A Man Called Machaan
Manjunath Shanmugham (27), an IIM-Lucknow alumnus and employee of Indian Oil Corporation, was killed in Lakhimpur Kehri on 19 November, allegedly over his drive to prevent adulteration of petrol. The news sent shock waves across the country. This case looks at the issues the incident has raised across different walks of life
Kar chale ham fida jan-o-tan saathiyo Ab tumhare hawale watan saathiyon…”
Utsav Virkar stood in the men’s room of his office, choking on his tears. If 3.4, the band of Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow (IIM-L), had sung this, only Machaan could have done the honours, Utsav thought. “Dey, Machha! Big job you have left for us, da!” he sobbed. “We don’t have your grit, da!” Machaan, Manju, Machha… his dear batchmate had been silenced forever by a mindless system, but he had passed on the baton to his contemporaries.
Returning to his desk, Utsav found life going on smoothly. Rohan here was calling distributors, using his usual swear words; Sumant was telling admin in his flat tones that yet again there was no paper in the printer. Anahita was telling the pantry: “Baba re, chai bhejo…” Nothing had changed; the need for paper and tea and sales continued.
“Utsav, are you alright?” asked Anahita. His voice cracked as he said: “I don’t know, but it seems a batchmate of mine, Manjunath, was killed in UP.” And Utsav broke down again.
Rohan, a few feet away, continued to type his sales report. Eyes glued to his monitor, he asked: “How was he killed?” Someone said, “This is life,” and added more sugar to his tea.
Utsav left the room. Alone in the lawn, he recalled Machaan. It seemed like yesterday. Utsav was driving to Bangalore. RAMpack had called him on his mobile: “Hey Mirchi, Machaan is in the neighbourhood, man! Detour maar and come to my guest house.” There, they thumped him on the back, hugged him, pushed him around – all excited to see an old pal again. This was Manjunath Shanmugham, abbreviated over time to Machaan by the Tamilian lobby at IIM-L and then naturally to ‘Deyy Maccha!’
The usual questioning followed: where are you, which company, are you enjoying? Machaan had said in his characteristic jovial way: “UP mein teil bech raha hoon!” Utsav had cackled: “Arre Madrasi, tu aur UP mein?” Machaan laughed good-naturedly: “Perfect challenge for a South Indian, what?”
But he was happy. He enjoyed his stint, his organisation, the work. Everything he talked about was in superlatives. But that was Machaan. Utsav had said: “Yaar Machaan, anybody else in your place would have cribbed, oil company and sales! And B-schoolers are renowned for cribbing about even the best job. And you? You are rare, da!”
Machaan was rare. Utsav recalled those first few months at IIM-L. For many, it was the first time away from home. For all of them, it was a big thing that they were in IIM. Managing parental expectations and their own was a tight-rope walk. So they either studied too much or too little and at the wrong times, each one saying he had ‘cracked it’. But none really came to grips with the monster called IIM exams.
Then came the day before the first semester exams. They were all in the mess eating a late lunch. Stressed out, many had been up all night; almost all of them were unwashed, unbathed. Stress gave way to singing and before long they were singing in soprano, out of tune and hysterically. The mess staff brought in old ghee tins for the boys to use as drums. Machaan had led them in the singing – vibrant, racy and enthusiastic.
Four hours later when they left the mess, almost all of them had a sore throat, but gone was the stress, the anxiety, the nervousness. This became a pattern, semester after semester: Machaan led the singing session (and what a singer!) at the mess, ghee tins and all, ‘for junta to de-stress’.
That was Machaan, who was known for the 3.4 band and his cherished personal values. The band got its name from an inane fact: IIM-L was 3.4 km away from the main Lucknow-Sitapur Highway. Ironically, this was the same township where Manjunath would lose his life. Utsav felt his eyes sting with fresh hot tears. The joy and abandon with which they sang… Those were the days – young, innocent, trusting and happy to have chosen a hard but decent life. How innocent they had been. How trusting and determined. After the teen years spent in rebellion and exploration, getting rapped on the knuckles by teachers and parents, admonished for being wayward and irresponsible – why some were even taken to swamis and gurus for counsel. But all that passed as they grew out of rebellion to a life of commitment, trusting….
