Let me clarify that: it’s not that I want to be a serial killer. It’s just that I can’t do that sort of lifestyle commitment and self-mythologizing.
I mean I could say that I have a delicate conscience which prevents me from ever killing another human being. Or animal. Or insect.
But then I’d be lying. Which, according to the Ustad who taught me the Quran when I was seven years old, was a one-way ticket to hell.
The man was rather good with words – sure, the imagery might have been unoriginal, but painting hell as something not to aspire to was his one true talent. Listen, kutty, he’d say. There’s a strand of hair that you have to walk on to reach heaven and if your sins are too heavy and you lose balance, you’ll fall into the depths of hell and spend eternity with murderers and thieves and lying murderers and lying thieves. (This strand of hair business raises the question – whether gymnasts and high wire walkers would be allowed to waltz in to heaven like celebrities who jump nightclub queues.)
The Ustad was rather adamant that lying equals theft equals murder. I tried arguing with the Ustad and my mother that maybe stealing Ovaltine from the kitchen shelf and being Jeffery Dahmer could not be equated. All I got in return were some bruised knuckles and the belief that yes, I would end up in the afterlife with Dahmer and Co and their fridges full of skulls.
As I grew older, I realized I could never, ever match up to Jeffery’s achievements. Or Hannibal Lecter’s. Serial killing, it was quickly apparent to me through reading true crime narratives and watching cop shows, requires effort. It meant you had to have a job that allowed you to drive vans. You had to live in a rambling old house with deep freeze appliances and basements where you could saw up your victims. You had to possess extensive knowledge of nearby forests. You had to know how to work a shovel. And know enough creepy medieval European poetry and folktale references so you could give your handiwork the right kind of mythic grandeur.
This was not easy stuff. I mean if I were to object to an out of tune musician at a Chowdiah concert, I’d probably angrily tweet about it. If I could work up the energy. I’d definitely not be inviting the man to my tiny Bengaluru flat and then proceeding to make a three course meal out of him.
The hard work Ted Bundy and his fellow hell-mates put in does arouse a sort of grudging admiration in me. When I read about the woman who’d (allegedly, mind) poisoned six of her in-laws over 14 years in Kozhikode, all I could think was: 14 years! I don’t think I’ve remained that committed to a brand of breakfast cereal. This was exactly the kind of thinking that would have the Ustad fuming, talking about the iblis in my ear that would take me straight to hell. Where Jeffery and Ted and Hannibal would be flambéing bits of each other after talking up their own work as some kind of enduring art. (Also, you know that Hannibal would most definitely be unhappy with the cooking conditions in hell – all that meat being too well done would be sure to raise his hackles.)
Now that I think about it, it wasn’t the description of time without end in the burning pit that put me off stealing Ovaltine. My mother had shifted the tin to a higher shelf which meant that I’d have to drag a chair from the dining room, stand on it, take out the tin, shove the spoon in, chomp away, put it back, drag the chair back to its place and I had to do this within five minutes. My Ovaltine addiction melted away that day.
The Ustad would probably have been confused which was the greater sin here: slothfulness or stealing. Though knowing his self-righteousness, he’d definitely say both.
And was it the iblis on my shoulder or the malak piloting my conscience that dissuaded me? Even he would be confused by that question.
When my obituary is written, it will probably say that it was the lack of a work ethic that prevented me from ever starting a career in crime and joining Jeffery and Ted and Hannibal in their fiery serial killer boudoir.
And that would be the truth.
Saudha Kasim can be found most days trapped in a cubicle in Bengaluru. She hopes to escape to Chile in the next decade and spend the rest of her days there eating stone fruit and Kinder Bueno bars while watching 90s romcoms.