Choreography of Murder: A Perspective on Anand’s Book of Murder

in Article
Published on: 28 September 2018

Sanil V.

V. Sanil is Professor of Philosophy at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi


Michael Gregorio’s Critique of Criminal Reason is an unusual detective novel.[1] This revolves around that great thinker, Immanuel Kant. There are a series of murders in Kant’s little town, Konigsburg. Hanos Stephanis, who arrives to investigate this, lands in the midst of Kant’s novel, Critique of Pure Reason. This book deals with the inner sources of a mind that indulges in the sheer ecstasy of pure violence. It could have been Kant’s scribe, or maybe Kant himself, who was behind the killings in Konigsburg. The detective himself, fearing the potential effects on readers, tears the book into little shreds and flings it into a nearby canal. Then he departs, after disclosing that it was, in actuality, the local supporters of Napoleon, poised to attack Prussia, who were behind the murders.


Immanuel Kant was the thinker of the Enlightenment. He placed knowledge, obedience and pleasure within the limits of reason, and for whom only the courageousness of thought mattered. The ascetic who found freedom and goodness in the agility of reason alone. The one who maintained order and method not merely in his thought and beliefs, but even in the punctuality accorded to his evening walks. So how could someone like Kant, who insisted that one should not lie even to save a friend’s life, derive pleasure in murder?


What is the principle that drives the murder, and the detective who follows alongside to investigate this? Kant’s attempt in the story is to lay the foundation of the science of criminal investigation by reconstructing the inner logic of murder. To put it in simple police language, behind every murder there are one or more murderers. The murderer will have some goals. Property, power, revenge, hatred, or something like that. The investigation must proceed on some concrete bases such as these. This is the police logic rejected by Kant in this book that none of us have read. No science can be sculpted out of such logic.


For common sense and conventional morality, violence has only been a means. There may be a difference of opinion on whether this means is right or not. How much violence is permissible for a good cause? What should be the precautions for such permissible acts of violence? Such issues are within the ambit of discussion. But a general common sense does not accept killing for the sake of killing. If there are murderers who are such purists, then they must be mentally ill. The murders in Konigsburg did not have any other goals. The victims did not have money, fame or power. And the murderer─the epitome of reason! The victim and murderer were separated merely by the onrush of sheer pleasure in anticipation of the pure murder.  And all the inner forces of agency are drawn into this pleasure. This is not an expression of suppressed recidivism. This is murder that is planned and executed. The sharp whalebone is the Konigsburg murderer’s weapon. The victim is seduced into submission and brought down to his knees, and then is stabbed sharply with the bone through the back of his neck, killing him. The joy of the killing lies not in the helplessness or screams of the victim. As the sharp bone pierces through the neck, man experiences an almost bestial surge that seems to raise him to the heavens. The success of the murder lies in the roar that drowns both the hunter and the hunted.


Such extraordinary rushes of the human mind, and its connection with rationality, was a constant theme of Kant’s inquiry. But such rushes are not restricted only to murder. And the starry heavens up above and the voice of conscience deep within would have filled Kant with the same awe.  It wasn’t the beauty of the skies or the certainty of moral law that caused this experience. Instead it was the pleasure that one derives from the realization that the striving that takes us by leaps and bounds to the limits of knowledge and experience is indeed that, which renders knowledge and experience possible. But this realization is not mere cognition. It is pleasure. It is a surge. It is galloping thought.


Why are we overwhelmed by the sight of a mountain soaring towards the heavens? Maybe because we are insignificant in front of such grandeur. Our eyes tire after gazing for long at such Himalayan heights; but perhaps there is some delight in such fatigue. Could it be the defeat, even inertia, when faced with measuring the immeasurable? The murderer recognizes and enjoys exactly this kind of delight and fatigue. The animality that bursts forth, shattering all moral prohibitions, catapults man to the heights of the gods.


Those who have ridden the roller coasters in theme parks would be familiar with the inner tremulousness that we feel when tossed around at an extraordinary pace. Roller coasters sweep us up to great heights and then chuck us down with an equal ease. People shriek in terror. This shrieking is what is pleasurable. It is almost akin to a masochist who pays good money to buy a Rottweiler who terrifies him constantly. This little amusement gives a kick only to those undeterred by cowardice.


