Amid thundering applause, he rose up again on the stage as everybody waited for him to begin with what he had promised to offer them that night: the greatest act he had ever performed, the Last Joke. The white and red make-up on his face shone as bright as any other night, so did that stretched-out wide smile.
‘You know, my wife - she always asks me if I know anything more than just making jokes and rendering people with laughter with my acts.’ He addressed the overcrowded stadium, ‘And, all I tell her is: baby, I’m a rationalist. What more can you expect from me?’
‘Wait, there!’ The cop asked the operator in the dark CCTV control room to pause the playback of the footage and turned to Raffiq, ‘See that? His hand gestures? He made a circle around his face with his hands, his face, a dot at the centre of it. The symbol of the RNP! He was taking a dig at the Rationals, not to mention, Liam Khetan himself.’
‘No offence, but I don’t find anything surprising about this.’ Raffiq shrugged his shoulders, ‘That was an obvious interpretation anyone present in the stadium could make even six months back, at the very same moment.’
‘Yes, yes, true.’ The cop replied, ‘But, what is important is what happened afterwards. His whole act that followed this momentary jibe never made any mention of the Rationalist National Party. Now, what does any rational.. Please don’t attach my expression to any political ideology for a moment; so, what does any rational mind grasp from something shocking, something unusual coming to it and disappearing just like this, so suddenly? That thing stays back there in the unconscious state. He intentionally designed the act so as to make people, even the followers of the RNP, uncomfortable about the Rationals in advance, so that, after the act was over, those minds could easily doubt the innocence of Mr. Khetan when they were given to do so.’
Raffiq stared into the cop’s eyes and smiled, ‘I can’t tell you I don’t doubt your innocence either.’ He picked up his coat from a chair on the left and prepared to leave, ‘No matter how hard you try to frighten me into telling you what you want to hear, I’m not going to open my mouth.’
‘Well, then, you need to prepare to be convicted for having falsely implicated Mr. Khetan by mingling with my previous office-bearer.’ The cop warned, ‘You don’t understand, Mr. Khan. That couple tricked you into issuing fabricated reports and illegally sanctioning the release of insurance claim, which money then was used to fund their political and anti-rationalist aspirations.’
‘You don’t understand, Mr. whatever-your-name-is. I can be tricked, but not blood. If it indeed was as you are saying, what logical reasoning would you assign to him opting to become The Clown That Bled?’
He glanced at the CCTV footage running on the screen in the back before leaving. The final act.
The whole stadium was soaked in laughter before when, in the end, he brought out a knife from his pocket and showed it to the audience. Plastic knife, smiled everyone.
‘Why don’t you tell this court what exactly is in your mind, Mr. Khetan?’ The public prosecutor asked the defendant in the hearing the next day, ‘Tell the court what you have seen and..’
‘I won’t.’ Liam Khetan stood firmly in the stand, ‘I need some more time. I am not able to ascertain what my views on the situation are, and for the principles I stand for, I should not be speaking a word in obscurity.’
‘Sir, please.’ His lawyer came closer to him, ‘We will not be able to get you out unless you co-operate.’
‘I am co-operating. You people have made a hero, a leader out of a coward and so-called emotional idiot, and I am helping you find the logical reason behind his actions and hence, the truth. I am trying to fill the loopholes in your democracy that have weakened your society by influencing your decisions with emotional and religious propagandas, while what you need, instead, is the ability to make decisions and be governed through knowledge and rationality.’
‘That ‘coward’ was the reason for millions of smiles in this country, sir.’ The public prosecutor said, ‘Not the best stand-up comedian the country has ever seen for nothing! He wouldn’t have bled unless you had replaced the plastic knife with the original one.’
Khetan smiled, ‘I wish it was this simple.’
‘There’s nothing in this life for me except for pain and agony, oh God, please take me away.’ The Clown looked at the sky, ‘Keep my wife here, however. Let this cruel world bear her consequences.’
Raffiq could remember each and every moment of that day. How his sixteen years old daughter, Kaira, was super excited for her favourite, The Clown’s most awaited performance, the Last Joke. She was so adamant on going to Delhi and seeing him perform live. But, Raffiq knew the limitations her paralysed body posed. She was mad at her father for not having taken her to Delhi. But, anyway, The Clown could entertain and make people laugh through any medium, couldn’t he? The father-daughter duo sat like curious kids in front of the TV, much like almost the whole of the country.
As he was about to stab himself with the knife, he stopped and again looked at the sky, ‘Oh, and one more thing, Goddy. Please don’t send a pretty luscious fairy to take me. I want this cruel world to cry on my departure. If they see me waving a smiling goodbye to them, they will..’
Done! He had speared his throat with the knife in the blink of an eye. Blood spurted out of his neck. As he struggled to catch his vision and breath, his faltering expressions erupted laughter in the audience. Such a great artist he is! His natural performance soon turned into a nightmare for everyone amongst the crowd as well as those who were watching the live streaming of the show on the TV, as they came to realise the performance had already ended. He lay there on the stage unwavering, amid the puddle of blood.