The call for Namaaz from the nearby masjid wafted through the air. Between yesterday’s prayer and today’s, Machaan had gone…. Nothing had changed – India, with its billion-plus population, took deaths in its stride.
Then the emails started pouring in. Did you hear? How terrible! What a guy! What is our country coming to? Some blamed oil companies, some blamed all companies, some blamed the system, some blamed the law, some blamed the leadership, some blamed the media. They all blamed someone or the other. Utsav read them all. He did not reply to any. Mercifully, his sister called. Could he sit the night in hospital to watch over grandpa? She could not; her son had taken ill. Utsav was relieved. An evening spent in the suffocating assumed normalcy of life would have been unbearable.
Grandpa was in fact a relief. Through myopic eyes, he looked at Utsav who sat by his side holding the near transparent hand, watching the veins throb. Grandpa smiled his toothless smile and said: “Bol re bala. What’s on your mind?”
Utsav said: “Aajoba, many people die. Many good people die. I understand that. But why are some good people killed?” Grandpa shut his eyes briefly and said: “Parithranaya sadhunaam, vinashaaya cha dushkritaam, dharma sansthapanaarthaya, sambhavami yuge yuge! Thus spoke the Lord, bala. When dharma is displaced and the Lord cannot bear it, He takes birth to put dharma in place. This is kaliyug – an era of depravity and adharma. So much is man dulled by material gain that he won’t recognise God even if He stood before him. Maybe, He takes lives away to stoke mankind to wake up to dharma sansthapana… Who put Jesus on the cross? Did Jesus die in vain? Whether we wake up to that call or sit back and count our dollars is to be seen.”
The next day, one newspaper announced the incident on its front page. Lead media was still pondering. But reactions fired…. Far away in Chennai, Raja, a young school teacher waved the newspaper in front of his Principal who was examining a poster that said: ‘In 2020, India will be the centre of world attention.’
“And who will be running India in 2020, Sir?” asked Raja. “The students we have here will be running the country! Are we equipping them for that? Read what we are doing to dedication… what message is this crime sending to them? Will our students be able to support the economy? I am not sure, sir, I am not… It’s their world that is being messed up! Is 2+2 enough? Is history and geography and physics enough?”
The principal said: “Raja, we also learnt just all that, didn’t we? Is our country any the worse today?” Raja clucked: “You miss the point, Sir! Then was then; today is different. Today, we have a valueless society. Today, people are taking false pride over an India they imagine! Let me tell you, sir. The India that we take pride in today is not a function of today or yesterday’s leadership. It’s the hard work of the 1960s and ’70s! A seed does not grow like that,” said Raja and clicked his fingers to emphasise. “It was sown many years ago! What seed are we sowing today? ‘2020 India will be great!’ How can they say that when all we have to give our children today is the rot we see on TV and crime like this! Progress does not happen by forecasting techniques, Sir! The mind has to evolve too, and such a mind cannot evolve through higher incomes. We need to teach them about how to set a standard in life.”
The principal was surprised: “But Raja, what has that got to do with running businesses?”
“That’s what they need for running businesses, Sir. A values standard. Businesses are about people, and people are only about attitudes and values. Nothing else! Take both away and what is left? Only a body! We need to build inner wealth in our students. They can tell a Honda City from an Accord. But can they tell right from wrong? And one student today was telling me, ‘I want to become the richest man in the world…’ Shouldn’t we teach them more about their real wealth?”
Elsewhere in Kolkata, Shibani Basu shuddered. Calling her son, she said: “Partho, you must reject that job offer in Chandigarh. Look for something here. Kolkata is safe; all our people… and no one understands us better than our own…. We don’t want money, we want safety!”
That evening, Sujoy Basu, an HR man, told Partho: “Life isn’t what it used to be, son. What to do?! I would like to fit you with wings, and let you soar like my father did to me. But times have changed…. This country has become like that.” Then, looking out the window, he said wistfully: “There was a time when we sent our young management trainees to rural towns as part of their training. All we told them was ‘Don’t drink tap water, don’t eat roadside food.’ Today, even keeping them in the city seems dreadful. What caveats do I give them?”