However, such play is conditional on complete safety. So do people buy tickets to plunge themselves into the dangers of roller coaster rides in order to be able to say, ‘Thank God, we escaped near death?’ No. If that were indeed the case then one would have yelled out only after the roller coaster had finally descended to the ground. That terrified scream is possible only when the delights of safety are wiped out of one’s mind when being swung wildly through air. Some theme parks even have cameras that can capture one whilst navigating the most exquisitely dangerous spins. Just try that once. Your face will reveal a look of indescribable bliss even as you jump out of your skin in fear. The fear and frolic possible within the security of the roller coaster is what the killer experiences whilst wielding his murderous knife.


Let us return to Gregorio’s novel. It was Kant himself who had invited Stephanis to investigate the murders in Konigsberg. And there was a reason for that. It was after all Stephanis who had introduced Kant to the pleasures of pure murder. Stephanis had been in Paris at the time of the Revolution. He had then, along with the multitudes, witnessed the execution of Louis the XIV. Upon seeing the blood-spattered head of the Emperor rolling down from the guillotine the crowds shrieked like children on a roller coaster. The murderous roar that made History tremble. It was this roar that resonated as the renowned French Revolution slogan, ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’.


In Kant’s view the French Revolution was a messy event. The Royalist Kant could not accept the manner in which the people had disposed of the Emperor. That University Professor could not stomach the crowds or bloodshed. The taking of human life was beyond the conception of that devout Christian. However, Kant was forced to read the signs of both the public use of reason, and ideas of progress in the Revolution, that were integral to this event. These signs were seen not in the validity of revolutionary ideas, the determination of revolutionaries or even in the victory of the Revolution itself. Instead, it was the terrifying roar of the masses, witnessing the Emperor’s execution that attracted Kant. This roar was not a joyous expression of having achieved the revolutionary goal. Having been a part of the murderous mob was what gave Stephanis the eligibility to investigate these crimes. Other investigators may have been distracted by such red herrings, like the killer’s petty acts, or even his great objectives. It is only one who has known the sheer delight of a horrific murder who can see such a crime from a murderer’s viewpoint.


Kant was neither praising violence, nor providing respectability to what psychiatrists have foolishly characterized as recidivism. As I said earlier, he was laying the foundation for the future science of criminal investigation. This science must not be founded either on the egotism of the killer, or the pathos of the victim. One should not even follow a system of justice that distinguishes right from wrong, or mandates the punishment for a crime. Kant is not searching for a technique for understanding either the calculations, or the guilt, of a criminal. Stephanis is not a policeman; he is a judge. Murder is wrong in the eyes of the court. If investigation is to become a science, there must be Enlightenment even in the courts. Kant’s quest was beyond good or evil, rights or covetousness; he was looking for a system of justice that could track those residual signs that outlasted acts whose agency was constructed through violence. This idea of justice is unsustainable in a legal system where only the victims’ pleas find voice. That is why Stephanis destroyed Kant’s manuscript on criminal justice before it could reach anyone else’s hands.


Now the real Kant could never have envisaged such a murder mystery. The fictional Kant wrote that book. Yet it was conclusively finished off within the novel itself.


Section 2


Anand’s Book of Murder (Samharathinte Pustakam) is the Malayalam edition of the treatise on criminal reason that Kant never wrote. The GardenerThe Hotelier and The Tailor are the three stories in this collection. All three are to do with murder. In all three the killing is almost a Spartan act, committed for its own sake. The Book of Murder is about two issues—murder and book. Violence has always disturbed Anand. However, until this book, Anand had always seen violence only through the piteousness of the victim. Both the murderer and the murdered are victims. From the victim’s point of view, the main issues regarding violence are brutality, suffering and death. From the scars of the whiplash is born the alphabet; and from the scream, meaning. Anand had been searching for the relationship between endurance, justice and language. Yet the Book of Murder shows the determination to explore violence through the excitement, and almost purity of purpose, of the murderer. These stories capture the energy and exhaustion of the murderer. These are centred on the act of murder itself. The killer’s cruelty and the victim’s wretchedness are somewhat shifted to the margins.


