Monday, December 19, 2011

Annus Mortabilis of 2011

Folks die. There’s nothing fancy or novel about it. Living organisms have been dying since era immemorial. The luckier ones die only once. Even the dinosaurs perished so as to make sure Steven Spielberg become the most powerful Jew in cinema. But 2011 seemed a bit too crowded with dead famous people. And in this piece, I’m going to drop a few names who have already dropped dead. Some of them were not only close to my heart (mainly because they are no more now) but also occupied a lot of space in my head (mainly because it’s empty).

The year kicked off with Kobayashi’s death. Yeah, the one from The Usual Suspects. For the record, no other British bloke could have gotten away with a Japanese name and an Indian accent in a movie. Well, Pete Postlethwaite did. One of my all-time favorite actors.

A few days later, a personality I used to mock on Twitter for his staunch anti-India tweets got killed by his own security guard. Salmaan Taseer turned out to be a true martyr in a nation obsessed with religion. After all, not many voices are heard in support of Pakistani minorities. Bullets silenced him but the message was out. A month later, Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian cabinet member, was gunned down for his outspoken stand against blasphemy laws.

Meanwhile, a 26 year-old Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire. This event eventually exploded in the form of Arab Spring. Years of resentment against elite [read: corrupt] ruling governments expressed itself on the very street this young man immolated.

In India, Bharat Ratna Bhimsen Joshi passed away leaving behind a legacy of music and humility. He was 88 so one can’t employ the word ‘unfair’ as was the case in the aforementioned deaths. But I have a deep grudge against our media who were hell-bent on using a mugshot of his during a performance where he appears to be suffering from asthma or something. Kindly don’t tell me they couldn’t find a better snap. And the worst part is almost ALL newspapers carried the same photograph! Hmmph.

Another famous Indian who taught me the pleasure of reading decided to call it a life. I owe to Uncle Pai inasmuch as I do to every teacher I came across in my otherwise miserable life.

In the month of March when Mumbai was preparing to swelter, Knut drowned and killed himself in Germany. He was to polar bears what Paul was to octopus. With his departure, humankind learned an essential lesson – polar bears belong to polar regions, not zoos.

Actress Elizabeth Taylor, who managed to bag an Oscar while walking the aisle eight times, left us an impossible beauty and unfortunate marriages to ponder. Following suit, another exceptional personality from Hollywood, director Sidney Lumet bid farewell.

Coming back to Pakistan, Syed Saleem Shahzad went missing only to be found dead in a canal with apparent signs of ISI-marked torture on him. Maybe journalism pays way too high a price for courage. Similarly, MiD-Day’s crime editor Jyotirmoy Dey was bumped off in road daylight by Mumbai underworld.

As monsoon started approaching India, news about Ilyas Kashmiri’s probable death amid US drone attacks in Waziristan caught world attention. He wasn’t just another two-bit Islamist militant. In fact, he was in line to replace Osama bin Laden – who got mauled by U.S. commandoes *vacationing* just a few kilometers away from Pakistani military HQs – as the head of Al-Qaeda. Conclusion: Jihad works in mysterious ways.

Talking of death, Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian expired, leaving Kim Kardashian the most famous Armenian-American I’m aware of. He made euthanasia cool and even served prison for his beliefs. Those who don’t know him should watch the movie You Don’t Know Jack starring Al Pacino.

MF. Husain, a born Maharashtrian, went away twice. Once when he left India. Secondly, when he left Qatar. We lost a great painter thanks to our intolerance and lack of gumption. He lost an ancient country thanks to his reluctance to appease Hindus by painting Prophet.

In the month of July, Amy Winehouse became the latest member of the infamous 27 Club. I felt bad for her. She had a unique voice and makeup. All things sung and OD-ed, she deserved to live more. Maybe we don’t want the entertainers to leave us. They are the ones who fill our psyche with hope and color. Likewise, Shammi Kapoor’s exit widened this popular sentimentality. Watching him play that shehnai in Rockstar with those deep eyes a la Ustad Bismillah Khan was soothing, to say the least.

No matter how disparaging it may sound, no death list is complete without a mention of a Parsi. Painter Jehangir Sabavala filled the spot this year. Jagmohan Mundhra who made Nandita Das in Bawandar and Aishwarya Rai in Provoked look vulnerable packed up.

Death winked at Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi so the latter had no choice but to close his eye. Wangari Maathai who won a Nobel for her contributions towards environmental conservatism returned to soil. In related news, I admired her a lot. I still do.

With Steve Jobs joining the Dead Club much to digital world’s utter grief, things speeded up. A few days later, Dennis Ritchie who spearheaded C Programming (and compelled me to give up engineering) gave up the ghost! But compared to Jobs, he made a bigger contribution to technology by not patenting C.

Though being a teetotaler sucks but Jagjit Singh’s poignant songs never do. He shall be remembered as long as sorrow is in this world. In simpler word, forever. The same is true about Bhupen Hazarika.

On the other hand, people won’t miss Gaddafi much. Even the ones who named that Lahore stadium after him. The only rue I hold is against the way he was treated during his final moments. They could have at least had the wisdom to not record it on a video. Sadistic morons.

A young man aged 24, Marco Simoncelli, got killed doing something he loved – motobiking on the race course. Perhaps he was too young and fast to live. In the same vein, an entire ice hockey team vanished in the form of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Too cold. Too bad. Too many.

As the year neared its curtain, some former sportsperson quit. Joe Frazier was one of them. I haven’t seen him box but I’ve watched him break down in a documentary while talking about his once archrival Muhammad Ali. The kind of respect he showed immediately struck a chord. Yes, cancer is more than just a bitch.

Being a former cricket fan, I must admit I always enjoyed reading Peter Roebuck’s articles. An English county cricketer who later became an Australian newspaper columnist chose South Africa to commit suicide. If this is not intriguing enough, then the fact that his Facebook account was involved in this suicide is.

In the non-sports arena, India’s most wanted Maoist (a softer term for terrorist) Kishenji was killed by CRPF in West Bengal. No one complained as such except the Mao-loving Communist gang.

December arrived and carrying on. Bollywood is still reeling under the loss of its legend Dev Anand. For his credit, he was part of some of the finest cinema and much to his discredit, worst, too. I’ll remember him for unabashedly promoting smoking in the Har Fikr Ko Dhue Mein song. Cartoonist Mario Miranda, known for his honest caricatures of Goa (or the Goa that once was) sketched himself away a few days later.

Last week, one of my role models, Christopher Hitchens, gave into cancer. He didn’t believe in God but to most of his fans, he was THE God. One the very day, Gadzhimurat Kamalov became the 18th Russian journalist to be assassinated since 2000. This morning, the buzz about two totally contrasting personalities, Czech Republic’s first President Václav Havel and North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, departing, broke out.

As we speak and read, there are millions protesting against the authorities. A considerable nameless lot got killed in Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and other distressed regions on the planet. No wonder Time selected 'The Protester' as the person of the year.

We’ve got 12 more days to go for New Year's Eve. In the meantime, let’s see how many names squeeze in onto this list.

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