‘My condolences, Mrs. Iyer.’ Raffiq had gone to The Clown Mansion a week later to meet his wife, Padma Iyer, ‘I am Raffiq Khan, from LIC.’
‘I don’t seem to have filed any application for insurance claim, neither do you seem to be the insurance agent my husband had.’
‘I’m not. But I am one of the greatest admirers of your husband’s art.’
‘Hardly do people mix clowns up with artists!’
‘Oh, the most respectable they are. I have my daughter who can’t move on her own. But, whenever she saw The Clown’s episodes, she laughed so hard that she thought she could feel her limbs, even if she couldn’t in reality. Laughter could help her overcome every emotion she held. No therapy could do this.’
‘Tell this to the Rationals.’
Tell this to the Rationals. Damn. Why couldn’t I get this six months back itself? The cop was right. The couple must be hell-bent on bringing down Liam Khetan for what harm he had tried to cause to them. I dragged myself into the trap. Raffiq threw the documents he had onto the table. Sensing anxiety, he could little understand the apt next course of action.
He collected the documents back and sped his car up towards the airport.
‘You fooled me.’ He told Padma the next morning as he reached The Clown Mansion, ‘These bank statements of The Clown Party and The Clown Trust hold that the investment in each one of them was made within a month after I got the claim amount disbursed to you. You yourself promoted the idea of the Cult.’
‘I’m not getting you, Mr. Khan. First, I remember you yourself having come to me to tell me that your daughter is such a huge fan of my late husband that you wanted to return his favours by getting his life insurance claim passed even if it was a clear case of suicide. Secondly, I remember you to have proposed the idea of implicating Mr. Liam Khetan for The Clown’s murder so that this case of suicide can be fabricated as that of murder and hence, the claim can be legally passed. And then, today, you come accusing me of having used you? Besides, when in the hell it became a policy condition that the claim received was not to be used for promoting my late husband’s ideology?’
With no answer, he stood puzzled.
‘I’m sorry, Mr. Khan. But, even if you have started developing anti-empiricist beliefs in your mind while staying in touch with the administrative wing of the government, you have not become the whole of them yet, which makes it difficult for you to form a specific opinion.’
‘I don’t stand for any philosophically motivated and intellect driven political ideology. Not at all for the rationalism.’
‘Then you would be able to explain why this has been your ninth visit to me in last four months even if my work with you has been over since long, wouldn’t you?’
Clearly, Raffiq couldn’t explain. Why, indeed, was it so? Had he started developing illegitimate feelings for her? Where did his love for his late wife vanish? Where did his immense respect for The Clown disappear? How impractical and paradoxical the reigns of emotions are!
Yes, she was right. It was never her who asked him to cause wrong to the RNP. He himself chose to act the way he did. But, was it only because he wanted to pay his debt back to The Clown, or something else? Would the first ever meeting with her itself have left an unparalleled impression on his mind? Why did her presence around him itself remind him of The Clown and make him wish to bow down to her greatness even if she was mere a stranger? How can both of their personalities be so closely interwoven? It can’t be love. They never loved each other, did they?
And, once a man is lost, he cannot lose anymore. Any path he chooses only leads him to a reality alternate to the ones that other paths would have offered.
‘As far as the public knowledge went, they didn’t.’ Liam Khetan told Raffiq a few days later when he paid a visit to him in the cell, ‘But, think a little over it and you will realise that whatever they put on display to the people was a lie. In fact, it was a lie they used to tell each other as well. I didn’t know either of them personally and yet, I could perceive so many similarities amongst them, especially when he was The Clown. These reflections and imitations are not possible unless their attachment to each other was far stronger than they knew and confessed.’
‘Is that why you believe The Clown didn’t commit suicide?’ Raffiq asked, ‘That he is still alive through her?’
Khetan exploded into laughter, ‘Don’t speak this bullshit to me, Raffiq. These crap talks of emotions and spiritual fantasies don’t suit you any longer. You are not one of them.’
‘I am of neither.’
‘Oh, no, no, no. You are. Being in a need to come to a person you yourself despise is the sign of how lost you really are, Raffiq. And, once a man is lost, he cannot lose anymore. Any path he chooses only leads him to a reality alternate to the ones that other paths would have offered. You have chosen to be wise.’
‘All I want to know is what exactly you had told The Clown on the eve of the Last Joke.’
‘Trust me, this is very much the same as what even I have been trying to recall since then, in the hope of finding some loose point I must be missing. I don’t know why but his act seemed so legit to me. Exactly how I shouldn’t be seeing it. But, yes, there’s something that makes me understand that he did not make himself die. It indeed was a joke. What joke? I don’t know. Not yet. But, it did have something to do with what I had told him that day, on the eve of his Last Joke, when I had chanced upon his fame to have a little gain out of it on my part, by paying a visit to his Clown Arena.’
‘What was it that you had told him?’
‘You have been lying all this time.’
‘About what? The Pun-n-plant project? The Clown Arena?’