Both text and action alike are a problem for Anand. After all text and action trace their origins back to the same root.[2] In Anand’s stories not only individuals and ideas, but texts themselves surface as characters. Incomplete books have been floating around for a long time in Anand’s writing. The book in Govardhanantte Yatrakal (Govardhan’s Travels) is rendered incomplete by a protagonist who crosses the boundaries of Literature to be let loose into History. The main characters in Vyasanum and Vighneswaranum (‘Vyasan and Vigneswaran’) too are two incomplete texts─Nishadapuranam and Nagaravadhu. Udaya Kumar has demonstrated that such ‘incompleteness’ in Anand is neither erroneous nor a sign of his inadequacy (Kumar 2000). Such ‘incompleteness’ is the foundation of Anand’s notion of justice. Anand believed, until Vyasanum and Vighneswaranum, that the infinite source of this incompleteness lay in the relationship between text and temporality. In the story Nalamatthe Aani (‘The Fourth Nail’), Jesus says, ‘There is a law that is bigger than you and me, the community that I created, and your tribe that hunts down that community. The law of time! The last nail must never be cast.’ The Book of Murder examines the limits of this incomplete relationship between justice and time. In a situation where the cross itself morphs into a pickaxe, how can one imagine that the ironsmith’s self-restraint in casting a nail could possibly protect the little lamb. What are then the possibilities for incompleteness beyond the desire for rebirth? These are the questions, thus, that arise from killing.


The main characters in the Book of Murder too are books and letters. The protagonists of some are writers in others. In ‘The Gardener’ and ‘The Hotelier’, it is books, and letters about books. However, in The Tailor, it is the practical, and unquotable ‘Book of Cutting and Tailoring’ that is the character. The Book of Murder is the grand tome that engulfs all these other works. It is distinct from other books in that it does not have their relationship with the authorial voice [or the narrator ‘I’]. So this ‘I’ restores the tattered Nishadapuranam to its place on the library shelf. And then abandons Nagaravadhu on the railway tracks and escapes (Kumar 2000). However, the incompleteness of the Book of Murder is paradoxically more demoniacally tangible than the other books. You cannot abandon this book in a library or by the way-side. Like a murder, it will follow the reader and encounter him. This book is beyond deterrence. All the other books are mere pathways along which this races unfettered. This book does not pander to the readers’ aesthetic pleasure, but aims to create, and foster, fear in them. Postmodernists love the idea that all works are incomplete. They have even popularized the motto of the death of the author. They undermine those interpretations claiming authorial intention on the grounds that books are open to limitless numbers of readings. The writer has no monopoly over the production of meaning. The difference and deferral in meaning within language will always lay the text open to multiple readings.


But it is not the dead author who renders the Book of Murder incomplete. Instead, it is the murderer found in any work. The writer is the one who seduces the reader into submission. He is at once the slayer and the slain. Here Anand makes two important moves. He shifts the focus regarding violence from the victim to the killer; at the same time he also re-centres the writer, from the reader, as the site for textual contemplation. 


Let us revisit some of Kant’s views on murder once again. Anand’s subjects here are not recidivism, habit or unconscious desire. Nor is it the fear that violence is on the increase in the world. It is also not a kind of revisionist history writing that sees violence as the foundational trait for characterizing certain castes, communities or cultural types. He focuses on the act of killing. On the one hand murder is the kind of act that, like research, protest, writing and love, has its own processes and protocols. On the other, violence is the archetype of that action which by being an intrinsic feature in all of man’s acts provides a syntactic intelligibility to all of action itself. This is not an attempt to either impose order or disarray, forcibly. This is a bolt of lightning that cuts through law and justice to at once enable and disable the sociality of the act.


Anand attempts to understand murder by linking action, text, and temporality. This link has always been one of Anand’s concerns. Yet the act of murder upends our commonsensical understandings about this relationship. So until this book, what was Anand’s idea of the relationship between text and action? Things are not as easy as—first the act, and then the narrative that records it. Writing, and speaking about action, is but a part of action itself. Unless written about by someone, events will never have the ebb and flow of action. Narrative, by ordering nonsensical acts into a beginning, middle and an end, makes action conform to both good and evil, and to law and justice. One could say that man’s actions are characters in search of an author. Behind every actor there is a narrator. The text is the one that liberates action from the idiosyncrasies of the actor, and opens up afresh the possibilities for a spatio-temporal relocation, as indeed of new interpretation. From another perspective, language itself is action. Language is rooted in the practices of community life. Therefore, text and action are mutually complementary.


