Collapse of a Horse: Prosthetics and Experimentality in a Critical Public Event

Events,Photostory,Post,Reflections April 20, 2017 7:43 pm

A note to my readers: I wrote the following essay exactly a year ago, as a horse lay attacked in India. Many political fortunes have changed since, and perpetrators of the attack on the horse have returned to social life. What I wrote then I share here, cognisant of the cynicism of party-politics, mindful of the power of remembrance and the archive in the world, and hopeful that the story of those that sought to reclaim this damaged animal exhibited practices of transcendence that merits recording–even if such recording is by way of an anthropology from a distance.


The meaning of life is that it ends. 

Franz Kafka 

What would it mean for anthropology to be the empirical means of doing philosophy? Philosophy is the love of wisdom, the wisdom that comes from friendship, worked out in dialogue, disputation, and questioning, address and response, the ear, face, and eye of the other, learning across the tympanum of exchanges between self and other. Anthropology is the speech, account, reason, or logics of the animal operating semiotically, psychically, emotionally, intro- and projectionally between the bestial and the divine. The anthropo-logics include affects and actions that—after giving reasons for actions run out and yet decisions and actions must be taken—leave enduring legibilities, traces, hints, or cues in the rhythms and sounds, the catacoustics of the social text.

—Michael M.J. Fischer[1]


In the image, there they stand, gaping, suspended in agony. Its hind legs collapsed, the creature remains in its riders hands. Perhaps they’ve never seen an animal this way—not lame, but on its way to some other sort of destiny. There is a suspension to life in this picture, a momentarily-fleeting realisation that ordinary moments also have the power to determine the course of life. Some are holding hands, or touching others, for this is what precarity feels like—not death, but the abandonment of routine. The corrosive potentiality of moments plucked from time. This is not the routinisation of charisma, but the charismatic nature of a catastrophic event, and they can feel its radioactive glare. There are other scenes of interest in this image. There is the black horse to the back, just there, within the camera’s sight—visible in its sun-lit contrast to our white protagonist, framing the lapsarian nature of this moment, dark and in the shadows, where the unfolding of events, and actions, overtake the biological foundations that are also (im)possibilities of a life. And you think to yourself about the paradoxical mixings of white and black, light and darkness, impossible befuddlers of structural reason. If you strain just a little to the front and centre, you see the white hoof, curving impossibly against the rusty-metal pole impaling the animal, its form and future, and you know that there is something overpoweringly wrong, that this is no ordinary fall. What is the rider thinking, as he holds his charge in that way, for these police-creatures have never trained for this? You read something into those eyes—bestial and other—and you remember to return to Jeremy Bentham’s deceptively simple question concerning animals: “can they suffer”(Derrida: 2008, foreword: ix)?  This is a question beyond reason and speech. It is also one that transcends the immediacy of the mundane filth thats litters the ground—the cigarette-buts and aluminium foil-wrappers of candies, indexes of people going about their ways, desiderata of an everyday normal—against which you feel that speed, itself, pure equine motion, have come to a violent, palpitating, halt. And you begin to connect the extraordinary thing that has happened here, pixel by pixel—the contortedly impossible expressions of faces and limbs, the geometric absurdity marking the white horse’s front and hind legs, indexicalities of a profound disturbance. And you let the enchantedness, or horror, of the image fill you up, slowly, and transcend you like the blast-wave of some atomic monstrosity in the desert. And a word emerges in your mind and makes its way through the body, a word that fills the sights and sounds of all that you feel through the image, a word that invokes the overwhelming sensibilities of fallen wonder and a perverted grandeur—sublime.


Who is that white horse? And why is it, in its collapsedness, significant? On March 14, 2016, a horse named Shaktiman, serving in the police force of the Indian state of Uttarakhand, was catastrophically injured in a political protest. Confronted by protesters belonging to a rival political party demonstrating against the corruption of the state’s government, Shaktiman was beaten with wooden sticks, while its rider was pulled from his mount; ultimately, Shaktiman was recorded on camera collapsing and fracturing its left hind leg which was left a bloody, lifeless mass amidst visuals of blood and gore, silent suffering and political vituperation. In the days that have followed, Shaktiman’s broken leg was first stabilized with “external fixators”, but was subsequently amputated to stem the spread of gangrene. Every change in the horse’s circumstance was recorded and circulated in the print and visual media, on twitter and Facebook, and through the powers and social capital of particular individuals such as cricketers, politicians, and film stars. Once amputated, casts for a permanent prosthetic were made and sent to the United States, mainly due to the efforts of a surgeon (associated with equines at racecourse events) and an American rescuer of animals (managing a rescue-shelter in the neighbouring country of Bhutan) who were both flown in to advise, care, and subsequently conduct the amputation for Shaktiman. Shaktiman, for a few days, stood on temporary prosthetics, held aloft to varying degrees by a hoist mounted on a crane, while an army of personnel cared for her. She then walked out of her shelter on permanent prosthetics, promising those around her a realisation of their fantasies of a technological fix to her ordeal. She was news but also an ongoing, very public experimental trial in prolonging life where, ordinarily, similarly situated beings would be euthanized.