‘The funny thing is, I had called a press conference on the day of his performance to let the media know my views on this matter. Honestly, it was supposed to be only a marketing gimmick since every news channel was going to talk about The Clown only that day. But, just before heading for the conference, my PA comes to me and informs me that The Clown has stabbed himself to death on-stage, and I’m left shell shocked. His sudden and abrupt behaviour was unforeseen even for a veteran like me. And that is why, I felt respect for him. He had shattered all the judgements and opinions I had formed for him till date in one stroke.’
‘So, you don’t align with the RNP on this matter, do you? You don’t think he chose death only because he was left devastated after coming through what sharp criticism towards his pet and most ambitious act – the Pun-n-plant project you had made.’
‘Who says RNP holds any different view? Holding a view and putting a view to the public are two entirely different and dissociated events for a political existence. For once, I must confess within these four walls that, RNP approves of what conclusions the Cult of psychopaths has made so far.’
The Cult, also known as The Clown Cult, came into existence soon after the Last Joke was performed. A section of the cult followers of The Clown emerged to claim that he had not died and that he intended to say something through the metaphor of his death, to say the joke he had promised – a joke that would make him immortal in spirit. And therefore, they came together to form a group of like-minded ones on the social media first and out of the virtual world soon thereafter, and with joined hands, they set out to find what joke The Clown’s last act was.
The Cult would study in depth all the books and articles ever written on The Clown, all of his interviews and public acts he had performed, and discuss their individual opinions arrived at through logical reasoning, to arrive, in the end, at a conclusive point, the joke.
‘Isn’t it contradictory that The Cult aims to employ the same view that The Clown opposed?’ One member once said.
‘I think it is.’ Another one replied, ‘But, this contradiction is what can be responsible for a cleverly efficient outcome to arise. Whether it is the reason – the source for rationalism, or emotional experience – the source for empiricism, contradiction to storm up within oneself in order to arrive at a conclusion is inevitable, in fact, very much desirable. The storm usually takes away with it all that demands either elimination or substitution. Now, what can be better than driving all of our collective energies in a direction opposite to The Clown’s to have a holistic approach at it?’
‘And, what if this itself is a joke?’ Third member pondered, ‘What if he means to accept that there’s no knowledge except for the one gained through reason? That, there’s no superiority of emotions over objectiveness?’
‘Not tough to infer so.’ Fourth member put forward her point, ‘Especially when Mr. Khetan has criticized his Pun-n-plant project. Maybe, because it defied The Clown’s idea of emotional superiority? There must be a reason why he wanted the world to know what his views on that project were.’
‘And, there must also be a reason why he withdrew from doing so at the last moment.’ The first one referred to an old article, ‘Maybe, he just got to look at his past carefully that evening, at how he became The Clown.’
Seven years back. A merchant ship transporting goods from Iran to Thailand witnessed a massive wildfire on one of the isolated islands in the Nicobars of the Bay of Bengal. Suspecting inhabitancy on the island, the captain checked for any survivor through his binoculars, and he indeed found a man there, waving his arms at them asking for help. Alone. Ragged and hungry. He sent a ship’s boat to the shore and rescued the man.
Identified as Parikshit Samuels from Haveri, the man claimed to be the sole inhabitant on the island for past six and a half years.
‘Check for the Census of India report for 2001.’ One member of the Cult suggested.
‘The Census seems to be in agreement with what he says.’ The result suggested back, ‘No population count here. The largely barren land must have made it impossible for any locality to breathe here.’
‘How did he survive for so long then?’
‘So, Mr. Samuels!’ A five years old interview of The Clown was brought out from the archives, ‘Can you please elaborate what the Pun-n-plant project is?’
‘Yeah, sure.’ The clown had replied, ‘It’s a lie.’
‘It’s a lie if you don’t know the background. You would call it a lie and fraudulence if you take it to be independent of the fact that it is recreation of the reason that kept me alive on that island for nearly six and a half years.’
‘IT WAS A LIE.’ Raffiq told Khetan when made another visit to him in the lockup, ‘But, this was not his secret. If he was to be devastated by your words, if he was to feel lost knowing that somebody has called his life’s most ambitious work adultery, he would have ample reasons to justify against it to himself that you are accusing him only because you are not knowing that he has already done it once in the past, while stranded on that island.’
‘Knowing his past is not the criteria, Raffiq.’ Khetan replied, ‘Believing in it is. And I did not approve of whatever past of him he had disclosed to the world, except for the established fact that he was the sole survivor of the coastal ship Musafir that sank into the sea fifty kilometres south from Car Nicobar in December, 2004.’
‘I wonder now how I never knew the word ‘tsunami’ before I saw it and felt it. I remember how nobody in that cruz full of tourists from across the country had imagined something like that could ever happen. I remember how I, even in that moment, had thanked God for setting up circumstances unsuitable for Padma to come to the Andamans with me. More than anything else, I remember and I wonder, how I had opened my eyes to find myself alive on golden sand. Alone. Ragged and hungry.’
‘The knife killed The Clown, but that golden sand had killed Parikshit.’ Padma’s vague words in an interview with the Cult created quite a stir, leading the Cult into launching a detailed scanning of the identity proofs and other important documents such as, bank statements, investments, property documents, and the conclusion it made was that each of those documents reflected data only after his return from the island.