Meanwhile, in a B-school in Karnataka, Prof. Dhiren Vyas stood before his class of first-year students. He was teaching ‘Business Ethics and Society’, when he was interrupted. “What ethics, ‘prof’?” asked one student. “What do ethics do for one? If I must die, I’d rather join the army and die respectfully!” Prof. Vyas replied: “None of today’s wars is for ideals or principles or ethics. Ethical wars are being fought in the open, in the marketplace; we are the consumers of ethics. I want you to be ethical towards me just as you want me to be ethical towards you. You don’t need to be in the army. Life is the biggest battlefield; the world of business and commerce is the only way for intellectuals to put their ideals to test. Ideals have to be lived.”
Back in his room, Prof. Vyas’s colleague said: “How are we to know what to do in situations like this? We are teachers; we deal with texts and students. We don’t encounter these issues in our world.” Vyas replied: “We don’t need words. We need conviction and determination to keep our students on the path of right.”
Further north, in Delhi, four ex-chairmen of large companies sat in the coffee room of the CII and shook their heads. Said one: “I had told them, ‘Five years after liberalisation, take stock of the pulse of the people….’ But for 15 years, all that has happened is a reckless pursuit of growth. Arre, economy ko liberate kiya, lekin people are still in mental bondage! We have changed the government four times in this period. Where is literacy? There has to be a steady pace. Man’s mind has to develop before his material index does. Otherwise, he will not know how to use all the increase in income. Just see this… this boy is as young as my grandson! This is shameful.” The other chairman said: “Today, some TV guys were at my house. Wanted to know why we are giving this so much importance. Idiot.
“I told him, ‘Yes, this loss is important for the country if you consider the numbers. Every year, over 3 lakh students appear for the CAT. Twelve hundred are selected. Twenty five per cent leave the country. So it’s more than just a life lost – it’s a bright, honest person, with preserved albeit untamed integrity who knew the risks involved and had the courage to stay on the front. Or else, he too could have asked like you, Why are you giving adulteration so much importance? isn’t it? As an institution builder, I am saying this country has very, very few like Manjunath. So when one of them is lost, it is important.'”
In Mumbai, Mridula, a journalist, looked up at her colleague and said: “This morning, my mother was telling my brother, ‘Please don’t get into any kind of arguments over anything with anybody. Koi Satyavaan nahin ban-na hai…!’ You know what these boys and girls will take back from this incident? When on the job, quit your principles and beware! This is something they don’t need, Ankush…” He said: “Why are we only grieving for this boy? Because he is an IIM graduate? What about the many poor people who are killed by the mafia?”
“Spoken like a true, well-fed, protected, intellectual bourgeoisie!” said Mridula. “Did you do anything about the poor who were killed by the mafia? No, because they were not your kind. So now, here is someone of your kind who was killed! Now Ankush, now can we do something?! This is our problem, Ankush. We are a country of thinkers, not doers. We know how to audit, but we don’t know how to account! There is nothing wrong about the death of ‘one of us’ getting more publicity. In our newspaper, a death of an American soldier in Iraq gets the same coverage as five Indian jawans in Kashmir and 50 Iraqi civilians. Sometimes, these incidents do help create awareness, which would otherwise never have happened. Satyendra Dubey’s death did more to fight corruption in the National Highway project than any amount of anti-corruption drives.
“We are not grieving only for this boy, although right now we are grieving for him. Those who are grieving are firstly shocked. Because until now, it happened to others – people they didn’t know. Now it has happened to ‘us’, to straight people we know… see? That’s when it comes as a shock. It shocks when crime is closer to your home and not far away somewhere in the wilderness, happening to people whose values we know nothing about. Then, they are grieving because they ‘know’ this guy, have seen him, touched him, walked with him, seen him as a good awesome soul… and at their age, these 25-year-olds are saying, ‘Didn’t he stand for all the good teachings of life? He was picture perfect! How can you do this to him?’
