Amoka On The World’s Stage
Surprisingly, after the parking lot incident, Radhika and I had gone on with our business-as-usual life and acted as if nothing had happened. That night I could not sleep well and reflected on what I had remarked to Radhika. In the spur of the moment, I had told her that it was better for us to handle our responsibilities individually. But then how’d we do this? When we were home, we must consciously desist from speaking about this incident. In fact, we should forget it. Was this possible? Could a kiss be exchanged only in moments of vulnerability?
I had decided that just for a few days I needed to forget everything and live like nothing had happened. If that turned out to be awkward, then I would have to talk with her about one of us moving out.
The next day when I finished brushing my teeth, Radhika handed me a cup of coffee. I stared at her in surprise. She said, ‘What are you looking at? Do you want more sugar in your coffee?’
At that moment, I understood what her decision was.
Life is strange. We aspire to live in a certain way, but life finds us its own ways. The events at Amoka had led to a feeble spark between us albeit in a weak moment. For reasons clear and for reasons vague, we had taken the responsibility for the origin of all these events at Amoka. Did we feel secure being together, in case things turned worse? It was not clear. In a nutshell, we could see our relationship in an altogether different light. And it seemed to us that we were also realizing that the spark between us was so weak that Giri and Srikantha and banal things like living in the same house were enough to put this out.
I really didn’t know how she felt. I did not try hard to understand. I thought she could not move out without giving Srikantha or Giri a reason, or so I thought.
Six weeks had gone by. There were no new deaths in Amoka. However, there was a suicide in a nearby town of Bombay. I had no clue that Minnesota had a town called Bombay. I looked up on the Internet. The town was named after a 15th century English immigrant by name William Bombay. He had killed the local Native American chief, married his daughter and had given this small town his name; similar to other eponymous towns like Alexandria from Alexander and Hyderabad from Hyder Ali.
The mystery behind all the deaths so far was that no one had indicated the reason for their death. There wasn’t a single suicide note. Nobody had filed even a single complaint. No local Sanghaali community leader had given any statement.
A Sanghaali professor from a small private University in Seattle had given an interview for a local TV channel, ‘it is important for law enforcement to ensure that the events at Minnesota don’t spread all over the country. Ours is a small community but we have a strict code of beliefs. No doctor has the right to override our beliefs and force their decisions on us. The doctors in Minnesota should realize this’. This interview had drawn responses in the form of some articles and more interviews online.
Amoka’s Sanghaali community also had not reacted. Apparently, there were Sanghaali gangs in Minneapolis. However, there was not a single instance of a riot or disturbance reported from there either. The police took no chances and had beefed up all kinds of security in Amoka, anticipating disturbances. But nothing, none whatsoever, happened here. Yet, there was a stunned, mournful ambience everywhere. As for me, I could not so much as look a Sanghaali in the eye if one crossed my path.
The news of six deaths in four months was pretty much relegated to local news channels as if they were mostly local incidents and had very little news value elsewhere in the country. National channels like CNN and FOX News had broadcast the interview with the Seattle Professor. Other than that, these channels had covered the news about these deaths only for a couple of days. After that, they were just ticker news. The public television crew had come to Amoka and shot some video footage, but none of that was broadcast. Srikantha suspected that they may have done the shooting for a documentary. Of all the media, the Minneapolis radio channels seemed to be more active and pugnacious about these issues. A left of center news channel acted as a mouthpiece for women’s lib organizations and was proclaiming that women’s rights in Amoka are in a tenuous situation, the right leaning channels blamed this on America’s liberal immigration policy ‘Every immigrant brings his/her own baggage. Culture is a part of this baggage. Cultural entitlement will destroy what is ours. Nobody knows who the real American is anymore,’ they screamed.
The local channels had invited experts and aired discussions on a host of topics – Sanghaala, the country’s internal conflict, female genital mutilation, their pregnancies, their childbirths, their indigenous medical systems, their beliefs on cesarean sections, their folklore, the recent rise of terrorist groups in the country and their relationship with ISIS.
I made a surprising observation that in all this information overload, there was no news of Dr. Mohammad Mohammad anywhere. Amoka Daily Herald had tried to contact him. His visit to our hospital had made the newspaper’s front page. It was not clear how they had got hold of this news. Let alone the news, the newspaper also had a picture of Dr Mohammad Mohammad with Fadhuma and Hassan posing in front of Amoka General Hospital. I looked for the photographer’s name in the small print beneath the picture but could not find anything. On a hunch, I called the office of Amoka Daily Herald and asked them where they got the picture from. The guy answered, without even a moment’s pause, that it is in the public domain and is circulating on the Internet. Surprisingly, when I googled the name, Mohammad Mohammad, this picture was his Facebook profile for a short while. It was titled ‘My brother Hassan and family’ and it had 2K Likes to it.