‘What do you mean you don’t have any records or proofs of him before he was gone?’ Raffiq had irritably asked Padma the day he last met her, ‘A picture? A certificate? An ID, goddamnit?’
‘We burnt it all.’ Padma had calmly responded, ‘He had been back from death, he said. Those six and a half years – he had named those an age of heaven. They had helped him discover himself. That island had made him realise what his real talent was. It wasn’t the marketing and door-to-door selling of mutual funds. It was his humour. The man I lost was my Parikshit. The man who returned was The Clown. And hence, we mutually decided not to ever let that old and weak man return, not even in our memories, forget about those so-called records and proofs.’
‘Yeah, sure. Like, you really let the person who loved you vanish.’
‘I let the person who loved his art be with me.’
‘That doesn’t make sense. Everybody longs for togetherness of those they can experience solitude with. Even if he did not love you anymore, even if it is only his success you had wished for, some part of you would definitely have resisted from sacrificing your feelings for him.’
‘You cannot understand, Mr. Khan. It was an experience. An experience of reunion of two lost and lone souls. The moment our eyes had met after all the possible ages, we had felt we had come far beyond the lines of the world. And that is when and why, we both were free of our selfish desires for the good of the other one. Certainly, you cannot understand, for you have plunged into the waves of lust.’
Even with strong will to object to her accusatory words, he couldn’t defend himself. Perhaps, he did not want to. Perhaps, he wanted to be blamed for his treacherous behaviour, he wanted to be punished for ever longing for someone other than his wife. How could he allow time to diminish and then wipe away his feelings for her after she was gone? Why did those feelings surrendered for something new, something better? Is it what the law of nature is? Do the dead really have to cease to exist from our souls as well? Do they really cease to exist at all?
‘When it comes to knowledge of death, one has to surrender all the reasons and logics he has ever held.’ Khetan wrote in his diary a week before the day of the judgement, ‘It is one thing that cannot be explained with mere intellect. One has to experience it to be able to form opinions about it, which I haven’t, but The Clown had done. It is only what must have empowered him to perform the Last Joke. When I think about it, I realise it’s not exaggeration when people in the Cult accept that he was dead when he was on the island. Not in literal terms, but he must have been dead in his nature, in his emotions, in his aspirations, in his hopes. And the original Pun-n-plant would have been the process of him regaining his life, doesn’t matter even if as a different person.’
‘I hadn’t named it Pun-n-plant in the beginning. Heck, I didn’t even know anything was happening at all to be able to think of giving it some name. Heh. I didn’t even know I could make someone laugh. In high school, you know, people called me boring, like, literally on my face. I used to sit in a corner with a friend of mine as much a nerd as me. Those active guys, jumping all around, used to win over all the smiles in the room. I was passing by a random stranger in the school lobby once and she was telling her friend how funny that other guy was. They admired the funny, the witty. I tried being one in front of the mirror after I got back home. Could not make my own self smile, I must confess.
‘But, when I was on that island, despaired, thirsty and starving, I realised I was not going to live for more than a few hours or days. To embrace the end, I lay on the ground, kissed the sand and spread my arms at it. It reminded me of my wife. And the very next moment, some words dropped out of my mouth. I don’t remember exactly what it was. But, it was funny, I guess. Some funny remark I made to the lifeless sand, and I felt good. I felt better. I felt somebody was there to talk to, to laugh with. I started interacting with sand. Just some random hushpush. We were so alone that I could speak just anything without worrying about anything else. I kept on talking nonsense till midnight, and when, on the next day, I woke up, I looked at the bush by my side, which, I felt had grown unusually. I mean, it was its height that surprised me. It wasn’t this much tall the previous day. I could be sure because there was nothing else to observe on the island. I tried calculating the possibilities. Did I water it yesterday? Negative. Did I play around it by any chance? Nope. Did I hit it, walk over it, sang with it, talk.. Did I..Did I talk to it?
‘I had heard about plants responding to soft music, but this was just another level. I experimented my jokes on a few other plants that day. I chose the ugly ones, by the way, just in case reverse impact turns out to happen. And, the next day? Some minor improvement! It felt so amazing. The plants were responding positively to my jokes. They were happier, merrier. They were smiling, or probably laughing. Even if they didn’t understand my language, it must have been the cheerfulness of my voice that pleased them, like a clown’s face pleases a kid. I realised, I was The Clown.’
‘He then created a whole jungle out of the barren land only with his words.’ The Cult noted down.
‘The proof? Here’s the proof.’ One of the members presented it with several printouts, ‘These are several satellite images of the island taken at different intervals throughout the time he was there. This – March, 2005. This one is of September, 2006. This one, and this one and these ones. All of them prove the theory he has promulgated.’
‘Looking at the green part? It is constantly growing, and by the end of 2009, the whole of the land is covered in green. God, this is amazing. I have never seen anything like this before.’
‘And, this is what kept him alive, huh? There was no food to eat on island, and he fed himself with his art? Rubbish. Defies science at best.’