As I write this introduction, I have changed tenses into the past, reconfiguring the language. For Shaktiman died of a pre-anesthetic routine on April 20, 2016, while preparing for a surgery for her stump to properly fit her newly-arrived permanent prosthetic. This news arrived even as I was still following her fate as an experimental object, collecting material on the emotions and techniques that came to be visited on her body following her injuries, and her transformations from an object of beauty, speed and duty, into one of resilience, endurance, and experimental trial—a transformation whose logic may now seem entwined and reduced with her death but which, I argue, actually produced something else. For, in the month that she survived as a damaged animal, her story became part of a widespread conversation, marking her from the moment of injury into an event constituted by affects and reclamation—and therefore a “critical event”—which I think of multiply as a perturbation (in its dual sense as both a significant event and a troubling one); as placeholder for talk and action surrounding disability, euthanasia, cruelty and suffering; and as a provocation for interrogating certain forms of life when they come to be situated in the context of radically altered life-forms.


In doing so, and in framing this event as a critical event (Das: 1995), I raise questions along three axes. First, what is the value of particular occurrences that come to frame public conversations or shift discourse from ordinariness and elevate them to other, more urgent configurations of knowledge, power, affect and action. How is the critical dissolved into an event? What is the role that the maimed body has in the shifting of this discourse and in the inauguration of new imaginaries of human and animal? How is this discourse shifted, what are its activators, and what forms of cultural and technological artefacts are being generated as an ongoing concern in the grieving public sphere? How is the horse being conceived of as an epistemic object (Rheinberger: 1991) in this public’s engagement with the prosthetic-experimentation; more to the point, how does the afflicted and amputated body, as an object of experimentation, allow for the mobilization of technics for the production of epistemic things—arrays of method and material marshalled to the making of knowledge through “nodes” that allow for a perpetual generation of facts and things? Second, I review the literature on prosthetics, to think about objects and artefacts such as Shaktiman’s stump and the prosthetic limb—as activators of enablement that, simultaneously, also signal a lack, a wound, a defacement, an absence whose deficiency the prosthetical-object must ‘supply’. Located at the tense intersection of the body-in-time; of (dis)ability; of technoscience as a ‘fix’; and of a transplantational action carrying-out a material-metaphorical ‘addition, replacement, extension, enhancement’ (Smith & Morra: 2006), prosthesis also allows a meditation on the body, on medicine as salvational ‘fix’, and on disability and difference as they come to be identified and addressed. Prosthetics allows me to think about how meaning is made out of redundancy, about how care and biomechanics come to inflect how we think of maiming, violence, pain, and experimentation. But prosthesis, as framed in scholarly debates, is littered with references to the human condition and its emergent, post-prosthetical future. I want to shift this focus away from the embodiment of the human, and use animality as a resource to think through the public conversation surrounding the maiming of Shaktiman. By animality, my third axes, I gesture at the critical role that thinking surrounding the ‘animal’ has had in shaping contours of the ‘human’—in terms not only of otherness both radical and mundane, but also in terms of an open continuum of life, suffering, and experimentation. I want to ask not only what is necessarily set-apart for the human to be conceived as unique; I also want to think about the human along a continuum of animality, a continuum that allows one to think of Shaktiman as an epistemic thing, an experimental body, and a ground for suffering that evokes an ethical and a technological response.