The Book of Murder questions precisely this mutual complementarity that is acknowledged by conventional poetics. Anand had earlier believed that no certainty marks finality that led him to deem that time and narrative are always open to justice and freedom. It is this belief that is under jeopardy in The GardenerThe Tailor and The Hotelier. Every murder has a certainty. Yet it isn’t that one day everyone must die. After all, it is pretty sure that one day everyone will cop it. However, when that will happen is beyond prediction though that is no failure. It is the certainty of mortality that frees man into the future, into freedom, and into possibilities. Mortality is the key to eternal life. In Heidegger’s words, to die like everyone is my ‘own most possibility’ (Heidegger 1978). It is this possibility that murder snatches away from me. It reduces my death to a mere event in my life (‘death is not event in life’, Wittgenstein 2001). Thus, murder snatches not only life, but even death away from man. Therefore, murder cannot be studied within the duality of life and death. There is no point in either hanging on to arguments regarding the value of life, or denouncing the destruction wrought by murder. We need to unpack the relationship between time, action and the text.


Just in the manner in which murder toys with the idea of death, so too does the science of genetics play with the idea of birth. The claim is that cloning makes it possible to pre-determine the character and behaviour of a baby prior to its birth. If this were indeed to become a possibility, then the startling wonderment in birth would be lost. After all a child born through natural processes does not choose its own character traits. Then what is wrong with cloning? It is the knowledge that I am a contingency outside choice that gives meaning to my right to choose. This is the idea that cloning distorts and manipulates. This science allows me to make copies of my own self. I can outlast death. Yet I would perceive cloning as the means of controlling my life. In sum, both cloning and murder point towards that contingency beyond birth and death that gives me my selfhood. Murder cannot be accommodated in a balance sheet that has only two columns–birth and death. The Book of Murder is an attempt to understand this excess as that which is articulated by the relationship between action, time and the text.


Vyasanum Vigneshswaranum ends by complicating Anand’s own earlier understanding of time and narrative. Vardhamanan, the author of Nagaravadhu, reads the events of tomorrow in today’s newspaper. Yet he is not a clairvoyant possessing the ability to prophecy the future. In fact, the future, when faced by him, loses its own prospects and becomes a supplicant to the present. Vardhamanan experiences a twisted sense of déjà vu in this mixing up of the future and the present. He can imagine the future only in the shape of words and sentences. This nullifies both the distinctions between the future and the present, and that between literature and the broadsheet (He is like the Wittgensteinian character who compares several copies of the same paper to check the veracity of the news printed in his own copy). His is a timeless and inert present. It is the repetitive time found in Vyasanum Vighneswaranum. In this time of madness and suicide, the text becomes an impossibility. Vardhamanan’s suicide in front of the train he was traveling in reveals the impossibility of action. In the abortive second part of Nagaravadhu, the author abandons the text alongside the blood-spattered and palely sunlit railway track. Until that second part returns to encounter him as the Book of Murder.


The Book of Murder is written like a flashback from the future. As Sheshadri in The Gardner says ‘… through every page and event a piece of the future is read, ripped off’. Once the events mentioned in the book occur, those pages are torn off. ‘This is not a literary work that roosts again and again on past events, or keeps printing new editions again and again. The Book of Murder is forever pure.’


It is not accidents, or mischief-makers, who tear off the leaves of this book. This book is born out of these slashes and scratches. Anand has named this act where destruction itself become creativity–de-writing. The book of violence is possible only through a language that can annihilate meaning and signification inherent in writing.


What would be the contents of a book that lacks both past and present, and has only a contingent future? Would its tone be like a weather forecast speculating on whether or not it would rain the next day? When today becomes tomorrow, one of the two will become a certainty. With that one can scratch off those lines. Like lottery tickets that can be torn up once the draw is over.


So, unlike yesterday and today, what is so uncertain about tomorrow? Whatever is ordained will take place. Whatever happens was meant to be so. It is just that we could not predict it beforehand. This is one claim. There is no space here between human freedom and intervention. Freedom is but the shadow in the valley of ignorance. There is an argument to the contrary too. Anything can happen in the future. The light of a thousand sunrises experienced does not ensure that one will see the next day’s dawn too. Experience does not provide any such enlightenment. Yet, human activity is impossible in a completely uncertain world. Life would become impossible if the sun were to rise in the west tomorrow. Language too would have to shut shop and depart. Of course the sun will most certainly rise in the east tomorrow. Yet neither reason, nor experience, nor their combined forces can provide a prior assurance about this. This assurance becomes impossible not because of any human limitation, but because of the split between truth and time. Then what certainty?


