The Witness


The Warboys of Mad Max:Fury Road are the expendable youthful army of Immortan Joe, who live only to serve him and usually die in the process. They go to their deaths willingly, even eagerly, spray painting their mouths in chrome, looking forward to their afterlives in Valhalla ( 72 virgins, anyone?). And yet as they are about to perform that last foolhardy deed of valour, they turn to a comrade and utter the at once endearing and poignant words, ‘Witness Me’. And once the said comrade in arms agrees to bear witness, the Warboy throws himself in the way of danger, firmly believing that his sacrifice will be noted and will ensure him a glittering afterlife.

It is critical to the Warboy that someone agrees to bear witness to the circumstances of his death. Otherwise, it would be like his life, unloved, uncared for and filled with suffering. This loneliness of our suffering, which is sometimes our doing, sometimes an inexplicable​ act of Providence is rendered more painful because there is no one to bear witness. The inky blue well of my post partum depression was the single most lonely time of my life; so when prisoners talk of the horrors of a solitary confinement, it seems all too familiar to me. Robin Williams taking his own life was so incomprehensible, ‘didn’t he know how many millions there were that loved him?’, we asked, bewildered. So locked tight he must have been in the intensity of his pain, so alone and witnessless. Maybe he didn’t know how loved he was. A friend once told of her best friend who would put off his plans of taking his life only because, fatefully, as he was meticulously planning his death, she’d have said something kind, reached out and held him back and she never knew, until one day when she wasn’t there to hold him back.

The Buddhists have a neat theory of human lives, that suffering and death are the only givens : Shit Happens and Then You Die. But the greatest Buddhist of them all, Siddhartha, the first one, didn’t wait for suffering come, he went looking for it. And there under the Bo Tree he sat, alone, determined to find enlightenment from the Samsara of suffering, when the demons came calling. The demons danced a deadly dance around Siddhartha. Their names were squalor and filth, sickness and old age, death and anonymity, pain and fear. And yet they weren’t able shake Siddhartha from his reverie. Then Mara, the king of demons came marching with his comely daughters, temptation and lust and ten thousand other nameless beasts, and he spake, ‘I now claim the Throne of Enlightenment, who bears witness to my Kingship?’ Ten thousand demons shrieked in reply , ‘We do!’

‘Princeling!’, Mara then challenged Siddhartha mockingly, ‘Who is your witness ?’ Siddhartha reached down with his right hand and touched the earth below him. It is said that Bhoomidevi herself rose and roared , I BEAR WITNESS! And then there was nothing stopping Sidhdhartha from becoming Buddha, the Enlightened.

The Bhoomisparsh Mudra of Buddha not only signifies the defeat of Mara and Buddha’s enlightenment, but lest we forget, that the Earth below our feet is ever witness to our lives, less significant though they maybe than the Buddha’s. But she is impartial and she never fails us. My mother used to say, that children below five nearly never get seriously injured while learning to walk and run and play, because Bhoomadevi Taayaar ( Mother Earth) takes over when the mother can’t be around. Holding us, supporting us, containing us, feeding us, taking our shit, protecting us and when we are tired and ready to go, enveloping us lovingly as she did Sita in the end.

This painting in colour pencils is my 16 year old daughter’s this year’s birthday card to me, knowing how much I love this story. These handmade birthday cards are something I am very very insistent on. I warn them weeks ahead that they better get cracking and not make any excuses. They usually rise well to the challenge and always manage to move me to tears.
These freeze-frame moments are my way of bearing witness to their growing.

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