“Their shock forces them to ask ‘Can I continue to believe all that I learnt till now? Has the time come for me to revise my learnings? Is it good to be good, after all?’ That is the nature of their shock, Ankush. All parents tell their kids, ‘Achche se padho, naukri karo, khush raho’ – prescriptions for leading a clean straightforward life. Because education was meant to prevent you from taking to crime, but it doesn’t hesitate while offering you as a victim of crime!”
Mridula called an MBA student for his reaction. He said: “We students believe that this is a huge community of the well bred and the educated. We feel that big corporates are backing us, that they are with us and that we are safe to pursue our honest intentions. All these big people investing big money in big projects look so credible and clean and nice… like our fathers. The whole business community appears so dependable. But honestly, when I read this sort of news, I am scared. You know what one chap told me? Is life worth just a few minutes of mention on NDTV and some loving notes on Yahoo! chat groups? Why take ‘panga’ to prove dedication at the cost of one’s life? We are human, Mridula, face it. What I am saying is a human derivation of the situation and the inference at this time. I am sure that’s exactly what’s on everyone’s mind right now. Then, we blame IIT-IIM grads for going abroad.”
Elsewhere in an MNC, managers were discussing the ‘news’ too. Being in denial was their only armour. Some believed this would never happen to an MNC; they too had found a way to establish distance between ‘their kind’ and ‘our kind’ of people. As long as we are different, we are safe, went the warped logic. Consultants blamed the profiteering in manufacturing companies and lack of a quality system. Consulting was safer, they felt; they didn’t have to deal with third parties.
Back in the hospital on Thursday, Utsav felt safe with his grandpa. So was it about safety then? he wondered. No, it’s about faith. It’s also about being able to work and live among people who work and live like us. But he felt alone. Most people around him had bounced back to chasing sales, targets and planning where to eat lunch. He recalled some emails he had received. Many had passed off the incident as a ‘normal thing’.
Friday morning, Utsav ran into his HR head, Kapil. Drawing him into his room, Kapil said: “I am sorry, Utsav… really, really sorry. Time will heal all this.” Utsav looked at him sadly and said: “That’s what I am worried about. Time will heal all this, and we would have forgotten Machaan’s fight. Trouble is, time does not heal attitudes! Will time change our callousness, our insensitivity, our greed for power and money? This is what amazes me. Why are we all in denial? Why do we want all this to be ‘over’ soon? Like a bad dream or a wound that has left an ugly scar? Why do we want to return to comfort zone again? Everyone I meet shrugs it off as ‘yeh sab life mein hota hai…’ Don’t we have any other way to think about this? Kapil, we have become so desensitised to the media reports of crime, attacks, wars, earthquakes and tsunamis that the related human emotion of pain is something we can only intellectualise and find solutions for immediately. But we cannot feel it.
“Here is a guy who is saying he has just lost everything he ever possessed in the tsunami. And we have a solution: we give him a cheque for Rs 1,001. What he wants is an arm around his shoulder, maybe a hug, maybe he wants you to feel his pain? Sometimes, people just want to tell you how bad their pain is.
“Read these reports, Kapil. Each one is saying: book the culprits, punish them, etc. This is not the solution! That’s my point. Relate to the situation, relate to the pain… feel the pain of the aggressor too! Yes, the pain of ignorance! Do we know what causes them to be deviant? So the law will book them… then what? This is like my nephew. When he sees a cockroach, he will jump onto the table and shout, ‘Usko maro, kaka!’ But where did the roach come from? Isn’t that the point we have to address? What has caused our people to become valueless?
