A country transforming itself, from a slow moving socialist to a fast breeder capitalist, needs new myths. The old myth that sustained a generation was provided by Bollywood. It was the myth of Mother India, it was the myth of Deewar, where an aspiring but criminal Amitabh Bachchan is put in place by Shashi Kapoor exclaiming, “Mere paas Maa hai.” The mother was the socialist repository of care, kindness and sacrifice.
The mother was morality incarnate. In moments of transition, one can have the fallen woman as vamp, or the vamp can be revved up as the “item girl”. The item girl hardly serves the plot, she titillates but never threatens the normative frame. The item girl is only a punctuation mark, an interim oscillation in the iconography of feminity centering around the mother. The mother kept family and nation together, which is what India was about.
However, when the idea of India changes, when we move from justice and sacrifice to mobility and aspiration, we need a different frame. Iconography is complemented by demonology as motherhood changes. Bollywood gives way to television as it places orchestrator and commentator. We need a serial where event is built layer on layer, rather than a blockbuster epic.
When the image of the mother changes or is threatened, India is transformed. Beyond the sheer voyeurism of the scandal, the Indrani Mukerjea episode is a part of this new demonology of the mother. Remember, even demons are constructed grammatically as feat and contempt have to have a logic. The behaviour must make sense in terms of origins and plot and the media performed overtime to create it. It was not that the life of Indrani was not sordid. Once you create a life like that, it has to be followed by a life sentence. She has to be guilty according to the media.
Indrani represents the new India. She is the aspiring mother. She cannot be from the metro because that could smack of old elite. She has to be a small-town girl born in an innocuous family. But such a family has to have one bit of sordid history. As a little girl, Indrani suffers child abuse, she tries to run away with the driver but is caught.
For an ambitious woman from an innocuous family, Guwahati must be an absolute threat to her dreams of empire. Marriage becomes a means of escape and body a tool of exit. Enter husband one, with whom she has two children, a boy and girl. But this marriage has no magic, so she dumps them as baggage and moves to the big city. Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi have possibilities little Guwahati never had. When ambition globalises, the small town is a launch pad, a compost heap for ambitions which can only flower in a large metropolis. The mother yields to the vamp, the siren and the vixen as she moves to the metropolis.
Kolkata is first and Sanjeev Khanna as husband number two is accommodating. He is accomplice and peer. She leaves her children behind as she heads for the frontier, learns the ropes of the city, and then dumps Khanna. Khanna is a mere thought experiment. She now needs someone real and powerful who suits her ambitions. The power of Indrani is that she is not a Lady Macbeth who has “to screw her courage to the sticking place to commit murder”. For Indrani murder is a reflex act. She meets Peter and Peter becomes text, pretext and context for her games.
She has two small problems. Her children have grown older. They smell the possibilities of the big town. She is forced to bring them in, but Sheena has to play sister rather than daughter. A daughter at this stage would be an encumbrance. Indrani is the perfect aspirational woman, more Mata Hari than mata. She signals to the new hopeful that motherhood should not be a handicap. It cannot weigh you down. Worse, if you have a son like Mikhail, it is best to send him back to Guwahati. He has no sense of fang and claw, of the Darwinian world of Mumbai where the fittest survive and the piranhas and barracudas succeed. Mikhail, only the name speaks of romance and aspiration, returns a wimp to Guwahati to complain, gripe and yet be supported enough to ensure complicity and silence. Mikhail the mouse roars three years after Sheena’s murder, years during which he sought her support.
Somehow the men in Indrani’s life, for all her carnality, are passive. Mikhail is cowardly, Peter is absent minded, the second husband Khanna claims to be asleep in the car, while Indrani murders her daughter; Rahul, Peter’s son, files a complaint and waits patiently. Between greed, indifference, passiveness and absent-mindedness one understands complicity in crime and murder, of how spectators minimise involvement to facilitate a crime. This is the real power of the fable, that through our weaknesses we all get implicated in crime. The stories that each of the men tell makes you realise that they are drones, while the queen bee builds her hive of connivance and conspiracy. A powerful woman, who is not yet a matriarch, dominates society, twisting men to her needs and requirements.
The presentations of the tale by the media is like an Ekta Kapoor serial. Only there are more layers to it.
There is murder, incest, connivance, eerie displays of innocence and, as the tale unfolds, one realises that the victim fades. Sheena Bora exists but as an almost forgotten fragment. Even when she disappeared her friends wondered about her, afraid to confront the family. Ironically, the media script shows that power corrupts but that weakness also corrupts absolutely.
The Indian media is in an ambiguous role here. They feel that this is a sordid story and as a sordid woman, condemns herself. They watch her as a spectacle and treat Indrani as one. The media pats itself claiming Indrani stands condemned. The media’s exposure leaves her with no right to innocence or due process as even the police joyfully join the enthusiasm on TV.
Yet even the media is a part of a social script. It realises that the power of the Indrani story reduces even commentators to mere players. As a myth, as demonology evolves, the myth takes over — it does not matter if this is not the real Indrani. A new Indrani has been invented and between mass and the media, a new myth, a new metaphor has been launched for a new society which worships mobility, aspiration and success without any sense of cost. Oddly and ironically, Indrani has transcended us even in the moment of storytelling.