I looked at Mohammad Mohammad’s Facebook status messages. He had shared links to all articles and news reports in Amoka Herald related to the Sanghaali deaths. He had also shared links to YouTube interviews related to this topic. This was shared by many people. When I searched their profiles, I could see that this news was shared in many parts of the world like Dahir-Bar, Ethiopia, Nairobi, Seattle, London, Delhi and many more. There were hundreds of comments: ‘Your fight has our support. Insha Allah.’ ‘Come what may, don’t stop your fight.’ ‘What are you doing? Al Tewagi?’ And so on. Al Tewagi had recently claimed responsibility for London city bombing. It had its major terror network in eastern and northern Africa. Dahir-Bar, was one of the major cities out of which this organization operated.
There were numerous places that had references to Radhika and I. And in fact, Radhika’s Facebook profile picture was used by many in their comments!
I typed Sanghaali suicide on the Google homepage and searched. Some had condemned the suicides of young women at Amoka in their blogs. The blogs carried the usual local newspaper reports, video clips. I googled Radhika’s and my names. I could see our names listed along with the hospital name and Rick Jackson’s name; all with pictures. The news link redirected to the online editions of Amoka Daily Herald and some local Minneapolis newspapers. Since we had not given any press statement, lot of liberty was taken with the truth and people had written according to their whims. Amoka Daily Herald had questioned the lack of any statement from the hospital in response to Fadhuma and Rukhiya’s suicides.
I don’t follow the Social media that often. I don’t frequently post comments or update my status on Facebook. The last time I was on Facebook was two weeks ago. After Bombay suicides, I’d noticed that I was tagged to many posts which had provided links to the news bytes and videos on these suicides. Each post was flooded with comments. I was not sure if Radhika was also tagged. Srikantha was on Facebook, although his interests were different. When I looked at these news items carefully, I could see that they were mostly posted by Mohammad Mohammad on his wall or people with whom he had shared them. Since I was his friend and he had tagged me on almost every one of these, I could see all his posts. I suddenly remembered that he had sent me a friend request the day he visited the hospital and I had accepted it almost instinctively.
I looked for our mutual friends. Razak and Srikantha’s names came up. Radhika’s name was conspicuously missing. Mohammad’s statuses were all public. So, these were visible to everyone. He had tagged several of his friends for many of his posts. Since these messages were shared randomly across Facebook, I guessed they had come to the attention of many. He had also tagged all his status updates to Srikantha and Razak. Thankfully neither of them had approved or shared them. It was therefore possible that Radhika had not seen any of them unless she went specifically looking for Dr Mohammad’s posts. If she had, she would have told me by now.
Radhika and I did not have much of a presence on the internet other than our profiles on LinkedIn or WebMD. However, I now realized both of us were very popular on Facebook.
I shutdown my laptop for a while and switched on the TV. According to the reports on TV nobody knew Mohammad Mohammad’s whereabouts. Hassan, Abdhi, the Chapel husbands and now, Bombay – nobody had said a single word. They were all summoned to the police station for interrogation. There were no charges against them other than domestic abuse. And there was no evidence to support these charges either. The newspapers carried no additional information.
I looked outside through the window. It was quiet and desolate. There was nothing around except for a small press vehicle. Five minutes back, looking online, the world seemed to be in the grip of a massive churn with disturbances all around. Here I am in this small town and in the hospital where the series of suicides were supposed to have originated. Looking through the window, the world seemed to be at peace with itself. Even while the local TV channels were broadcasting the news, my friends who lived just about six hours away in Chicago, were blissfully unaware of the news here. But when my Facebook friends read the news about me and my hospital, and responded to the interviews posted there, it felt Amoka was at the center of the world and every news that was, and that could be, was about it.
In this social networking era where news can also be personalized, what is important news? What is breaking news? The news I read tomorrow is determined by what I had read yesterday. Its magnitude and intensity depended on one’s network.
I checked out the list of my Facebook friends. There were only seventy-two. Mohammad Mohammad had maxed out on the number of his friends.
Was the real news at Amoka where the suicides had occurred or was it on the internet?
Those who were following the news on the local channels and the newspapers could possibly conclude this news as insignificant, as something that was local to Amoka. However, when those interested looked online, the scale of this news came across as something huge.
A medical doctor by profession, Guruprasad Kaginele is a prominent voice in contemporary Kannada literature. He has published three short story collections, three novels, and two essay collections, and his works have received several awards.
Pavan N. Rao has translated many Kannada stories to English. He is active in the Kannada literary and arts scene in the city of Milwaukee where he lives with his family.
Excerpted with permission from Hijab, Guruprasad Kaginele, Pavan N. Rao (Tr.), Simon & Schuster India, available online and at your nearest bookstore.