By Sunil Sharma
It was decided.
The Madman was to be neutralised before he became a popular prophet.
“Take him down!” the chief secretary gave the oral order. “Leave no trace!”
“How?” the deputy asked.
“Cops in the civil dress. Mid-night arrest. Unmarked cars.”
The deputy replied, “Consider it done, boss!”
The senior bureaucrat breathed easy.
His mind went back to the afternoon summons to the offices of the dreaded MOT (Ministry of Objective Truth).
The Minister was furious: “Why does the Madman roam free in our dear republic?”
“Sir, we are working in that direction. Trying to find incriminating evidence. Except few diaries and books, nothing on him. He is an ineffective nut, dreaming of equal system of governance. Talks of ideal worlds! Harmless!”
“I know, I know all that. Those ideals are impossible in our old democracy! But our beloved King feels the man is a threat,” the minister grunted. “He is inciting the public. You know the consequences of turning people against our beloved King of the republic.”
“Remember our motto as determined by our beloved King?”
“What is that?” the Minister asked.
“Words are the real danger.”
The chief secretary smiled.
“Look at this video carefully,” the Minister said. “Subversion, open and loud! Challenging us!!”
The video showed a bearded man in old clothes shouting to a small crowd:
“Change-change!” the crowd chanted lustily.
The Madman looked up and shouted: “The days change. Evenings change. Why not they and you?”
“Yes. Change-change! Bring them on. Change-change, change them all,” the public shouted spiritedly, as the nut paced up and down an area circled with a red chalk; stopping, walking, talking to invisible beings within that marked spot.
The crowd listened eagerly to the dishevelled figure, increasing in size.
The Madman paused for long and then resumed in a hoarse voice: “Fools! All! Listen! to the drum beats, the roll of thunder and crashing seas! Roll on thunder! Cleave the sky and forest, bring in the new! Fools! All!”
“Fools! All!” the crowd repeated faithfully. “Change! All! Don’t fight shy!”
It was a spontaneous chorus provided by the onlookers, mostly idlers and the young unemployed.
Vaudeville staged freely in the public garden.
“This will come to a pass. This, too, will change fast. Despair not! Come forward!” The Madman continued.
Then the principal actor yelled dramatically: “Things change. This will change. Un-fix. Re-fix. Fix. Fix.”
The audience clapped and echoed the lines: “Fix, re-fix, fix, fix!”
“Iron gates get rusted and fall away in the gales…stone walls crumble. Hark! The shattered visage of Ozymandias rots in the vastness of the desert, mocking others of his tribe. Fix, re-fix. The march is on! Come on. Come on!”
The people laughed and repeated the last words of the Madman.
“My God! He is a like poison.” The secretary confirmed. “It is sedition, pure and unalloyed! More lethal than the missiles stored in our secret facility!”
“Shh! Shh!” cautioned the minister. “The Foreign agencies have eyes everywhere! There are no nuclear warheads in our dear and peace-loving republic!”
The chief secretary immediately corrected: “Oh! there are no missiles. The King loves peace!”
The Minister continued: “This man here in the video! He pretends to be mad. He is a dissident and needs to be punished for his outrageous comments against dear leader, our king.” The Minister’s eyes darted upward towards the ceiling.
“Yes Sir. He will be fixed tonight! He is a threat! A spy of the enemies of the republic, our beloved king.”
As directed, the cops arrested the man sitting on the pavement, staring into the sky, a street dog at his feet.
“Again?” He asked the cops. “Mad? Troubling a homeless man who has not committed any crime? Better go after the robbers in suits sitting in the palace.”
“We are here to take you home, real home, dear sir,” the inspector said. “Away from this world. Be the guest of our great republic. A tiny dark cell is now your new home.”
“All the world is my home, fools!” the man laughed. “You can imprison my body, not mind. You can jail the writer by declaring him mad, a threat but cannot imprison his words in the stone walls! Words tend to escape and fly even the maximum-security jails.”
The inspector smiled: “We will see this time.”
The Madman picked up his tattered bag and said goodbye to the dog that tamely followed the speeding vans.
The new prisoner was lodged in an isolated cell.
A team monitored his behaviour.
In the dungeon, he talked to the walls or slept on the hard floor.
Once he was heard talking to the air: “Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are. Brecht was right. These fools will never understand! Status quo! It will unravel. Brecht, the Great!”
The inspector reported to the chief secretary: “Eureka! He talks about another collaborator Brecht. Who can be this dark conspirator?”
The chief secretary had never heard the name but did not show. He asked the go-to person, the famed MK (Memory Keeper) — the sole custodian of names, dates and archives– the top-secret vaults of the state secret. All significant names from history and arts, philosophy and political science were erased carefully– names of critical thinkers; revolutionaries and radical writers and artists by the king via this super secretive body but archived for future references by the king and his core council only.