The fears and hopes of the future are embedded in action. Take, for instance, a man who is caught in a dilemma about whether or not to do something. He has equally powerful reasons for both options. Let us suppose he suddenly decides to this thing. This move from dilemma to doing is not prompted by some new justification (if there is such a justification, then his was no dilemma; just plain unawareness). He does not move to action through a justification that forecloses the option of ‘don’t do it’. And it is not as though he has leapt into it by shutting his eyes to reason. He can progress to doing only by fulfilling the possibility of the ‘not to be done’ by engaging in endless thought, fears, confusion, quirks and quibbles. As soon as the thing is done a reasoned explanation is also produced—pronto. Things move from doing to certainty and not from certainty to doing. Fundamentalisms proceed to perform prior certainties. The revolutionary’s optimistic excitement is based in the certainty born out of action.


Literature has always been interested in the moves, certainties and excitement of action across temporal spans. Literature befriends falsehood in order to face the tussle between time and truth. It makes the world of make-belief credible by linking the negation of truth with contingency. These are some of the fictional sweet nothings uttered by a literature that is sheltered by truth. 


Borges (Jorge Luis Borges) and others have experimented with yet another method. Do away with the dependability of veracity. Affirm all future possibilities equally. Like grasping the myriad meanings of rain, and its uncertainties—will it, won’t it—in one fell swoop. In his story, ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’, Borges explains this method. ‘Fang, let us say, has a secret; a stranger knocks at his door; Fang decides to kill the intruder, the intruder can kill Fang, they can both live, they can both be killed, and so on’ (Borges 1999:125). Will this not become a pointless tale, entrapped in conflicts? Will not the revolutionary, who accepts all possibilities at once, sink into confusion? One does not proceed into action after resolving confusion. Whilst pursuing endless descriptions and details, he stumbles upon some detail or description, and falls into action. In the way that the waters of a river can act both as an obstacle or a bridge, in the same way the text itself becomes action. But because this text attempts to combine too many contradictions at once, it fails to communicate any meaning. Words and phrases, divested of their multiple meanings, begin to function like proper nouns.


In Borges’s story a German spy picks out someone called Albert from the telephone directory and shoots him dead. When this news is printed in the next day’s paper, the Germans realize that the British army is encamped in the town called Albert. Murder is that act which, on the basis of a name, enables the possibility of a future event. In Anand’s Hotelier, many contingencies are strung together on the basis of some names that float around some books.


There is another story by Anand that clearly spells out murder’s temporal cadences, Three Murders. The first takes place in a hotel room. The dying man’s scream rises as the soprano in the next room hits a high note. Only the soprano hears the cry that penetrates through the subtle spaces between the song’s notes. But she can do nothing. You can hear the cry only if you concentrate on the song. If you stop singing the tonal sieve created by the notes too is destroyed. The second murder takes place at a traffic signal. This murder is the result of distraction, and many mistaken identities. The first exemplifies an inert concentration. The second—a reckless excitement. In the first there is the subtlety of musical notes. The second is a cacophony of contingencies. The third embraces all these contradictions, and resolves them. The victim here is half dead—almost like a living corpse. An iconoclastic crowd stones a man to death who poses as a statue in the middle of a town’s crossroads. The real face of violence that had been under wraps in the first two stories reveals itself in the third one. The coming together of the inert concentration of the statue and the crowd’s crazed exhilaration makes murder a mere ritualistic stab at the corpse. Sacrifice, martyrdom and other faces of violence occur within a future possibility of repetition and remembrance. Yet murder is untimely. So it is untimely death that happens in the conjunction of coincidences, omens and sacred numbers.


Murder and de-writing wrests actions from meaning and righteous time and transforms them into events. The stories in the Book of Murder are born out of bizarrely contingent events. Yet this contingency does not surprise anyone. These stories are about a world that happens only within the fictional realm—like computer games. Events are born out of anomalous conjunctions. No one will give a toss whether you believe it or not. There’s no staving off of the events that are destined to happen. These stories are like thrillers without suspense.


