…….. He continued “There are many, thrown into the asylum, who would be considered mad in the people’s eye today. But one needs those eyes to see and declare them as mad.”
I asked with disinterest “What do you mean by the eyes?”
He directly looked into my eyes and replied, “----the one who becomes distraught by listening to the voice of the inner-self and in that mindset starts acting on orders of the inner voice is considered to be mad today. In the past, he might have been a saint. Today his place is in the mental asylum.”
------- I said, “So you were talking about the mental asylum; what about that?”
He started saying something, perhaps the preface for his statement. I interrupted him “What name you said?”
“Is he a Roman Catholic? A tribal Christian?”
He was offended, “You were not listening?”
I tried to convince him that I had grasped each and every word of what he was saying. But his facial expressions said that he didn’t believe me. He said, “Claude Eatherly was the American pilot who dropped the Bomb on Hiroshima.”
I was surprised. Either he or I was mad. I asked, “So what?”
Now really angry with me he said, “You idiot! He kept sending a cheque every month to the Mayor presiding over the discoloured, dreary, ugly, and sad life of the devastated city of Hiroshima so as to provide some help to the hapless people, as also to atone for the unpardonable sin he had committed!”
------- Whom is he talking with me in this tone? I imagined as if I was not living in this world; have come some two hundred miles above it, from where I can see the sky, the moon and the sun, and the stars. Rockets are flying from one end to another; and the earth looks like a blue sphere, where there are people who have come from all countries, and are not of any particular nationality. I was somewhat mesmerised for a split second. That moment was loaded, with awe and self-doubt! And in that moment I asked, “So Claude Eatherly of Hiroshima is in this asylum?”
The fingers of my stretched hands were pointing in the direction of the yellow building. Going across the walled compound my searching eyes had caught a glimpse of the bright eyes peering out of the window. If I am to believe this man, these eyes must belong to Claude eatherly and none else. But is it possible?
He could read my mind, “Yes, he was Claude Eatherly.”
“Then is it not India? We are living in America?”
He laughed scornfully at my foolishness, and said, “In every big city of India there is an America. Have you not seen those fair-coloured, bright golden women with a streak of red on their lips; have you not seen their costly costumes? The highbrows riding in limousines?
The sophisticated prostitution? The seminars? Once upon a time we used to go to London and were called as “England Returned”. Nowadays, we go to Washington. If only we had as much money, and Atom Bombs, and Hydrogen Bombs, and rockets, we would have been the luckiest! Do you read newspapers?”
I said, “Yes”
“Then you must have read the speech of Macmillan. Remember, what did he say? This country may not be a part of our military alliance, but culturally and mentally it is with us. Was he telling a lie? No sir! He was just telling the truth. And if this is the truth, then it is also equally true that their moral and cultural crisis is ours too.”---------------
He continued, “When such is the case, then why can’t our country too, have the pilots capable of dropping atom bombs, and why can’t we have our own imperialists and war mongers? Just go and read the newspapers, and ask the English-speaking elite. The sum and substance is that India is also America.”
By now I was sweating. My heart was not prepared to accept that India was also America, and that Claude Eatherly was incarcerated in this lunatic asylum. He roared with laughter sensing my discomfort and fear, but then his eyes were filled with sadness.
He said, “Claude Eatherly was an aircraft pilot. The bomb he dropped destroyed the city of Hiroshima. He returned to see the consequence of his heinous deed and was shattered to see what was left of the city. He was a broken man after that. He didn’t know that the weapon in his possession could work havoc of this magnitude. The broken images of the innocent persons killed or maimed by the bomb started haunting him. He was filled with a sense of unending guilt, and a desire to mitigate sufferings of his victims. On the other hand, the American Government rewarded him. He was declared a “War Hero”. But his conscience bothered him. He asked for to be punished for his crime. But how a hero could be punished? He left the job, yet the lionisation didn’t stop; he was still the hero!
“He started committing petty crimes, so that he may be caught, tried, and punished. But he was always acquitted. His pleas for punishment were ignored. But when he persisted, he was at last thrown into a lunatic asylum in Waco, Texas. He stayed there for four years but his insanity could not be corrected.
“After his release he joined hands with some criminals and started robbing the post offices. He was duly arrested, but was acquitted once again when the judge came to know who he was. The top brass in the military didn’t want to be embarrassed by convicting a war hero. To save honour, he was sent back to the asylum.
“This is Claude Eatherly! There was no reason to disbelieve his honesty! A film company offered to pay him a Million-dollar fee to make a movie on him. He refused. This erased the doubt if any about him.
“Who doesn’t know that Claude Eatherly is another name of the conscience opposing the atomic war. Yes! Eatherly is not a mental patient. He is the burning symbol of the spiritual restlessness, of spiritual anxiety. Do you refuse to accept this?”
He was now wearing a dejected look. He further continued, “How many are capable of understanding this spiritual anxiety, spiritual restlessness? And how many believe that they are psychic, neurotic, queer, strange, or mad? In the ancient times many of our sages were regarded to be insane. Today also, many are regarded as such. If they are not important enough, they are simply ignored. Thus their inner feelings are prevented from spreading out.
“There is a lunatic asylum inside hearts and minds of each of us. We consign our uncontaminated, sublime, and rebellious thoughts and emotions to it; so that either they learn to make compromises, don the garb of civility, and start behaving, or spend a wretched life there.”
Awe-struck I asked, “Is that story for the real?”
He replied, “Don’t you read newspapers? Then what do you know? If you don’t believe me then go, and find for yourself. In the meantime, let me take you on a round of the asylum.”
On the way, once again I said, “I’m not prepared to accept that India is America. It has never been and it would never be one.”
He brushed aside my objection and said, “Your problem is that you don’t see my point.”
I said, “How?”
“Claude Eatherly may not be living here, but at least we can look for the people whose conscience pricks them as much.”
“But will it be the correct thing?”
“Why not! Doesn’t the people honest to the country have a personal sense of just and unjust?”
“I haven’t understood.”
“I mean there are people who know who are the robbers and sinners and exploiters. They may not necessarily be the outsiders, but from amongst themselves. Try to understand.”
“That even those who experience the widespread injustice yet don’t revolt against it, carry the sense of personal guilt deep inside their hearts. It ought to be. That is the basic oneness between Claude Eatherly and them.”
“So what does it prove?”
“That proves that every sensitive person like you is Claude Eatherly.”
It was just as if he had stabbed me. Yes, this was the truth! Absolute truth! The inner-self gathering dust in the dark abyss of the heart does revolt. It accepts all responsibility for the sins committed before one’s eyes. Oh me! How often I, too, have been inflicted with this feeling!”
Excerpts from CLAUDE EATHERLY, a Hindi short story written sometime in the year 1959, by the late Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh, in short Muktibodh, (1917-1964), the most important signature in post-independence Indian literature.
Hindi version from Muktibodh Rachnavali, Part III, published by Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 1980.