine melodies.
As a cartoonist Sasi was equally productive. Over the years he drew and published hundreds of powerful images lampooning the blind devotees of the free market, against communal hatred, on public health and revealing the plight of India’s indigenous populations.
He wrote in both Malayalam and English – the latter usually published by www.countercurrents.org, where he was an advisor and associate editor. In the occasional poems he penned the choice of words was fresh and full of surprises, like the starlit night sky on the terrace of his one room apartment in Bangalore, after a few drinks.
Sasi’s creative talents, though impressive, happen to be only a small part of what he represented. What he exemplified so well was the potential of humans – who are otherwise just clever, predatory creatures – to admit their own privileges, recognize the pain of others and make the only moral choice this leads to – selflessly work to solve the problems of the world out there.
Sasi was truly unique, in that he did not have a single, selfish bone in his body. Someone with zero sense of self-preservation or even any notion of self itself. He was a saint – albeit, a communist one – who had merged his corporeal existence with the sorrows and joys of the world outside long ago. An ardent practitioner of Advaita non-dualism, though in constant search of a good duel on behalf of the weak and vulnerable.
There was a price he paid for such spirituality – the neglect of his own body over the decades – which was surely one reason he has left us all so early. However, if Sasi were to be asked if he would have lived differently given another chance, I am sure the answer would have been in the negative. For he did live fully and departed with no personal regrets of any kind. Besides, if he had been more cautious about himself he would not have been the Sasi we all grew to love so much either.
Yes, for those who knew him the loss is irreparable and many will always live with the regret of not spending more time with him, not helping him to look after himself better, not replying to some of his missed calls or often losing patience with his obstinate ways. And yet, many of us will also smile because we know – wherever Sasi’s mischievous, dissident soul is now – it will continue to stay hungry, stay foolish and perpetually restless, as long as injustice remains anywhere in the Universe.
Someone should seriously warn God and all His avatars, about the explosive package that has just landed at His doorstep for Christmas.
Satya Sagar is a journalist and public health worker who can be reached at email@example.com