We have already said that murder retrieves events by dislodging action from its coordinates.  If this is to be possible we have to remove the agent, like unscrewing nuts and bolts, from the description and explanation that provides unity to action, thus necessitating a dissembling alongside de-writing. Anand’s characters are not self-conscious agents like members of a class or civilization or even individuals, but are faceless refugees and crowds. This stream of faceless people is not a procession of the alienated. It is not the flight of the victims. It is not even a march of marionettes or the infantry in response to someone blowing a whistle.


The crowd in The Tailor is visualized as a slow motion X-ray picture. The stitched clothes leave the shop in search of bodies that can fit into them. Clothes join the different limbs together in order to create a body. What flows down the roadside are not well-formed bodies, but instead organs without bodies. The clothes soar down and cover these disembodied limbs. The clothes transform the limbs into individualized bodies, and provide them with homes, streets and relationships. According to the manner in which the clothes descend and establish themselves the limbs shrug off body and mind, and the accompanying relatives, desires and lovers, and seek out new relationships, desires and partners.


The Crowd is the symphony that arises from these withering limbs. This is however not postmodernist agency that is splayed or splintered. This is also not a simple assertion that individuality, or identity, is constructed. So how can there be organs without bodies? It is after all the body that endows its parts with their form and roles. Clothes are born bearing the shape of the body. So how can the organs declare their independence from the body?


Like History, Anatomy is the other subject that fascinates Anand. Anand’s stories are like an anatomy laboratory replete with wasted fingers, gouged-out eyes, abandoned corpses and the mortuary. In an old story, Angabhangam, there is a man who experiences pain in his phantom limb. Anand’s subject at that point was the victim’s body, that extending beyond the unity of the limbs, internalizes the pain of the other. By the time he reaches the murderer Ali Dost in his short story Ali Dost, Anand’s attention shifts to the ineffectual sixth finger that jutted outside his palm. This bodily difference need not make him fundamentally dissimilar from others. Such fundamental differences need not even be the reason behind Ali Dost’s inhuman cruelty. A mere sixth finger would distinguish him from the otherwise ordinariness of the body (this finger was what was in excess in Ali Dost, and lacking in Ekalavya).


Take, for instance, the manner in which The Tailor describes the disembodiment of the organs. ‘…your description of human beings dismembered into little bits is terrifying. For instance, in such a situation one may never realize that the hand that stabs one while leaning on another’s shoulder, may in actuality be one’s own hand.’


From the killer’s point of view, it is the victim’s well-formed body that is in a dismembered state. Outside the cover of the body, organs have their own logic and unity. According to this logic, murder is the stitching together of the organs. Mira, in the old story Mira, tells her cobbler Guruji the secret behind this kind of suturing. On being asked why he is called Guruji, Mira replies to the cobbler, ‘Blood will splatter if you tear this Mira who’s caught in the web of full-blooded relationships. You, on the other hand, are the ascetic who sews together dead leather. To whom else would I go to seeking knowledge.’ (Anand’s Mira, Euripides’s Medea. Murder’s lovers? Or its mothers?)


Organs make contact across the totalizing relationship between the body and mind. My hand floats over to another’s shoulder. The hand that wields the knife, and the downcast neck, separate from you and I, and gambol along the roadside. Not just hurting, but consoling too is the enjoining of the organs free of the body. ‘It might be another’s hand that someone places on the other’s shoulder in order to provide consolation.’ Hatred and compassion, distancing themselves from the killer and the victim, seek expression in withering limbs, and in sixth fingers. This is the intense asceticism of murder. The idea of alienation, allegedly central to O.V. Vijayan’s Arimpara, is not what is of interest to Anand. Even if symbolically, the mole [arimpara] absorbs into itself the shattered unity of the body (Vijayan 1998). Anand’s organs leave their bodily home and transmigrate. They are extraneous in any body.


‘Cut and paste’ is the stylistics employed in The Book of Murder. The tailor has the book explaining the methodology of this writing—The Book of Cutting and Tailoring. ‘The unblemished [innocent] tailoring book written for the dangerous games played by human beings’ (Anand 2005). Those who imagined The Book of Murder to be a book of horror were wrong. It is just a textbook without an author’s, or a publisher’s, name (Another puzzle by Borges: what is the absent word in a riddle whose answer is chess? Answer…chess).