‘Defies science, yes.’ Khetan wrote further in his diary, ‘But, not logic. We don’t have sufficient resources to claim his claims invalid and illogical. If the military communications satellite never reported any vehicle’s approach to the coast of the island during all those years, how else could have he got supplies for any logic to fit in? The first ever time since December, 2004 when a boat approached the island was when he set fire to the whole of it, to all he had birthed.’
‘Proud parent I was. Prouder than anyone else. The whole island was my creation. It all was mine and I was a creator greater than the God himself. I had birthed life on a land he had abandoned. I wanted to rejoice. I wanted to dance. I wanted to scream. I wanted the whole world to know what greatness I had achieved. I did scream my lungs out and let my joy be evident. Only a little while later I realised, it being evident mattered to none but myself. There was no one around to pat my back, say ‘Wow! It’s Amazing’ and praise the beauty of my art.
‘Days passed and my point of struggle slowly shifted from survival of my body to survival of my faith in my capabilities. Even if I had a whole world I myself had created with me, I was alone now. I was thirsty now, but no drop of water could have satisfied me. I was starving now, but no piece of food would have been enough. Just one word, I prayed to God, just let me hear some being tell me a single word that this world, my creation, is good, is like no other.
‘I lay on the ground, kissed the sand He had created and spread my arms at it. Some words dropped out of my mouth. I don’t remember what they were, but must have been funny. I laughed, harder than ever this time. None of those plants and trees seemed to respond this time. The next morning, I torched a bush by my side and told it, ‘You are not worth it.’ I moved to the next one and spoke, ‘You are not worth it.’ And, by the time I was hungry again, I had lighted the whole jungle, the flames piling up high till the roof of the sky. How gorgeous those flames were! Proud parent I was.’
‘I’m not worth it.’ Padma liked to remind herself what he had told her that night after Liam Khetan had left the Clown Arena, ‘The lie wasn’t worth it. The sacrifices were not worth it. I’m not worth it.’
If I am an artist, I am no one if my art does not find its place in people’s opinions.
‘You don’t have to do this, Clown.’ Padma had reverted, ‘That bastard is a politician. He has no relation whatsoever with you or your art. He’s just using your fame to get some share of it in his pocket. It doesn’t matter if he rejects your claims. Your talent is not limited to some people’s opinions.’
‘Exactly what I used to believe, until I set the heaven on fire. If I am an artist, I am no one if my art does not find its place in people’s opinions. And, if Mr. Khetan has turned his back on Pun-n-plant today, some more people, or probably the whole world will do so tomorrow. I will become no one tomorrow. The Last Joke will not be acceptable to the people and Pun-n-plant will fail.’
‘So, it was Pun-n-plant the Last Joke was going to be about.’ The Cult discussed, ‘He was probably going to confess what lie it was behind the project and people were supposed to take their credulous approach at his lie as a joke. But, when Mr. Khetan criticized the whole concept of Clown Arena for want of believable logic, he realised the lie was way too unartistic to be accepted by people and hence, he changed the act. He included a new prop in the act: a knife.’
‘The knife was never changed.’ Raffiq sat by his daughter’s bed as she was about to slip into dreams, ‘I am going to confess to the court day after tomorrow. Mr. Khetan should not be punished for what he has not done. It was me who..’
‘But, he killed The Clown, didn’t he?’ Kaira looked up at him, ‘The Clown wouldn’t have died if he hadn’t termed his great work a sham.’
‘It indeed was a sham, Kaira. The Clown had claimed that those trees in the huge backyard of his mansion he had termed as the Clown Arena were growing because of him interacting with them every day and because of his jokes. But, the Cult’s lab researches have now proved that none of those trees and plants were real. They were made to look so real that nobody ever doubted his credibility, add to it the effect of the bio-fresheners in the Arena. The whole of recreation of his so-called Pun-n-plant project was a lie and not mere a facet of it.’
‘Yes, dad, it was a lie. But, you yourself told me once, this lie was not his secret. It was something else. He was the best stand-up comedian we, at least our generation, has ever seen. Whenever he came up on the stage dressed like a clown, he made people laugh. Do you think everybody could do this?’
‘No. I don’t. But, that does not mean..’
‘That means he would not intend to hurt his audience’s sentiments.’
‘Artists are selfish, Kaira. Their creations are worth the most to them, far more than those they are for.’
‘Don’t talk like a rational, dad. It is them who see things as they are and should be. We are talking about The Clown here. If he wasn’t competent enough to effect Pun-n-plant, what was it that had happened back on the island? You have to have enough knowledge to judge things and which you can have only if you have felt what he has. You have to feel being him to be able to know what his secret was, dad, and I am sure, whatever it was, it meant to make people laugh only. Tell me, what would you do if you were a person like him, trying to prove your unimaginable talents to the world?’
‘I would first prove them to myself.’
‘I would lose myself into the stranger world. I would cut all my relations with it and be with myself, to test my limits. I would find myself stranded..on an island!’