I remember a verse our grammar teacher would give us, which I then thought was weird: ‘When brother raises hand to slay brother, who has thought for the sorrowing mother?’ Even that culprit is our own kind, Kapil. In each of us lurks a killer. The difference is simple: one has killed, one hasn’t yet…
“I know, a lot of people are rationalising, ‘MBA tha. Is liye shor macha rahe ho!’ Absolutely! Because the only people today who can, if they choose to change the fabric and tenor of our country, are the educated. But they haven’t chosen to yet. But this could well be a wake-up call. Finally, each of us is responsible for all this. We are all busy embellishing our lives. We have extracted a few ‘values’ from here and there, and we watch over them like vultures. It’s okay by us to live in a corrupt, unjust society but we cannot tolerate an Id procession in front of our temples. We ‘need’ a few ‘values’ to hang our egos on, and never mind what those values are. Because we have no time; our targets and toplines have to be delivered. Yes, we have become insensitive, uncaring and overwhelmed by our economic brilliance. We are the real criminals, we who pass this off as yet another incident. Why blame the law, the government, the system… we have empowered them, no? We allowed voting age to be lowered to 18, no? Did we ponder? No. We are an ambitious people and we have time only for ‘important’ matters… we are the tribe who read a financial newspaper cover to cover and we know about Jim Watts’ corner drugstore; we know who are the top seven richest men in the world and the movements of the indices on the BSE and NSE…
“Machaan’s cause scares us because none of us can do what he did. Worse, we will not. I know I cannot. That is why we have coined very nice phrases like ‘But life must go on’, ‘Time is the best healer’…. That’s the only way we can drop this incident and forget it before it consumes us!”
Analysis 1: Anchal Bhagat
Long live Manju!
Manju has left us. Torn away from us in a manner most foul. How do we mourn our young? Do we let them pass away without reflection or do we begin a revolution? Can Manju’s death be a revolution for us? For if it cannot, Manju died in vain. Will it be a revolution for us? Maybe not. Maybe not for most of us. Some of us will start our own little unheard battles and some of us may, like Manju, make a dent on people’s consciousness. But most of us will shrug and live our lives.
Can one live in a vacuum where a young man with aspirations is shot to protect some partisan interests by two other young men, and where one does not even stop for a moment? How can a nation, which telecasts the lynching of a young man in an election rally, live? Where women are raped, so that their men can be controlled? Where communities get burnt alive, so that political ambitions can be fulfilled? Where life does not matter?
Are we a nation or a cauldron? How many more lives do we need to sacrifice to become free? How can we celebrate any success when we are witness to murders of our own daughters and sons? Do we cry enough? Do we remember enough? Unfortunately, no!
We have grown not to question. We have grown to accept exploitation. We have grown to see violence as the obvious. We have learned to co-exist in this world which we do not see as our reality. We see our reality within the four walls of our home or our organisation and we do not see beyond our goals.
Of course, this is not new. Some people suffer, so that others can live. Christ did, Gandhi did, Mandela did. Mankind has survived when ordinary people like Manju and Rosa Parks stand up to the tyranny of the few in society in which they live. There is always a need to watch, protect and fight for one’s freedom and rights. But I fear that Manju and many like him are forgotten.
There is a conspiracy and all of us are part of it. If we let the pain of Manju touch us, then we cannot sleep quietly. We cannot let the reality of India be our reality, and so it will have to change. The reason Manju died is not because someone killed him; the reason he died was because those who killed him thought it was possible and reasonable to do so.
They have learnt this over the years. They have learnt this because Manju is an isolated phenomenon and others like him – all of us – do not speak up. Are we not too comfortable with our own goals without being affected by all that happens around us?
So where do we start and who must start it? How do we address this vacuum of ethics amidst us? How do we address the lack of hope and the cynicism that the young in India face everyday?
The beginning of a revolution is with a dream. If we are to be a nation that treats its people with dignity, each one of us has to cherish a dream of such a nation. The revolution doesn’t run only on dreams; it runs through combat.
Each one of us has to combat what is within us and around us. We have to question ourselves and those around us. We have to question each action and ask ourselves: “Are we contributing to our dream or are we contributing to the vacuum that leads to murder?”
A revolution is successful if it questions and demolishes what exists. If we really believe that we have a right to be a sovereign nation, then we need to ensure that Manju does not die in vain. To ensure this revolution, we have to question our own methods. We have to question our opportunities, and we have to question our success.
If in our success, we find that we have unwittingly been supported by processes that undermine the dignity and rights of others, we need to walk away from that success and try again. Each decision that undermines our ethical stance makes us quieter and compromised when we question others. It is this silence that kills Manju, not a bullet.