Until now, we have been trying to understand the aspect of ‘action’ in murder as a relationship between text and time. Yet Anand is no grammarian. Anand studies action in order to find a solution to [the problems of] justice, duty and power. These questions that saturated the other books are somewhat hidden in The Book of Murder. Murder is not the action that can be recognized by the extant methodology and codes of morality. This is not a sweeping statement that claims that man’s every action, look, word, thought or love is murderous. It is not even a plea for non-violence or a denunciation of contemporary politics that is meant to nurture violence in war, punishment or revolution. Equally, it is not even like the resistance NGOs offer to the idea that the state must retain the monopoly over necessary violence, while leaving dialogic and consensual discussions to civil society. The new mutations of violence have made such responses redundant.


Anand begins his writing from the rupture of the cooperative society of Yaman and Chitraguptan who aimed at linking mathematics with justice, and science with duty (Anand 2012). The scribes who were Chitraguptan’s followers split into two—the time-keepers, and the duty keepers. With this, the strategy to articulate duty within time collapsed. Anand is writing in opposition to the puranas that venerate the boon-granting Shiva while reviling Yama, the guardian of duty. Anand was attempting to audit the certainties of time-keepers by exploring the conflict between justice and power. Stand by the victim. Yet reject the mythology of the victim. This was Anand’s method. Yet there is a sudden switch in this method by the time we get to the Book of Murder. Anand turns to Yama’s murderous sense of justice and method by stepping aside from the conceptualization of gifts and distribution.


Sheshadri, the thuggee in The Gardener invites the author to a debate on murder. Sheshadri begins by qualifying the debate between the dead hunter and the live victim. He then upgrades this to a debate between the dead and living hunters. It is a debate but in name. In all three stories the murderer speaks to the writer. Yet the writer can only be a mute listener, without any occasion to offer a reply. What is happening between them is not a debate, but an event. Communication is not the murderer’s aim. His speech must turn the listener’s world upside down. The writer will no longer be able to write the way he has been writing so far. The debate aspires to generate, and breed, fear. Debate and consensus functions within the rationality of non-violence. Sheshadri skillfully sidesteps this. It is only through this side-stepping that one can think seriously about violence. Debate is founded on transparency, not terror.  So, what is the subject proffered by Sheshadri’s fear-inducing debate—the transparency of violence.


Until recently every murderer killed only secretively. The causes, in the case of ordinary murderers, could be fear or a sense of morality. The thugs were inspired to kill stealthily because of religious belief, or a fear that a society that considered violence evil would be unable to see the purity of their act. Yet the coming of terrorism has destroyed the secret nature of violence. Unlike the old revolutionaries, the terrorists have no interest in beheading the Emperor. The gawping, ordinary, bystanders are their victims. Capture as much of media attention as possible, spread fear—this is their aim.


The killer of yore, after having committed murder, went into hiding. And now terrorist organizations, all saying moimoi, are queuing up to accept responsibility for mass murder. Actually the real murderer dies alongside the victim. Art, cinema and computer games have rendered violence into a kind of publicized child’s play. In fact, one could even say that there is a public sphere of murder.


On the one hand violence is becoming rampant. On the other it becomes an adjustment between the murderer and the victim. Literature, public health and population control are adjustments of this kind. Murder becomes public and transparent. Which child, who spends his time in front of the TV and computer playing killing games, has the luck to see murder, nay even a joust, in real life?


It is not surprising that the new forms of violence unsettle an orthodox killer who follows in the grand tradition of murder. Sheshadri attempts to extract the duty of murder from its pristine essence—one that is without avarice, selfishness or sentimentality. The austerity of violence cannot be characterized as an attribute of the value system of a caste, group or civilization.  Violence has neither morality nor ideology. It only has a methodology.


Within moral codes, the only acknowledgement that violence gets, and that too hesitantly, is as a means. In an attempt apparently to contain violence, even modern societies with the aid of the police and the army actually end up nurturing it (human beings must have invented ritual sacrifice in order to avoid the retaliatory madness of revenge and vendetta). There’s a big point in the orthodox perspective which sees violence merely as a means. Violence is merely means without an end.


