Gigi Scaria

Writings

City Witness (Performed at Pavia University, Italy,2002)

I am a journalist and photographer from India. I have started my career as a photographer in 1991.I hold a diploma in photography from the school of art in Cochin which is in the southern part of India. Journalism was of course not my profession but I started to be involved in it at the same time as I was seriously observing the politics. But I do consider myself as photographer rather than a journalist. Today I am here to share one of my breath taking experiences that happened near about six months back in Delhi, the city where I live. It was in May 2002 one night after a long day of work I was walking back to my home. I was living a bit away from the city centre. The bus dropped me off quiet close to my house. But sometimes I prefer to walk a bit so I got off two stops before my house. In such a walk I tend to fall into long conversations to with myself or think about some photographic inventions. That day my thoughts were revolving around the perception of reality and an ideal photographic work. I was seriously thinking about how the camera squares the vision and how can one go beyond the technical territories of a photographic land .Suddenly I remembered a” photographic accident” taken by somebody in England who captured the sight of a man committing suicide from the 25th floor of his apartment. He was falling down when the photographer clicked his shot. The photograph shows his face with amazing clarity though one of his hands was covering the upper portion of his head. When you see the photograph you can never imagine how he fixed that particular angle .I think it has something to do with unpredicted /accidental circumstances where the photographer might have had a long lonely walk on his way back to home. The expression of the person committing suicide shows a phase in-between life and death which in a normal case the mechanic process of a camera would never be able to arrest.

I was approaching the dark portion of my locality. In last two weeks the area did not have the street light on the road. In one side there is a long wall separating the road from the public park. The other side is filled with shops and narrow gallies in between. At 1 o’clock at night the street was completely deserted. Suddenly I heard a screaming sound some where from the other side of the wall. The voice was sharp and louder as if somebody is going through an intense physical agony. I slow down my speed and sharpened my ears. There was complete silence. After two minutes when I picked up my normal speed I heard that sound once again. This time it was horrible. A cold wave passed through my vain which of course froze my movements. I looked around; there was not a single living creature around me. I was trying to locate the source of the sound. Then I heard the sound again as if from a dead soul. Then I could make out the sound was coming from somewhere in the corner of the park. I ran as fast as I could and got inside the park and looked around. I could see some shadow movements in the right side corner of the park. Because of the trees around I couldn’t make out what is happening there. I slowly walked towards the shadow hiding myself behind the trees. I saw a group of people attacking a man who was standing in the middle. He was trying to resist with his hands and unable to make any improvement on his position. Here I am afraid whether I will be able to continue my detailed description of what I was witnessed. Because I have never seen not even in Bollywood movies a man is treated by a gang such brutally. They hit him, stabbed him, they tore his body from top to bottom with a sharp knife .His one eye was almost coming out. He screamed one more time after I approached them. While all that was happening he was kept tightly under the arms of two strong men. After some time when they released their hands he collapsed on the ground. This horrible experience of a murder happening in front of me created a vacuum in my mind. I was stuck behind a tree with an abandoned existence. But that was not over, the most disgusting thing happened latter. I thought when he collapsed on the ground they will run away from there. But on contrary to that they stayed there for long time and continued their brutal exercise on the dead body as if his mistakes were unforgettable and their rage will never come down. They didn’t even bother their surroundings. I felt as if they were enjoying each and every moment of their killing act and ultimately experiencing a kind of aesthetic pleasure out of it. They left the place after a long time without any hurry. I came forward from my hiding place. I opened my camera kit and approached the body with intense agony and guilt. I was almost in the verge of crying. I was unable to utter a single word against what had happened in front of me. A sense of responsibility as a photographer woke me up to the reality. I started taking pictures of the dead man from all the possible angles I could.

I observed his face to figure out who was he. He had a bulge on his left side of his forehead. That was an identification mark of him. Even though his face was completely ruined by the smashes I could make out that he was above forty. An average size body showed a middle class appearance. His left eye was bulged out of his eye hole. His blood started clotting all over his body. I was trying to trace his face in my memory. Have I ever seen him anywhere in this big city? No, never in my life. I found him with intense pain and latter dead, such a bad fate of a man.

While sitting in the restaurant and waiting for a coffee I was once again going through the horrible event I witnessed last night. I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. After reporting the incident to one of the editors in the desk I gave my film to select the photograph. I was very sure that they will put this news in the front page because of my detailed description of it. I was insisting up on the fact that even after they knew the man is dead they continued their brutal activity for more than fifteen minutes; surely that makes this massacre more different than the usual murders. The way the murderers behaved made me think about strong system or people backing them for this particular operation. In my statement I was pointing out so many facts which could give light on the reasons behind this particular incident.

