The Venus Flytrap: What We Don’t Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Delta Meghwal

Delta Meghwal wanted to study. She was raped, murdered and towed away in a garbage tractor.

Delta was the first girl in her village (Trimohi, Rajasthan) to go to secondary school. Then she went on to Jain Adarsh Teacher Training Institute. She was Dalit. She was 17.

On the evening of March 28th, the hostel warden instructed her to clean the PT instructor’s room, where she was raped.

Returning to her room, injured and terrified, she called her father. The next morning, she was found dead in a tank. Police then took her body to the hospital in a municipal garbage tractor. The autopsy showed that there was no water in her lungs. She did not drown herself.

Pause. You didn’t know. Now – do you care?

Delta Meghwal was an artist. A painting she made of a camel in Class 4 was hung in Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje’s office. Is it still there – reproaching the politicians who haven’t spoken a word about her murder?

She is not the first woman – artist or otherwise – to meet a tragic end because her talent stood at odds with what was expected of her. I don’t see Buzzfeed articles, neatly packaging tragedy for public consumption, with images of her paintings. I don’t see a government agency being set up in her name to provide arts scholarships for underprivileged girls. When her devastated father tells a reporter, “I shouldn’t have educated her… maybe she’d still be alive”, all I see is the story of Delta’s murder being used to frighten disenfranchised parents into wanting less for their children.

Most of all, I don’t see your 140 characters of hashtagged outrage. And that is what makes me sickest of all.

When Jyoti Singh Pandey – valorised as Nirbhaya – was raped and murdered, the entire nation grieved publicly. We observed candlelight marches. We claimed her as sister and daughter. We demanded that laws be changed. If that solidarity is reserved only for those whose backgrounds don’t discomfit our smug lightweight activism, it is no solidarity at all. It is ugly hypocrisy. There is zero meaning to your still angrily shuddering at the words “Delhi gangrape” if you ignore Delta Meghwal today.

The mainstream media is silent. In Barmer, Pali, Jodhpur, Bangalore, Delhi and Bikaner, photos of small demonstrations show mostly men, protesting caste violence. Where are the women, the ones who cried for Nirbhaya?

Talking about Delta’s death means talking about caste, and our complicity when we ignore aspects of any power system that serve us, but not others. It means being uncomfortable.

Now, when I hear the words “the Delhi gangrape”, I want to correct the grammar. That was a gangrape that took place in Delhi in December of 2012: in that same month, in that same city, there were others, mostly with fewer perpetrators involved.

That year, 24,923 rapes were reported in India (more – more than we know or want to imagine – were not). 98% of those perpetrators were known to the victim. We chose to focus on one case in the 2%, conveniently othering the rapists on the basis of class.

What about Delta Meghwal – has she been othered too?

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on April 14th. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: In Song And In Silence

I recently enjoyed the chance to perform alongside the Australian writer and cellist Kevin Gillam, who interweaves his poetry with the magnificent timbres of the instrument. Far from the city which I soften daily with Bach’s suites, I made two discoveries: firstly, the music evoked no Pavlovian responses in me, no memory of that which needs softening. And, these celebrated ouvertures may have been written by the other Bach – his wife.

Gillam spoke of research by the conductor Martin Jarvis that proposed that Anna Magdalena Bach had composed the suites; their pacing and sensibilities differ significantly from Bach’s larger body of work. This stayed with me. The unaccompanied cello suites accompany me everywhere, and now this thought did too. History remembers us as it will. We cannot influence its remembering. Our work is not to contrive the echoes we leave, but to live life’s opus with operatic feeling. It matters not whether we survive in song or in silence, but only that we deliver our clearest cadence.

I had been introduced to the baroque suites by a musicologist I had befriended while travelling in the Thanjavur district. A year later, I returned to that part of the country, and again, what I took back with me resonated for a long time afterward.

Pilgrims to a music festival, we had travelled out to the village of Thirupughazhur for a meal and to see a certain house, an excursion within a longer one, and after an extraordinary banana leaf lunch – the best vegetarian South Indian meal of my life – were on the backyard portico, napping or talking in the somnolence of the first few weeks of real heat since the rains had ended. A temple tank faced us, the view tainted only by the telephone towers in the near distance. Thirupughazhur literally translates to “town of the praise-song”; it is sacred to the legends of the poet-mystics Appar and Sundarar (not all poets are mystics, but I think all mystics are poets, even the ones who do not speak).

Among our party was the Indologist David Shulman, who spoke of the Tantric concept of the vibrating universe. As in string theory, the world is always singing. God, perhaps, is eternally humming. In stages, this supreme vibration becomes audible. From an intensity impossible for us to hear, it devolves into speech, noise, melody. The urmani is the moment of epiphany: the moment when silence turns to sound.

By April, months later, the rains still had not returned. I soften the city with cello suites, I wrote. A few days after I sent it to him, another friend – yet another soul who blesses the orchestra of my life – told me he had set the poem with this line in it to music. I was surprised; much as I have an interest in multidisciplinary art, my writing, like a cello suite, is almost always imagined unaccompanied. I listened to a rough cut of the piece, and in the silence after the song’s ending, I thought of the urmani. I thought of when it might have been when, reading the page, the words became infused with sonority. In my friend’s head, a harmony had formed. In mine, it had happened backwards. The world is always singing. I am always only trying to write down its songs.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.