The passenger list of Musafir was never to be found with the ship having been destroyed by the waves and hence, the Cult had so far relied on the data available with the tourism agency regarding advance bookings made by the clients. Little would anybody in the Cult have realised a need to press the memories of operators at the agency to extract the truth that one of the passengers was denied boarding on the ship on account that he was having a little too much of baggage with him, ‘almost as much as that for fifty men could be allowed’ one of the operators recalled.
‘He was not travelling to where Musafir was headed to anyway.’ The new discovery on the Cult’s blog read like this, ‘He had already identified an uninhibited island in the Nicobar region where he would spend the indefinite number of years and grow plantation with the help of all the seeds and other raw material he had taken there with him. He had food, he had clothes, and above all, he had the knowledge of horticulture, or at least, a practicable part of it. To keep his supplies out of the possible sight of the satellites, he must have buried all of them underground somewhere off the coast of the island and extracted them as and when needed.’
‘The Cult’s conclusions don’t make any sense.’ Khetan told Raffiq as they met for the last time a day before the trial, ‘The report of the Geographical Survey Institute of India has clearly stated in its report that the land there is largely barren. It is not capable of supporting any theory of existence of dense forests there.’
‘What do you mean to propose?’ Asked Raffiq.
There’s no concern and hence, investigation when nature burns and man stands to lose nothing out of it.
‘I mean to propose a theory that when Mr. Samuels was travelling from Port Blair to his heaven island, his luggage comprised of not raw material to build a forest there, but something else. He never intended to build a forest. He merely intended to build something that looked like one. So, the Cult’s attempts should have been in a different direction. They should have tried getting a forensic research done of the burnt down forests of the island. That’s what would have made it clear what it was that The Clown had set fire to instead of a real jungle.’
‘But, some investigation or so must have already been conducted by the Ministry of Environment at that time itself, no?’
Khetan smiled at his words, ‘There’s no concern and hence, investigation when nature burns and man stands to lose nothing out of it.’
‘So, we can contact the Cult with this suggestion, can’t we?’
‘I am so close to it, Mr. Khan. I feel I am near to the tiny secret of The Clown, and I already feel respect for him for a reason I can’t perceive yet. I wouldn’t tell this to the RNP so soon, however. The Clown had nothing to do with any political ideology, nor any reason to lock horns against any. Hadn’t I been so careless in my actions as a leader of a new-age intellectually driven political stream, I could have not needed to answer your question. I thought rationalism was the only ideology that could exist in politics for many years to come, and hence, I thought, since whatever The Clown did was against the party’s agenda of raising awareness amongst and consciousness of the citizens of India regarding importance of knowledge through reasoning capabilities and logical evaluations, I had an upper hand on him. It backfired. Badly. Everybody, including the RNP, believed The Clown Trust and The Clown Party’s involvement with the Cult was limited to providing fund support only. Turns out, it wasn’t so. So, coming to answering your question; no, it’s of no use to suggest anything to the Cult. It will not deviate from any direction it has headed in, it has been directed to by both the organizations. The Cult will not pay heed to any opinion that is contrary to its agenda of antagonizing The Clown.’
‘Antagonizing The Clown? Hell, but all of them are amongst the biggest fans of him.’
‘I don’t deny that. But, tell me one thing, Mr. Khan, you must be knowing Mrs. Iyer better than me, but, how well do you know her?’
How well did he know her? She was The Clown’s wife. There wasn’t any moment when she didn’t remind him of The Clown. She had happily let go of the man who was her husband and accepted him as an unloving creature. She had helped him destroy all the records that hinted towards his previous part of life, and.. Wait, he thought. They erased his previous identity. But, what about hers? What was her part of story?
‘She is not his wife. She is not, someone else is.’ An old man rose out of darkness of the large packed community hall in Vasant Kunj in the definitive conclave of the Cult that evening, ‘I knew a man who left his home, his family, everything he once knew to become someone he wasn’t. I knew a man who was so selfish and arrogant in his talent that he considered all the others puny to his standards, even those he lived for. I knew a man who left his wife and two children to ‘test his limits’ as he said, to become the greatest artist the world has ever seen, as he said. I knew a man who I used to call my son once.’ The old man, leant on to a walking stick, let his face be showered under the light rays, ‘I always wondered why he put on such a shameful lie around himself by choosing to become a clown. I wondered why he chose to end his life then. And in the end, I wondered that if he had finally learnt the natural gesture of feeling disgusted about deceiving his audience, why did he kill himself alone, and not the person who was very much a part of his trickery as well?’
He threw a glance at every dimly visible expressionless face inside the walls, ‘Now that we are all here, close to choosing what we do about the false idol of ours, I won’t have to anymore.’
‘What the hell will they do?’ Asked Raffiq as they both stood waiting for the cop to ask Raffiq to leave the cell, ‘Will they..’
‘..Kill Mrs. Iyer?’ Completed Khetan.
She got up from her deck chair, and when close to the switchboard, turned the lights on that switched her dark grimy room into a glittering house of joy.
