The allure of the macabre

Admittedly, this is an offbeat topic I have chosen to write about. But I felt like exploring it. Since the longest time, I have found the dark side of human nature fascinating.

My earliest memories of this fascination are from my prepubescent days. Every day while having lunch after coming back from school, I used to tune into Discovery channel to watch either of the two shows  – “New Detectives” or “Medical Detectives”. I remember I was hooked to these shows when “Kynki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi” was in its initial years. So the early aughts.  I was spellbound by  men in crisp suits cracking crimes based on slivers of evidence. They were two well-made shows. That was when I first heard about DNA and I was in awe of this superpower that the detectives used to crack perplexing crimes. I recall an episode* where they used plant DNA to convict a murderer, determining he was at the crime scene by the seeds that had dropped in his truck as he was leaving. The detectives proved to the court that each plant has a unique DNA just like humans and the seeds in the truck could only belong to one particular plant – the one at the crime scene. I was so impressed by the hard work of the investigators and the wonders of science that I still haven’t forgotten that episode –  two decades later.

My mother used to be puzzled as to why I wouldn’t just prefer normal cartoon shows like my brother.  So many times I had to switch channels around the adults because I knew they would deem the content age-inappropriate. There was  a cartoon show that used to come around that time-slot called Swat Kats. It was dubbed in Hindi and was fun to watch. But it was not a patch on those detective shows.

Courtesy of these shows, I started dreaming about being a detective. I wanted to be one of the (wo)men in fancy suits solving these crimes. It seemed like a very exciting and rewarding field. I harbored this aspiration for a long time.

Fast forward a few years and poof! I became an engineer. Like every second person from my generation. One day, something reminded me of my childhood desire. I mused what happened to it? My thoughts drifted off..how does one become a detective? What do you study in college to become a detective?  I knew medical, non medical , commerce and arts. Where in these four options was the possibility of pursuing something that would culminate with graduating as a detective or a crime lab boss? The next thought was, “Are there any detectives in India?” Surely there were no detectives in well-tailored suits hidden inside my mohalla police station. The policemen in Savdhaan India did a lot of investigative work, but that wasn’t exactly the same thing as shown in the detective shows of yore. In those shows, the investigative work was shown to be done in high-tech labs. Are those labs only existing in far-off foreign countries? I pondered on these questions as I looked back at my choices.

My next full blown enchantment with the macabre happened during my final year of post-graduation. It was set off by the Katy Perry song “Dark horse”. One of the lyrics went, “She’s a beast I call her karma, She eat your heart out like Jeffrey Dahmer”. I was puzzled by what the lyric meant and who this guy was. I speculated “eating your heart out” was a rap slang and Jeffrey Dahmer was a rapper.  I googled Jeffrey Dahmer and o boy! Not in my wildest interpretation did I think the lyric was meant literally. The things I saw on his Wikipedia page turned my stomach. He was a serial killer who indulged in the most perverse of behaviors that possibly involved eating human hearts. That lead me to research more serial killers. I ended up finding many more – Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Aileen Wuornos, Edmund Kemper and the list went on. I was supposed to be working on my thesis but I was more interested in serial killers, thank you. Damn you, Katy Perry!

Most of these serial killers were American. Then I thought, “Are there no serial killers in other parts of the world? Why are only American serial killers so widely reported in the media?” That steered me to research international serial killers and eventually, Indian ones. I stumbled upon a few like Cyanide Mallika and Auto Shankar but the numbers were nowhere near the number of American ones. It dawned on me that there could have been many more but they may never have got caught because catching them would have required such extensive detective work.  That was one uneasy thought. I thought of the Nithari case and how the entire blame was apportioned to the help and no one had taken the disappearance of poor children seriously until it was too late.

Getting your mind too muddled with the macabre can have unfortunate consequences which may seem hilarious in hindsight. Let me illustrate. I had gone  to Gulmarg for skiing for a fortnight during college winter break.  The TV in my room there showed limited channels. So after coming back from the slopes, my friend and I used to end up watching Savdhaan India (or maybe Crime Patrol) on loop. We were still high on Savdhaan India when a few days after the skiing trip, the two of us headed for a weekend getaway to Kasauli. Since it was an impromptu trip, we hadn’t made any bookings and on reaching we couldn’t find a hotel. It was peak tourist season. Somehow the priest of the local church took pity on us and  offered us a spare room in the church premises to stay for the night. We accepted the offer since we didn’t have any choice and merrily went out for the night. It was when we reached back to the church in the dead of the night that our Savdhaan India mind really got to work. We thought back to the priest and thought he looked shifty. After all, who offers a room in a church to two girls to stay just like that. Then we thought what if there was someone hiding in our room. There was a ledge high above our bed in the room with some stuff on it, covered with a curtain. We wondered if someone lay in our wait while we were out for the night. Episode after episode of Savdhaan India was flashing before our eyes. We waited outside the room for what felt like forever, in the darkness, too afraid to go inside. When we entered, one of us held the door open in case we needed to run for our lives if someone was hiding in the room. The other cautiously entered and found the switches and turned on the light. Then our hearts pounding, we tentatively checked the bathroom, separated the curtains to the ledge and peeped inside, checked under our bed and after feeling assured that we were safe, promptly latched the door and thanked God!

When all was said and done and  we were leaving the next day, we both looked at each other and said it out aloud ,”We shouldn’t have watched so much Savdhaan India”. Everywhere we looked, we could only see criminal tendencies in people. “Also no more unplanned trips!”

 

Last year I got an opportunity to indulge my interest in detectives and serial killers in one excellent show called Mindhunter. It was an engrossing study of the pathology and thought processes of serial killers. It was a worthy successor to the detective shows I loved from my childhood.

This all lead me to ponder about what this curiosity about the macabre said about me? Did I have a dark side? I could be ice cold on occasion but surely that can’t be all that unusual. I did some reading online and it turned out that real life crime shows were one of the most popular genres on Netflix. People couldn’t get enough of them. So it was not just me. Everyone had that lust for exploring the murky side of human nature!

Also, it seems it runs in the family – this inclination towards crime shows. So many lazy afternoons, my grandma and mother can be found sitting together watching back-to-back episodes of Savdhaan India. I have to say the show is compelling television, far better than anything else on Hindi channels. In case of the foreign shows , I used to be enthralled by the work of the detectives. In the Indian ones, I am transfixed by the ingenuity of the criminals and the power of a police ka jhappad!

* Let me say finding this episode on the internet entailed a lot of investigative work! 

*Media coverage of the case

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