Chronicles

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Judas Gospel

“The Emergency” in India refers to a 21 month period in 1975-77 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi unilaterally had a state of emergency declared across the country. Most of Gandhi’s political opponents were imprisoned and the press was censored. Several atrocities using the police force were reported from the time. The Emergency was one of the most controversial periods of independent India’s history. 

K.R. Meera's Judas’ Gospel (Malayalam: Yudasinte Suvisesham) is a fiction exploring the period‘s aftermath through the eyes of victims and perpetrators of state brutality unleashed on rebels who were inspired by idealism and the romance of resistance.

The shock and awe of the violence have faded from public space and the memory of it evokes nothing more than jejune indifference. The novel describes with a lot of heart how those bright and sensitive idealists were crushed under the boots of state machinery wherein the hunter, prey, the writer and the reader hurtle toward a shared experience when we read Gospel of Judas. It unravels the heart breaking cries and nightmares of a generation.

The novel follows P.U. Das aka ‘Croc’ Yudas and Prema. Das is a former Naxalite/Rebel and Prema is the daughter of a cop notorious for his proclivity for torture. When at the end of torture Das’ ribcage is broken, he gives up names of his fellow comrades which included his lover and a dear friend. Having survived the ordeal but distraught at the loss of his pride as a revolutionary, Das rechristens himself to be ‘Crocodile Yudas’. He spends the rest of his life in ignominy and shame for being a traitor to his cause and friends. He becomes an expert at recovering corpses from deep waters.

Prema was a five year old during the Emergency. Her relationship to the torture camp and revolution were established by her binge drinking father’s proud description of his colleagues’ brutalities at the camp and the he way submits own family to domestic terror. Prema recognized that Das whose overgrown beard and hair resembled Jesus Christ, carried the sin of the world for its redemption and she follows him. Das would leave her at each juncture. Every journey that she undertook revealed more details and insights about the uncertain and dangerous time.

Prema meets the head of the Camp, ‘Beast’ Parameswaran who became all alone in old age having witnessed the dissolution of his own family when in the end he saw himself as mere conduit of time’s justice. In the middle of meeting, the beast cries out when Prema has a little cut from the chipped coffee cup. He considers himself as nothing more than an insignificant cog in the wheel of power or a tool in time’s box. If he were to join the force again, he might do the same. In his late sagacity, he recognizes and accepts his destiny. Das later talks empathetically about his tormentors who took great care while hammering steel pins under his fingernails. The hunter and the hunted look back at their shared history circumspect over their roles and destinies.

The author draws a nuanced picture of state oppression and the actors – victims and assailants lurking in the aisles filled with bloodshed and scream. The field of blood (Aceldama) is drenched not by the traitor Judas’ blood, but the tears of empathy for fellow beings who go on living unaffected by the injustice and atrocities as long as they are not subjected to it. Gospel of Judas is relentlessly focused on the theme and the experience leaves the reader with a heavy heart.

Similar stories are reenacted somewhere in the world every day – not only in Africa, Latin America, China and other Asian countries ruled by military, even in nations advertised as the best examples of developed democracies. You can find a Kakkayam camp in Guantanamo or or similar camps in client countries. In the novel Prema reflects on Madam Roland’s famous quote – Oh! Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name.

Gospel of Judas is a very important and relevant novel in our times. To quote from the book “It is import to raise questions – more than winning or losing a fight. The idealists fought a losing battle. We were naïve and inexperienced. We took arms, hoping to liberate the world overnight. Sometime in future we will open the eyes of people. But as Prema says it is more important to be alive”.

Yudasinte Suvisesham - Malayalam short Fiction by K.R. Meera