‘We are committed to do what we have to, but at the same moment, we have to learn the truth that we are not murderers.’ The elected leaders of the Cult were addressing the crowd now preparing for a march, ‘We all have come together from farthest concerns of the nation, and the reason that brought us together was a smile. A smile he used to bring on all our faces. A vain smile. A smile that now is realised to be so purposeless that we seem to have lost purpose of our own lives. And that is why, what we now do is to bring justice to the crores of people of this country who were made to believe in a forged idol. We are made to realise that not his jokes, not his acts, not our laughter, not our joys, not our happiness – none of it was real. What was real was the pains and agony our lives offered to us, the ones we wished of freeing ourselves from.’
She opened the cupboard she would never let anyone get their hands on, not even herself, except for every evening, when she would opt to live her dream for half an hour.
‘Come on, come on, move it, damn it.’ Raffiq shot his car towards The Clown Mansion amidst almost unmoving traffic of Delhi, as he frequently tried reaching out some numbers, ‘Imam, Imam, listen to me. I need your help. I need you to call the highest ranking officer in the police you know up, and ask them to send protection to The Clown Mansion ASAP, okay? Listen, listen, listen to me, listen to me, Imam, I did try everywhere else, but they won’t move any inch against the Cult. Damn it, damn it, you.. you fucking Cult. You all are insane psychopaths.’
Cutting the call, he tried for sixteenth time to dial Padma’s number.
Her phone silently played an alarm she didn’t want to wake up to. She took some clothes out of the closet and from beneath her bed, a kit, a make-up kit.
Thousands of people blocked his way since five kilometres from the Mansion. Khakhi colour appeared here and there amongst the crowd, but none to be of any use. Abandoning the car in the mid of the road, he darted towards the mansion. The three-storey mansion looked gigantic even from this distance, on each wall of which, he could see some of the Cult members affixing explosives.
‘Damn it, Mrs. Iyer!’ He screamed.
She stood in front of the mirror. The most content of herself could she see in it! She looked through the mirror at The Clown’s photo hanged on the wall behind, ‘Now comes the time, hero. I still don’t agree to your idea of punishing ourselves for what wrong we have done to these people. But, you know, don’t you? You tell me to live and I live. You tell me to die and I die. You tell me not to love you, and I will still love you. You let me be alone when you performed your last act, genius. Now comes my turn. Let this futile thing explode and I come to you.’
The members rushed away from the mansion and instructed each one of the others not to move near to any side of the wall as all of them waited for a trigger to be pressed.
‘No, no, wait, wait.’ Raffiq still tried spearing his way through the rigid throng, not knowing himself the reason for his attempts, ‘Don’t do this, please.’
‘Three. Two.’ She closed her eyes, ‘One.’
Boom! The south wall of the mansion was down. As the rubbles of smoke faded away, a shape was revealed behind them, standing on the edge of the first floor. Frightened, waiting for its end. Little did it know it was much farther than it knew. None of the other explosives worked, none of them was supposed to work.
It opened its eyes in disbelief and amazement, much like every other eye standing before it, the largest audience one could ever have. Not a single word could anyone speak, until one of them could notice what that shape was and what its attire was. The white and red make-up on her face shone as bright as any other night, so did that stretched-out wide smile.
‘The Clown lives on.’ The man mumbled.
Padma Iyer, born in a small village in Adilabad district of the then Andhra Pradesh, loved mimicking people ever since her childhood. Her three brothers and two sisters used to be her regular audience. She would make them laugh harder than anyone else in the vicinity. With time, the audience kept on growing to include other neighbour kids, their cousins who came to the village for vacations, the elders and then, the whole of the village. Her skills, too, grew and sharpened as the time passed. She never envisioned her funny side could be too much for a conservative rural family to accept in a woman, especially if she entered the family as a ‘wedded parcel’, as she used to term it. A woman was supposed to behave in a certain manner and being open, sarcastic or even funny was certainly not included in that list. She would smile when her husband would hit her. She would smile when her in-laws would threaten her to throw acid on her face. She could not smile when they destroyed the little mandap she had built for a stand-alone performance before kids in the village that day.
She hadn’t faced any hesitation in choosing to run away that night. She sat in a bus for Hyderabad and from there, caught a train to Chennai. She was busy with a street performance for a fairly small audience, when suddenly, the crowd’s attention had been swung away to someone else, someone famous, perhaps. She enquired of him and walked up to the buzz to see a man who had returned from almost being dead on an island. She stood at a distance, but when their eyes had met, she had known the lie his ones held. By no chance, he was a comedian the way everybody was projecting him. She smiled a sardonic look and walked away. He already knew who was going to help him become The Clown.
She would write his acts, teach him to act and deliver, dress him up and be his shadow. Maybe, it was a decision taken a little too early to be that shadow and not the figure itself. Maybe, her idea of the society that would not accept a female comedian was flawed at that time. This she must have regretted in the beginning, but her regret was compensated with time by an emotional experience. She knew her slowly developing feelings for him were not getting anywhere and for a person like him so adamant on proving his invaluable worth to the world, they meant little. Nevertheless, she was happy. Things were perfect. Until that night. The night when he had asked her to hand him over not the plastic knife. The night when he had speared his throat to death.
