The Great Indian Hanging: In death, Yakub Memon exposed our enormous hunger for the macabre

'Jihadi John' should have executed Yakub Memon. It is a pity we were deprived of the gory spectacle of an Islamic State beheading.

With hashtags like #Have a blast, #Happy Birthday Yakub, #Go Yakub, #See you in hell, weren't we ready with our khuda hafiz for him? Were we not desperate to see Yakub hang; waiting for the exact moment when his neck snaps, spine breaks, tongue hangs out, eyes pop out and the jail jallad declares, "Lo, ho gaya, ji. Next?"

Jihadi John would have loved to satiate our collective clamour for closure. He would have filmed the execution in HD and released the video. We could have all watched it, like a happy family, at the breakfast table.

On second thoughts, Yakub could have insisted on live telecast of his own death. Maybe nobody told Yakub that his ailing mother won't be able to make it to the 'phansi yard' of the Nagpur jail in time and he was wasting his last wish.

 The Great Indian Hanging: In death, Yakub Memon exposed our enormous hunger for the macabre

Mourners at Yakub Memon's burial ceremony in Mumbai. PTI

Let's thank him. Yakub's death sentence serendipitously gave us a new IPL — Indian Phansi League; it livened up our dreary lives. The acerbic debate and name-calling around his punishment created two Indias — Team Hanging and Team Mercy. We all lined up for the contest on either side of lines dividing pent up frustration, biases, fears, misplaced notions of patriotism and justice; all the Freudian concepts imagined.

Everybody had an opinion, everyone had chosen a side, everybody wanted their side to win this battle. Had he survived, the two teams would have turned on each other. We are lucky that he didn't.

This was, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes in The Indian Express, open legitimising of blood lust. "It was almost as if years of deep frustration, resentment and a sense of inadequacy about the state had morphed into an open mob mentality. Lawyers, doing their jobs defending Memon, were heckled. Many journalists displayed a lynching sensibility rather than professionally reporting the case... social media managed to create the postmodern equivalent of a medieval lynch mob, an almost cowardly but Talibanesque hounding of anyone who disagreed with the hanging."

Everyone was a participant, a voyeur and guest at the Great Indian Hanging. At Yakub's hanging, we consumed every detail — from his new clothes to his last supper; from the chicken leg he ate to the birthday cake he couldn't. We successfully turned his execution into a primitive ceremony. It could have been a Rs 500-crore blockbuster if somebody had the marketing genius to turn it into a pay-per-view event.

God damn the censors for depriving us of the denouement.

We are such great suckers for death as ultimate entertainment and TV. We have a voracious appetite for tragedy tourism. When somebody is dying on the road, instead of calling for help, we either gather around the victim and silently watch the tamasha of his agony or stop by for a minute and then move on nonchalantly. When a girl is attacked by goons in the middle of a market in the national capital, we either hide like cowards or turn the incident into a TV commercial to sermonise and attack political rivals.

Death for us is just a status update. There was a time when we used to visit the home of person who had lost someone to share the sorrow. Now we just 'like' or retweet the announcement, pass on the information through our social network. There was a time when traffic used to stop for a funeral procession, people said a silent prayer for the departed. Now we just honk angrily and curse maniacally in a bid to race ahead of the dead to the nearest bar.

So, does it shock anyone when the Mumbai Mirror reports how Yakub's brother and cousin were heckled by co-passengers on the Nagpur-Bangalore flight when they were carrying his body home? TV reporters thrust their cameras in their face and popped the 'kaisa lag raha hai' question. Passengers discussed Yakub's case in loud voice, intended to rub insult into the wound of the travelling Memons. And when the body appeared, they jostled with each other to click selfies and pictures.

The man they wanted hanged would now find a place in the family album. Yakub must be really happy for this transition from a terrorist to a celebrity.

In death, Yakub did us a great favour. He exposed our enormous appetite for the macabre and the morbid; proved that we shouldn't delude ourselves with meaningless words; that we should dump the Gandhian philosophy of the consequences of an eye for an eye and embrace Godse's rabid communalism.

Yakub told us that India is a huge market for live hangings, public flogging and townhall lynching; that Jihadi John should be our brand ambassador, now that he is on the run from the Islamic State.

It is tragic that we didn't get to watch the final of the Indian Phansi League live at Eden Garden. Let us pray somebody filmed it secretly on a mobile, if not in HD. A billion hits guaranteed within minutes of debut on YouTube.

Updated Date: Aug 02, 2015 08:19:30 IST