Violence is never its own end, whether used against itself, or when used to further its own ends. Killing for killing’s sake does not imply some pleasure in the act of murder. Pleasure that is pursued purposively towards such gratification, like any other aim, will destroy the purity of murder. Pure murder is divorced from all aims and is the ritualized performance of means alone.


The thugs embezzle everything belonging to their victims. Yet this is not the aim of the killing. To appropriate without killing is sin. Even when merchants are targeted it is not the possibility of victory, but coincidences and omens that draw attention to the victim. The end is a mere excuse for the means.


Instrumental reason lies in separating the means from the ends, and then finding an appropriate means for the end. In humanist practices, the means and ends are not separate from each other. A good doctor can rake in the moolah. Now making money is only an extraneous aim of medical practice. Health care has certain virtues and aims of its own. A good doctor is one who can practise recognizing these. However, the practice of murder does not submit to either of these reasons. It extracts the means from practice, distills, and purifies it.


For Ali Dost, who gouges out eyes and hacks off necks, murder is not merely a play of five-fingers. Murder is the art performed by that limp, flaccid, sixth finger that hung on like a mute, corpse-like witness. Isn’t Ali Dost the wilting sixth finger, swinging between Humayun, who seized power by manipulating community ties, and Kamran who tried to do the same through the use of sheer brute force? Ali Dost, after committing murder in an entirely dispassionate manner, runs to the borders of the city, throws up and wanders around disconsolately. Those who are passionate about truthfulness and goodness will not be able to comprehend this listless creature’s sorrow, heaving and fatigue.


Section 3


Anand, in his letter to M. Govindan about the publication of Aalkoottam, wrote: ‘If this is to be published, could we not bring it out unnamed, without even a pen name? [I] have no desire to be a litterateur.’ This question is not prompted by humility or shyness. If he had wanted to remain anonymous, a pen-name would have sufficed. The name itself is the problem. After all, The Book of Murder is a methodology text book lacking in both the author’s and publisher’s names, isn’t it? Yet when the characters in the book ask, the author does not hesitate in replying that they may call him Anandan.


The history of cinema has a similar flirtation with the name. The famous Danish director Lars von Trier, along with his friends, founded a group called Dogma 95. One of the vows they took was not to add the director’s name to a film. By sheer coincidence, Von Trier’s first well known film was on murder—The Element of Crime. This film is bathed in the sepia tones of sodium vapour lamps not unlike the expressionless lethargy embodying the killers in Anand and Borges’s stories. The detective’s, Fischer’s, hypnotic sleep is the place where the story takes place. He is pursuing a serial killer who has been killing girls vending lottery tickets. His guide is The Element of Crime, a methodology book written by his teacher, Osborne. According to this the detective must be able to inhabit the mind of the killer, and be able to transform himself into the murderer. The murders take place on the corners of an ‘H’, the first letter of the given name of the suspected killer, Harry Gray. Fischer reaches the place where the next murder is to take place by walking the streets trodden by Gray, sleeping with his girlfriend, and by taking on even his headache. There the detective, awaiting the killer, himself transforms into the murderer. Who knows, maybe Harry Gray was himself the teacher Osborne who wrote the Book of Murder. The murder shows that action is transferred across people whose individuality is pegged on to mere names.


The breathlessness about the name lies in the discovery that the clue to the link between action and time lies in the name. We have said earlier that murder is not an action that can be pointed out from existing moral conceptions, but instead is the excitement of any action which embraces all possibilities. ‘Names’ are the obstacles that are planted in language in order to stem the violence of action. This obstacle may itself be the source [of violence]. Vardhaman asks why we go hunting for the past when we need names. These timeless names may be a way of trapping action outside time. The mirth invoked by nicknames is the body’s response to the connection between name and violence.


On the one hand there is the author creating texts in which time is woven together seamlessly. On the other is the murderer who sees time only as an aspect of action and makes an untimely use of the text. And then the name that is common to both but is lacking entirely in time or meaning.


(Translated by G. Arunima) 




[1] The author of Critique of Criminal Reason, Michael Gregorio, is actually not a single person, but two. The name combines those of the husband and wife—Michael G. Jacon and Daniella D. Gregorio.  


[2] In Sanskrit and in Malayalam, kriya means action, and krithi, text. Both originate in the same root, ‘kr.




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