Surprise! You’re dead!

27 April 2010 by Mike Gogulski
Posted in crime | No Comments »

I found something extremely curious on Wikipedia (fount of all knowledge) the other day:

Lal Bihari (or Lal Bihari Mritak, लाल बिहारी “मृतक”; born 1961) is a farmer from Uttar Pradesh, India who was officially dead between 1976 and 1994. He founded Mritak Sangh or the Association of the Dead in Uttar Pradesh, India. He fought Indian government bureaucracy for 18 years to prove that he is alive.

When Lal Bihari tried to apply for a bank loan in 1976, he found out that he was officially dead: his uncle had bribed a government official to register him as dead, so that he would get the ownership of Bihari’s land.

Apparently, Mr. Bihari was far from alone in being thrust into such a predicament:

Bihari discovered at least 100 other people in a similar situation, being officially dead. He formed Mritak Sangh in the Azamgarh district. He and many other members were in danger of being killed by those who had appropriated their property. Nowadays the association has over 20,000 members all over India. By 2004 they had managed to declare four of their members alive.

My mandatory anarchy reaction now: Mr. Bihari was shafted by his greedy jerk of an uncle. But the uncle wouldn’t have been able to carry out his evil deed were it not for being able to buy illicit access to the state “identity” apparatus. Were it not for state monopolies on identity certification and for state-backed oligopoly in banking, Mr. Bihari likely would have been able to obtain his loan on a truly free market, as well avoided being declared “legally dead” in the first place.

Stick around for the etymological fun after the musical interlude.

“Surprise! You’re Dead!”, Faith No More, The Real Thing, 1989:


Surprise! You’re dead!
Ha ha! Open your eyes
See the world as it used to be when you used to be in it
When you were alive and when you were in love
And when I took it from you!
It’s not over yet
You don’t remember?
I won’t let you forget
The hatred I bestowed
Upon your neck with a fatal blow
From my teeth and my tongue
I’ve drank and swallowed, but it’s just begun
Now you are mine
I’ll keep killing you until the end of time
Surprise! You’re dead!
Guess what?
It never ends…
The pain, the torment and torture, profanity
Nausea, suffering, perversion, calamity
You can’t get away

And now, the folk etymology:

Mritak (“मृतक”) is the Hindi word for “dead”. It emerges from the Sanskrit mrtih (“death”), and is generative of English “mortal” and “murder” plus Spanish muerte (“dead”) and morir (“to die”) via Latin mors (“death”, genitive mortis) as well as Slovak mrtvý (“dead”) via Old Church Slavonic mrutvu (“dead”). Additionally, a male first name popular in India, Amrit, means “immortal”. We don’t have “amortal” in English, though we could if we wanted to…

Thus ends the lesson. Spotting cognates that go back to pre-Sanskrit gives me goosebumps 🙂

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