I felt a kind of heaviness inside me .Early in the morning I went out and started to walk aimlessly. The city woke up into the hot murder story along with the colour photographs in front of the leading newspapers. I bought two or three different newspapers from a newspaper boy. I walked a long way through one of the crowded street. In the evening I suddenly realised that I have not eaten anything since the morning. That is how I ended up this place, a restaurant in the corner of the street. The restaurant was not that crowded. There were six or seven people sitting here and there chatting in low voice. I was sitting in the corner of the cafe looking at my photograph again. When I turned my eyes from the newspaper I felt that somebody was watching me from a distance. It was from the right side of the table from the other corner a man was observing me in silence. When we had a gazed on each other I could hardly believe my eyes. I looked again to the newspaper. He resembled too much the unfortunate man that died last night. Is he the twin brother of the died one or a close relative? He was quiet pleasant in his appearance and did not at all look gloomy. Rather he was almost in the verge of smiling at me showing that he was interested to talk to me. While I was looking back to the photograph again he stood from the chair and approached me. He asked my permission to sit opposite my table and introduced himself as Rohit Aggarwal.I said my name as well. I was looking at him with a face full of questions. Before he said anything, pointing my finger on the photograph I asked him; do you know this man? Is he somebody you have kinship with?

Yes, I know this man; he said with a slight smile on his lips.

What do you know about him? Who was he? I have become more curious.

But what is your interest in this case ? Without answering my question he asked.
I witnessed this murder and I took this photograph which you see in this newspaper. Now you can understand my interest in it.

Yes, I know this man; he became serious. I can understand your feeling if you have witnessed this brutal incident. But why do you think this particular murder created such a sensation in the city. He was looking at me as if my answer was so important to carry his conversation further. I didn’t have to think twice to answer his question. This crime created a wide spread discussion because of it’s’ brutality. Even after he died, the group continued their humiliation on his body more than 15 minutes. I think that is quiet unusual and therefore sensational as well. Yes, you have got the point, that is exactly what it is.

I felt as if he was assessing my intelligence and marking my grade like a school teacher.
I became more curious and even suspicious about this man who is sitting in front of me. Especially since he looked like the dead one.

You said you know him .You didn’t tell me who he was. I insisted up on the first question again. It is not important for you to know who he was, he said. But it is very important to know how he was killed. For example if he was stabbed by someone in the corner of a little street, you would not have known to his death forever. Am I right? He said it with a strange expression. He was right, if I had not heard that wild scream I would not have gone to that place to find out what it is. But what a strange way of eliminating people. The human psyche works in absolutely unpredictable ways.

You are right Rohit; I couldn’t believe it even though it happened in front of me. But what do you think of such a strange way of killing. Can we really find the reason for such a barbaric act? If killing was the only purpose because of some personal reasons why this is is performed with all this sadistic parody?

My strange friend had slight smile on his face.
How long you have been working in this newspaper? He asked.

I changed my profession twice, but the last seven years I have been working as a photographer and news reporter. Do you remember any of the strange incidents or crime happened in the last seven years which still comes in your mind?

Do you mean some horrible crime stories from the last few years?
Exactly.

I think I do remember a lot from that category. For example do you remember a strange murder story about a lady doctor and her lover which happened two years back? She killed her boy friend and cut his body in pieces. Then packed him in a box and put it in her car boot. She had travelled all over the city to find a suitable place where she could throw this pack. What a journey of a romantic tragedy! When police caught her with her packet, they found it surprising how skilful she was in her profession that the way she cut her boy friend’s body without dripping a single drop of blood. While narrating this incident I was observing my friend, who was thrilled by the reference. His expression showed that he was expecting this incident at any case. Then I remembered another one about a group of children who killed a one year old boy, throwing him in the drainage in a narrow street in Bombay. They were playing in the street in the afternoon. All of them were less than ten years old. One of the boys went inside his home and brought his one year old brother. All of them agreed to his idea to put him into the drainage. Another strange thing happened in a village close to Delhi where one Dalit (lower cast) woman was forced to walk through out her village without a single cloth on. She had to do this as a punishment because of her brother, who left the village with an upper class girl whom he was in love .Some incidents are so unbelievable, I even wonder that such thing can happen even in this century. Yes, that is the whole point of it. He replied. You even get confused with the dates and events. Some of these incidents are strongly reflect to a past which we all consider as dark and blurred. But you see, people enjoy such stories all the time no matter whether it is from 16th century or 21st century .Am I right?

