Veerappan - A True Story.
We go down the memory lane. Veerappan, poor and hungry, a drop-out from school, takes to cattle grazing before graduating to hunting. He bribes the forest department to let him hunt. He keeps only a bare minimum of the proceeds of hunting and gives away the rest to the families who are wilting in poverty. Dont disbelieve this for Veerappan never lies except to destroy enemies. But things get tangled as the pact with the forest administration cemented by bribes broke down. Why did it break down? Did the forest officials refuse to accept bribes any longer or was Veerappan reluctant to share his booty as it grew in size? Here the reviewers eloquence recedes to silence. After giving away all surpluses, how did he manage to acquire arms, ammunitions and surround himself with muscle men? Or do we take a leaf from mythology, as Veerappan is wont and believe that the devas split open the skies and rained caches of arms and ammunitions so that he can turn his moral anger against the minions of the state through landmine attacks? Veerappan the erstwhile ally of corrupt forest officers having grown in strength jettisons his one time comrades now and decides to rewrite the rule-book. Can he be expected to succeed? This sets in motion the moral anger which suffuses him resulting in the confrontation with the dreaded state and its minions. This is how the subaltern tale of woe began. In not too distant past, Tamil Nadu had an actor turned politician who served as a chief minister. He too had experienced acute poverty and deprivation during childhood. He is credited with having started the midday meal scheme for school children which has its stock of success stories. But that is mainstream and must be dismissed as of little consequence.
What is the substance of Veerappans acute sense of commitment to the local community? Veerappans acts would put a good samaritan to shame. He has redistributed wealth by giving away money to poor villagers and thus has achieved what no welfare state could do. Why did Veerappan, an ordinary human being who kills only to quench hunger, rake large surpluses which could be distributed so as to get a rare degree of acceptance? In Robin Hood fashion he dispenses justice as courts take time and lawyers money. In the overflowing hall of justice of Veerappan, disputants are made to withdraw court cases and murderers are made to compensate the victims families. Verily, it is like judgment day when lambs gambol with lions. Only a cynic or worse still a mainstreamer would say that Veerappan paid money to seal the lips of hapless villagers (having exchanged the tyranny of the police for the tyranny of Veerappan) and that leadership flows from the barrel of a gun.
Now for Veerappans concern for ecology. He is a crackshot and can kill an elephant instantaneously so that the wretched creature is not even aware of it: It is a good death. Then 84 lakh of living beings like birds and ants would gorge on it. Veerappans logic of needs extends to all living beings human and non-human. Veerappan is only eking out a livelihood to appease his hunger. He is only making a living out of the forest, and does charity on an elephantine scale. Of all charity, feeding is the greatest. But we know for sure that birds and ants do not prey on ivory tusks. With his native wisdom Veerappan knows that there should be no reckless deprivation of the forest. So he stops felling sandalwood trees after 11 months. It is all so intricate and cannot be understood through mainstream logic. There seems to be a great fascination with the puranas for Veerappan and being a subaltern icon, he can take liberties. When he kills an elephant, 84 lakh beings (again a puranic belief) can feed on it unlike Dasaratha who killed 999 elephants for a male heir. What was that again? It must have been extracted from the Veerappan purana.
It seems initially Veerappan had a cut-and-dried view of law: What an SP should do? He should catch the wrong doers and hand them over to the government. That is honourable. But this fellow... Apparently, the goat stealing policeman changed Veerappans vision of law and justice. Now he has acquired a vision that cannot be comprehended by those in charge of the governance of modern state. Veerappan laments that an MLA smuggles rosewood but he has not got that appellation to his name. Veerappan the great leveller. And you are misinformed if you think that Veerappan alone hunts. He is in good company. There are judges too making such forays in the forest. So what is all this fuss about? Veerappans advice to practitioners of militancy politics is not to kill women and children. Instead he says, target politicians who cheat people of their vote, rape women, and indulge in injustice and officials who misuse their power and bloody peoples lives. Ironic words indeed, from one who himself is a creation of corrupt politicians and officials. According to media reports during a career spanning over 20 years, Veerappan had poached over 2,000 tuskers and made nearly Rs 12 crore and the income raked through felling of sandalwood trees is estimated at Rs 100 crore (The Week, July 27, 1997).
The incommensurability of the language of this subaltern icon with that of the modern state is nothing more than an illusion created by a pedagogue. In any case much water has flown since the publication of the video tapes with Veerappan negotiating the terms for his surrender and at one stage even pleading to get out of his self-imposed incarceration. Which is the brave new world to which Veerappan beckons?
Veerappan is waiting for his vanavaas to be over, sharing the mantle of Rama and the Pandavas. As Veerappan and perhaps the reviewer too, have a penchant for the puranas we would like to conclude with a puranic tale. Bhasmasura did penance for many long years and as a boon got the gift that he could turn a person to ashes by placing his hand on the head of the person he chose. Bhasmasura attempted to test his boon on his benefactor. He failed and turned to ashes himself.