How dear is your reputation to you? If you are an individual who is reputed and well respected in the world, and if it comes to a situation where you get to keep either your life or your reputation, what would you choose? It is not a trivial question, you’ve heard stories of men and women who died for their honour! I would like you to take some time and ponder. You may reach a point in your reflections where you will want to remember your actions that took you there. Take one-step further and now think of this – you are not going to die, that is not your option now but you lose your reputation and you would need to live without the dignity you had earned with mountains of efforts. Would you feel relieved to have your life spared? A fine line separates the two situations. In one, your life choice is in your hands where as in another, someone makes that choice for you. You must have heard a lot many people say that an honorable death is better than an ignoble life, but are you sure you would not choose that life over a death that promises to cover your sins?
Shift some gears. How would you see the situation if the imminent death is as ignoble as your life would be? You are not sure about things that happen after death. However, in life, you know you can control a few things even if people do not like you. Does it become easier to live then? You believe in God, so, you make him a promise – “let me live, I won’t kill anyone again.” You also know that God does not operate in your currency. You do not get a reply. Nevertheless, he is ‘your’ God, you know him well enough to believe that he will forgive you because you have atoned. God has done his work. Now, you need to come out and manage a few things in a world that is up for sale. You have powerful friends; you have wealth that injects fuel into these powerful friends. You may not know the other world but you know your way out of the incarcerations of the world-of-the-living. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. You and your powerful friends make your ignoble life a comfortable one. Slowly, you make yourself forget the reasons for your fall and buying time becomes a contest for you. You have won all the games of the world before this one. You are confident you will win this one too. So, you keep buying time until one day, you have spent all your money. You realize you were buying time from your own store. Your storekeeper throws you onto a hospital bed and whispers in your ears – “of course, you will not kill anyone again”. Your heart stops beating.
Dosa King Rajagopal evaded jail-term for 15 years before being sentenced to life-term. He surrendered with an oxygen mask on his face, developed heart problems, and went to a hospital before he died. In the face of his life and actions, how should we define ‘justice’? Is it nature doing what the oft-fallible and corruptible humans could not do? Does that mean a life sentence was not enough for his actions and he needed to die? Or should we come from the opposite side to say that it became all too easy for him in the end? A life term might have perhaps put him in a situation closer to that of the Prince Santhakumar’s family.
It may take some time for our society to understand this phenomenon. We are so bored of seeing criminals dying their natural death before the courts are able make up their minds that it comes as no surprise any longer. To me, death is not justice. Death may wear the mask of poetic justice but poetic justice does not care for time and proportion. In effect, poetic justice is not justice at all. It is the consolation prize of the losing side.
Rajagopal did not serve his sentence. He was never going to be living behind the bars but he has died with all his dignity crushed and ground to dust. The winds of the coastline that carried his fame to far-off lands have now drowned themselves in the sea. The chaos of renown has turned into a lull of condemnation. Saravana Bhavan’s story will always carry the blandness of vanity and the vapidity of overcooked lust. Its success tale will always carry the rancid odour of the ghost and that might remain our only consolation.