What do you mean by enjoyment? I was wondering whether our conversation was taking a different turn. I mean, a kind of sensation or pleasure an unusual incident or story can contribute something new to bring to ones own boring day today affairs. He explained.

Do you mean that all these horrible incidents happening in our daily life could give aesthetic enjoyment to the one who read it? Exactly, but you know that such events are not that easy to happens in our daily lifeā€¦,while saying this he put his right hand in his pocket and took out something and put it on the table then said therefore we have to create them.

I looked at the table, repelled by the sight of it and asked, what is it?
I couldn’t believe my eyes. In front of me on the table was a body part which I saw as an identification mark on the dead man’s forehead, a bulge. It looked like real skin.

Watching my expression Rohit Agarwall laughed at me and said you were asking me the details of the man who died in front of you. I can tell you each and every moment of his life in detail. That is me!

I was shocked and completely collapsed by this terrible truth. Was all that I witnessed last night a performance? All that suffering and pain was a deliberate creation? I was forcing myself to believe but could not digest the idea. You mean that you were the one who died in front of me? Did you see me when I took the photographs?

Yes, he said. I was watching you since you got inside the park and hiding behind the tree. Then you came out with a dead face. When you took the photographs your hands were shivering, am I right? So what was that all for? To make me a fool? For what reason’? I tried to suppress my anger. I had never been in such a difficult situation in my life before.

He could understand my feeling at that moment, with an artificial coolness in his tone he said, that is what I told you before, to create a real incident. All that you see in front of you was created by us, a group who dedicated their work and creativity for the millions who live in the cities. We are in an organization who works for creating sensational news and events. My head was filled with questions. What kind of organization is this? Just to begin with I asked, what is the purpose of this organization?

Rohit Aggarwal kept silent for a moment then said. Life is filled with the boredom of day to day routines. To get out of it, one needs events. In this time a story or a novel fails to satisfy the need of the contemporary psyche. So, one looks for real incidents. Our work begins with this super realistic approach of sensational stories.

How do you decide the events and who decided It.?
Though it is a very important question I am not supposed to disclose all what is behind our operation. One thing I can tell you that the decision of an incident could be a collective one or an individual one. Then we evaluate those ideas to see how different it is from the normal crime stories. Then we do a little research on how to materialise it. That of course is a real challenge when you demand super perfection. For example in this case we have been observing you for a while to set up the event close to you. All that was happening from your side was absolutely natural as we expected. So we consider this as a very successful one.

How do you choose people for it? What was the reason to involve me in it?

For the simple reason that you work in a newspaper and you are a good photographer as well. In some cases we have to become a reporter or a photographer. In this case you did everything for us. Choosing people is not a big deal. We never appoint anybody for anything. We work through the situations and find our people in that process like the way we found you. I was very curious to know how big this organisation was. Does it only work in Delhi? Since how long has this been working like this? I can’t tell you exactly when it is started. But I can tell you that the entire incident you remembered from the past was created by this organization. Then with a smile he said don’t think that this is a small group based only in Delhi. We have our network all over the world.

For example I can tell you some stories we have created recently in Italy.
(Then he gave some examples of their perfect operations in Italy. I made a little research about these stories and collected some materials when I reached here.) One was about a 16 year old girl and her boyfriend that killed her mother and brother. He said that it worked at a better level than they imagined. Because they could even create more layers on the surface of the first story. The girl accused the boy after they did the murder. Where as the boy told to the police, she told him that if he loves her, hit her mother. Such internal complexities sometimes appear as natural outcomes of the first created incident.

In another case, which happened in 1996, some young people started throwing stones from one bridge on the road to kill people. This has also been done very successfully. The news appeared in the front page of all the newspapers in Italy. One of the most interesting events created in Italy was in 1994.This was created with a long term collaborations and a lot of networking. This was about a white car which has become a vehicle of murder .Rohit said few of this incident they really created and rest of the stories were collected and edited by the famous reporters to support the incidents. Then later they gave a twist to the story when they declared that the gang leader of the murder was a police officer. This has long been a sensational thriller for the people.

With all my amusement and still quiet a lot of confusion I asked him my last question. What if I write all these conversations in the paper and reveal the truth? With glittering eyes Rohit replied, if you write anything what we have discussed here that will become another sensational story for us. Of course you will get the full credit for it. Do it.

He looked at the watch and said he had an appointment with somebody.
I asked him, what is the sensational news tomorrow?

Wait until the morning and get the newspaper, he smiled.

Paintings