These archives were guarded by the MK and his team of young and dedicated sleuths who pored over texts and documents and eliminated anything remotely radical, out-of-box thinking or quotes or essays or books from the records in a methodical way.
Only the name of the King was allowed to be inscribed in records, new histories, books, syllabi and other state data, all created diligently by the scribes. king as a seer! His edicts were cast in stone.
Only thing allowed: Daily chants of his name and party by the people—social media and public spaces, supervised by the MOT and the IT (Information Technology) Cells.
The King is the Truth! The Truth is the King!
That was the official motto.
The Memory Keeper smiled. “Brecht! Forget him. No threat in a de-radicalised democracy. Mere vintage! Already forgotten globally by the youth and middle class!”
They all heaved a sigh of relief: One man less to locate and interrogate!
Somehow, the news of Madman’s disappearance spread.
The Madman Arrested and Tortured! The global media screamed religiously for days.
The news mobilised the intellectuals and influencers. Wildfire-like, it further spread. People were enraged and protested against the arbitrary nature of power.
#Free the Voice of People# Free the Madman.
The movement spread.
Amnesty Association, Union of Countries – all joined the movements across world capitals.
People took out candle marches, held rallies, organised sit-ins.
Media covered each such meeting at the public squares.
The King finally intervened.
He asked his Council to release the Madman.
And told the Plan to silence this gadfly.
The Madman was back to his bench and the famous Circles of Chalk.
People rushed to welcome him in the streets.
The Madman again prophesied: “Beware of the seasons! Spring coming! Winter is over!”
The public again followed him and listened to his predictions: “Today autumn; tomorrow spring! You cannot imprison the gales and winds! Down, down, the bridge and the old castle. Here comes the Spring!”
The crowds shouted this as the latest mantra.
His popularity surged.
Dubbed as The Mad Philosopher for the Mad Age, his fan following grew in millions, over the months.
The Plan was activated: Declare him heretic. Against God. Against nation. Against heritage.
A systematic campaign was created on social media.
The Madman hates his country!
The Madman hates God.
The Madman hates his country, its language and culture.
He is the Enemy of the State.
Must be killed!
Doctored videos circulated.
He was shown laughing at the old gods of the land, ridiculing the language, culture and religious texts of the country, eating things that were not sanctioned or, wearing wrong clothes or, mixing with “Other”.
It inflamed the passions of the young and the disaffected.
The impression was carefully crafted: The Madman is not a Patriot! Anti-order. Messenger of chaos!
The IT cells of the MOT went into overdrive.
“Hatred and misinformation, once sown, do their destruction,” MOT was told by its zealous minister.
“People can be easily divided,” he briefed the team, “by the notions of skin colour, accent, ethnicity, food, clothing, gods, regions, sex. The Controllers should know how to play the game and create disaffection among the public.”
The Controllers understood. The most crucial office: Controllers of Thoughts, they decided to release what constituted as the sole and objective Truth.
The Minister was specific: “Lies are truths in post-modern democracies. Sow the discord! Fictions are facts.”
A hysteria was manufactured.
Madman, the Devil!
Army of hate mongers helped.
Soon, blinded by anger and hatred, a young man, radicalised by the constant rhetoric, attacked the Madman in the public garden with a sharp knife. The man lay bleeding on the road.
People took pictures.
His dying words, “Fools! You can kill me, not my words! I will return in a changed form. My spilled blood will become words. Words take wings. You will never be able to trace and kill the winged words! I will outlive killers.”
The authorities deployed old strategies of annihilating fatal words by organising complete bans, issuing edicts; via censors, book burnings, cancelations of commemorative events; even through the sponsored murders of key followers and sympathisers of the nut becoming a prophet and rallying centre for the large populations of the world; by systematic stamping out references to the Madman, a total erasure.
“Like cutting the heads of the hydra!” the chief secretary complained.
More the mandarins tried, more they failed.
His image and words appeared in some other form or place.
Even an underground flourished in his name.
The King ordered them not to stop in their sole and most important enterprise of removing the Madman from memory and history of the national consciousness.
He was officially declared as mad subversive who misled the gullible public and any mention of him invited the penalty of death.
The “gullible” public called him the Sane Saint!
To the collective horror of the King and core council, multiple sightings of the dead Madman in many cities and regions were reported by the ordinary citizens!
The pandemic is now a borderless phenomenon.
Each affected citizen claims, “I am the Madman! I have become sane!”
The war cries are loud and clear.
Getting amplified by the minute.
The State and King are trying to figure out ways of dealing with this perplexing paradox, this strange social development, before it spills into a storm.
Sunil Sharma is an academic and writer with 23 books published—some solo and joint. Edits the online monthly journal Setu.
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