‘The Clown lives on.’ The man mumbled.
It wasn’t a deliberate act that she gestured like bringing a knife out of her neck and threw it away while regaining breathe. It all was just as natural as it could that followed. She had let herself slip into an act in front of the biggest audience she had ever faced.
‘You know, whatever I have penned in this diary was to let anyone who reads it know how valid and clear my claims and views were.’ Liam Khetan would address the court the next day, ‘For I understand, but do not blame anyone for, what ambiguity your ruling, your honour, could hold. After all, when I projected myself as the advocate of rationalist knowledge, my calculations and assessments needed to be spotless. So, today, after all these calculations and assessments having been made, I have been able to reach a conclusion. And this conclusion is, all these theories, logics, rationales, emotions –everything, every source of knowledge and knowledge itself - is bullcrap. The importance to embrace, I realised yesterday, is of nonsensical part of ours.’
The Clown’s acts had mesmerized the crowd beyond belief. The smiles on each of those faces was unbeatable. Each of the jokes she told through her acts were resonating with collective chortles across the skies. It didn’t make any sense, sure. They were not supposed to so absurdly fall for the jokes.
‘The sane part of ours tells us that we are not supposed to so absurdly fall for the nonsense, the jokes. But, when we do so, the world seems so different, so alive. I was in the cell yesterday, and to be honest, I had no reason whatsoever to smile or laugh. I could neither see nor hear The Clown perform. But, I could feel it in the air. The freshness. I don’t – I don’t care what names the RNP calls me by after these words of mine. I don’t care for anything else, because now I have learnt to laugh. I mean, I can’t describe what’s the difference exactly. Maybe, it’s because I don’t need to find any reason or possess any intellect to do so. I can just feel it and let myself loose. And, that’s why now I have realised why The Clown never died and why he lives on.’
There was something strange out there that Raffiq could see. It was not Mrs. Iyer he was looking at. Neither was it The Clown. It was his wife. It was Kaira. It was everyone he ever loved. It felt like someone own. Because, that someone was his smile for the moment. Each of her comic gestures reminded him of some long forgotten memories of those people he must have suppressed inside him. In between, he also picked out some time to smile at his juvenile interpretations of his feelings over the past few days.
‘The Clown lives on.’ He didn’t realise, he was the first one to mumble and to be followed by the whole lot of joyful people thereafter.
‘I would like to say something in defence, your honour.’ Khetan requested the court.
‘But, the witnesses and proofs have already proven your innocence, Mr. Khetan.’ Said the rather surprised judge.
‘In The Clown’s defence, your honour.’
In the midst of all those bright faces, the previous day, Raffiq had witnessed a face flickering with reflections of lights falling on its tears. Parikshit Samuels’ father. As if his eyes were telling The Clown, ‘Thank you, Padma. Thank you for bringing my son back.’
‘Artists are selfish, Kaira. Their creations are worth the most to them, far more than those they are for.’ ‘If I am an artist, I am no one if my art does not find its place in people’s opinions.’ ‘It’s a lie.’ ‘You have been lying all this time.’ They never loved each other, did they?
‘You cannot understand, Mr. Khan. It was an experience.’ Raffiq chuckled at realisation of what time Mrs. Iyer meant to talk about that day. The day when The Clown’s ambitions had seemed to be shattered. The day when he had realised his art was no supreme talent. The day when, for the first time in his life, he had known the true sense of being attached to someone, of shedding the layers of self-esteem, of knowing the art of finding true worth of oneself in togetherness of someone, ‘An experience of reunion of two lost and lone souls. The moment our eyes had met after all the possible ages, we had felt we had come far beyond the lines of the world. And that is when and why, we both were free of our selfish desires for the good of the other one.’
For the good of the other one! That is why, he must have dialled a call to his home after so many years, mustn’t he? That is why, the Cult’s direction would have been towards antagonizing The Clown people loved so The Clown that deserved their love could be birthed, wouldn’t it? After all, he was an artist. He was selfish. The Clown he would create would be worth the most to him, far more than the one it would be fore - his own self.
‘His dream was to adopt identity of an artist different from what he actually was.’ Khetan told the court, ‘He wanted people to believe in his lies and reveal what he truly was at a later date to raise disbelief amongst the audience about his revelation so as to prove how greatly natural his secret was, how great an artist he was!’
‘He wasn’t a comedian, of course.’ Raffiq could hear one of the joyful faces speaking to another one next to him, ‘He created the whole goddamn jungle there, but not the way he told. He did it with what his real talent was.’
‘The ship that Mr. Samuels had hired for travel from Port Blair to his so-called heaven island did carry the supplies that could suffice till any ship found him after a projected period of two-to-three years, but along with it were unbelievably huge load of papers, colours and so on.’
‘Can you believe how he would remove all the previous day samples of Pun-n-plant project and install a little bigger, a little more grown ones he had created in the Clown Arena every night?’
‘He wasn’t a clown, he was a painter.’ Liam Khetan smiled, ‘He didn’t joke his death. He painted her, The Clown’s, life.’