If we reflect each time we act, we will build ourselves as human beings and we will build a nation of human beings, not some goal-directed, hunting-gathering species. A revolution is successful when it has a framework. We need to nurture a framework in ourselves and our young: of recognising people around us as people. The rest will follow.
Manju could have easily walked into the bubble of safety we all live in. But he chose to risk his life for something as intangible as the ‘right thing’. We choose to walk into our bubbles and leave the Manjus of this world to fight their lonely battles and die. We need to look beyond the walls of our bubbles of safety if we have respect for Manju. We have to look beyond our bubbles to be human.
Come, let us start a revolution. Long Live Manju!
Analysis 2 : Subhabrata Ghosh
A larger conflict. Machaan’s murderers represent the old order. And he epitomised the power of the new order by challenging the exploitation of the old order
The allusion of this case to reality demands that I be objective and realistic. Therefore, I would look at this case from the viewpoint of creating an understanding and what we can do with an optimistic attitude.
What is the fact? A young, educated and honest man gets killed in the line of duty. Let us examine this from the broadest perspective, and then narrow it down to the incident. Currently, the economy is polarising our society into two worlds: the new world and the traditional world. The traditional world when compared to the new one is autocratic and controlled by a few. Historically, the control emanated from the primary resource of the old world: land. Wealth creation was based on exploiting the masses to fill the coffers of the landed gentry.
This economic system pervades all sections of our country, and the landed gentry have evolved a protective mechanism to guard and propagate this system. This protectionism is economic, social as well as physical. It is still prevalent in the majority of the land mass of our country. Education has been and will continue to be the biggest enemy of this system because it moves wealth creation from land to enterprise.
Our economic growth is essentially coming from growth of enterprise and is, therefore, posing a direct challenge to the control of the old economy of the landed. In its most naked form, the resolution of this conflict at the individual level resorts to the basest form of domain protection – through violence.
Machaan epitomised the power of the new order by challenging the exploitation of the old order by an individual.
When we installed democracy in our country, we also resolved to make education a fundamental right. But a large majority of our population is still deprived of education at a time when the world is bursting at its seams with information and has the easiest access to it.
The truth is that most of those in the political system who represent the people do not get elected by the informed choice of people, but by their own economic and physical might. These are also the people whose primary objective is to protect their domain.
Now examine the scenario. We have two powerful groups: one has created economic power through knowledge, skill and enterprise, and the other commands the political system and subverts the enforcement machinery to prolong their control over their shrinking domain. More than a third of our parliamentarians have established criminal records. Yet, we allow them to run the highest decision-making bodies of our country. The magic of this conflict is that it is making a political system irrelevant through democratisation of wealth creation. The old order has never been more aware of this as it is now. So, they will get even more desperate as they become more aware of this shift in power.
Those of us who represent the new order must be more aware and spread the understanding that we put a serious threat to the old order. The greatest threat to the new order is the lack of this awareness. We must also be aware of the power we wield to challenge and break down the old order. When we wish to exert the power, we must also be aware of the consequences. The pain of Machaan’s death is also a gain. It is for us to protect this gain – the demonstration of the power of the individual against the old order establishment. I have great faith in our judiciary, and believe that Machaan’s murderers will be punished. That itself is a blow to the old order.
Let me explain why I believe Machaan’s murderers represent the old order.
Oil is the lifeline of our economy. Therefore, the people who distribute oil exert incredible control in their geographical domain. We also know that the licence to distribute oil is controlled by the state and, therefore, the political class. The political class also understands the shift of economic power. They are also aware that the shift will necessitate their control over the enforcement infrastructure of the country. Unfortunately, the enforcement infrastructure has been subverted so badly that it works more on fear rather than the confidence of the polity. We can only hasten the demise of the old order if we empower the individual economically, which can only come through education. This is where our responsibility lies.
If we are moved by the sacrifice of Machaan, let’s do something about it. If all of us, who have had good education and are reaping the benefits, put some money back into our institutions to create a corpus of funds, it can be used to provide free education to children who are not able to access it. This will be a giant step forward.
If we are aware that we have the economic power to destroy the old order, let us exert it and adopt the teachers. If each one of us shares our economic power with our teachers, I believe, it will be the best tribute we can pay to people like Machaan.