Thursday, May 21, 2009

Romanticising Death

There is a certain thrill about the fantasy that we indulge in refusing to acknowledge the death of certain class of revolutionary leaders and celebrities. It is just not a sense of disbelief but a deliberate act of self deception in assigning to such persons a degree of invincibility and blow up larger than life sizes to their physical frames to convince ourselves that that they cannot be annihilated like other ordinary mortals. What do you make of LTTE supremo V.Prabhakaran’s death or alleged death, as the story goes? It was a bizarre sight of large human frame with the back of the head knocked off and the face puffed up with bulging eyes wide open. The fiery tiger seemed badly mauled. Prabhakaran is dead; long live Prabhakaran!

A senior leader from T.Nadu refused to comment because the death was unconfirmed. Television panelists discussed how the eye brow was thicker than ‘original’ Prabhakaran’s; there was no trace of a facial twitch that he always had; why was an identity card around his neck which was unlikely; this was the body of a double propped up by the Sri Lankan army. All these doubts are a theme repeated over the whole length of history. From Adolf Hitler to Subhas Chandra Bose, the world would just have you believe that they just did not die. Again, if it is not the fact of death itself, the cause of death is impressed with a sense of enigma. From Cleopatra to Marylyn Munroe or from Napoleon Bonaparte to John F.Kennedy, the world would want you believe that there were not just good enough reasons for them to die, when indeed they died.

What actually became of Hitler's body? Several theories were spread throughout 1945, after Germany's surrender, that the Soviets' found Hitler and Eva Braun's body remains after what would be thought of as a suicide and burning. Other theories indicated that Hitler escaped Berlin. Hitler's body was not found since it was semi-cremated, falsely identified and it presented no physical evidence that could be analysed. The Russians were never in a position to display the remains of Hitler's corpse, as they certainly would have done if they had taken it away as they claimed. The fact that Hitler's body had not been found created a series of beliefs that the Fuhrer had actually escaped and fled the ruined city. Stalin had announced to Truman during lunch in Potsdam on July 17, 1945, 78 days after his death, that Hitler had escaped. From this announcement began the phenomenon of Hitler spotting across the world, most notably in South America! If you spot a man with a queer moustache roaming on the mountains of Columbia or Argentina, don’t ask for his name. You know, who he could be. He has concealed his identity this long, he will not give into your curiosity by his answer.

The alleged death of Subhas Chandra Bose, the supreme commander of Azad Hind Fauz and Free India Legion in a plane crash in Taiwan on August 18, 1945, has long been the subject of dispute. Recently an Indian central commission of inquiry confirmed one popular version, that Bose's death was staged to facilitate an escape to the USSR. The then Viceroy of India, Field Marshal Archibald Wavell, is reported to have noted in his diary that "I wonder if the Japanese announcement of Subhash Chandra Bose's death in an air-crash is true. I suspect it In 1999, following a court order, the Government of India formed Mukherjee Commission of Inquiry. It was headed by Justice MK Mukherjee (Retd) of the Supreme Court of India. The commission perused hundreds of files on Bose's death drawn from several countries and also visited Japan, Russia and Taiwan. Overturning the findings of previous panels, this commission's findings were that the news of Bose's death in Taipei was a cover-up for his escape to the USSR. The Commission, however, stated that they could not confirm Bose's presence in the USSR for want of evidence. The Mukherjee Commission submitted its report to Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil on November 8, 2005. The report was tabled in the Indian Parliament on May 17, 2006. However, the Indian Government rejected the findings of the Commission.

Egypt's final queen Cleopatra lived and died in Alexandria. She was born in 69 B.C. and was a descendant of a long line of Masedonian Greek royalty. At age 18, Cleopatra inherited the throne of Egypt. After her siblings' deaths, she feared that she too would be murdered, so she courted the power of the Roman Empire. She was Julius Caesar's lover and gave birth to his son. After Caesar's sudden death, she seduced his friend Mark Antony. Why did such a powerful person commit suicide by allowing a snake to inject poison on her breast? Marylyn Munroe had the world under her feet. Her death on August 5, 1962, sparked huge controversy and, in the eyes of her fans, was never truly solved. The actress, singer and model was best known for her sex appeal and screen presence. She redefined the role of women in Hollywood and opened the door to future generations of female celebrity hopefuls. To this day, many people refuse to believe that her death was accidental, and there is much speculation over what or who truly killed her. The local coroner, who visited the scene later, said the circumstances of the death of Marilyn Monroe indicated a "possible suicide". Since then, several conspiracy theories have surfaced in the decades after her death, including some involving the Kennedy family, alleging that her death was deliberate.

We ever clamor for the black box in history. We do not need to solve all these eternal mysteries. The excitement rests in continuing to keep them as mysteries unsolved. In some essential ways we want confirmation too that we live on the same planet as did these persons who inspired or caused acute revulsion in tens of thousands of peoples. We thirst for all rumours, sans exactitudes. We want to see and fondle the myth in its entire scintillating splendor. If we truly find them back, we will have no cause to celebrate their rediscovery for it is their disappearance that gives these occurrences an aura of immortality.


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