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Thinking of animality expands, potentially, thought on the meaning of biology, life-forms (Helmreich & Roosth : 2010), and the limits and value of life itself. Introducing the concept of prosthetics into this story suggests incommensurable entwinements between human and animal life-forms. Entwinements of technology and affect brought out by a critical event such as Shaktiman’s injury, reveals other entanglements: her care in the aftermath of maiming as an insight into forms of biopower and the capacities to ‘make live or let die’ (Foucault: 1978); visions of public grieving and questions concerning of the regimes and bodies of (biopolitical)value and the aftermath of that value in light of disability; a chain of actors and places entangled in the suffering body of the animal and its mediatized circulation. That there is a documentary film in this story suggests a process both of mourning and of memorialization for a life that was always threatened by the haunting imaginary of future-death, despite the projects of hope, despair and record that accompanied Shaktiman’s month-long survival-experiments with living. The story of Shaktiman—which is really many stories that unfolded as I wrote this (but which have congealed in the writing of this paper and in her death)—gesture at bodies that are simultaneously and subsequently in and out of time; the story is also constituted of action and affects that are multiple bricolages of suffering and doing, reclamation and rehabilitation, value and disability.

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I hope to add to this congealment of action and affect through the writing of this paper. I want to interrogate regimes of value and life, not only in terms of productivity but also in terms of what the limits and qualifications of life (human and animal) are. Further, I want to use this opportunity to think about the complex entwinements of the human and/ (as?) animal—entwinements that I would chart through the public record of Shaktiman’s tribulations. Conversations and comments online may be conceived of as a record in the absence of face-to-face encounters; I supplement these with reports in the media, and my ongoing conversations with some of those involved in her reclamation—to think about what happens when biological life is damaged, when technology arrives experimentally as a prosthesis to living, and when public grieving may be conceptualized as the making of a form of biosociality (Rabinow: 1991). Taken together, the story of Shaktiman is a story of life amidst its trans-anthropocentric resonances; it is a story of grief and indifference, of public as well as legal questions surrounding animal-cruelty and euthanasia, of different modes of doing in the face of injury, damage and wound. And it is a story that, ultimately, examines the question of life—human or animal—as “always and already prosthetic” (Smith & Morra: 2006, p. 8).

Critical Event: 

Injured on the 14th of March, 2016, Shaktiman fell victim to an ambiguity: consensus differs who exactly, physically was responsible for her injuries. What is known is that the context of Shaktiman’s injuries was a political protest organised by the opposition party in the state of Uttarakhand; and that Shaktiman was amongst a contingent of mounted police brought out on the streets of Dehradun to keep order in a volatile event which echoed the volatility of the larger political situation in the state. What is not known is the exact perpetrator of the attack on the horse; some say that a state legislator—a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in the state—by the name of Ganesh Joshi, who led the protest rally, personally charged at the horse with sticks; he is visible in certain videos lifting a wooden cane and hurtling it in the direction of Shaktiman, although he proclaimed innocence, later, by claiming that he had not personally attacked the horse and that Shaktiman had collapsed under its own weight. Others pointed to the delirium that Joshi’s antics had caused, causing Shaktiman to perpetually, and literally, back-pedal till it fell under the weight of shock and, perhaps, physical attack. For, other vantage-points of videos from the event (the media was out to cover the event in its banal routineness) show a political worker within the rally pulling at Shaktiman’s saddle and reins, causing its fall.


No matter this fabricated unknowability, the collapse of this horse soon found its mediatized circulation online, linking the violence visited upon the body of an animal simultaneously to the violation of its honour and duty as a public-service entity, and to the broader collapse of civic politics in India[2]. Indeed, reading the content on twitter and other online platforms suggest the transformations of those platforms into what may be described as feeling-spheres—zones of an affective ‘direct-action’ marshalled by those unable or unwilling to physically take to the streets. The body of the brutalised animal in this context becomes a proxy for the brutalised citizen, linking the reality of disability to a politics of civic disablement. The body of Shaktiman, therefore, becomes a floating signifier of a certain necropolitics sensed by some in contemporary Indian political discourse, and serves to link individual lives to the life of the nation-state[3]. It is in this way that we might think about the calls in this feeling-sphere of a mimetic ordeal for the perpetuators of the violence, specifically calls to “break” the MLA Ganesh Joshi’s legs, in the same way—and perhaps with similar consequences—as the injuries experienced by Shaktiman. Others ask for legal action that covers the range from penal provisions to death-by-hanging. It is also in this context that one might deconstruct the often-sardonic stance taken by some towards cow-protection and vegetarianism—the latter arguing that those allegedly non-vegetarian, beef-eating grievers for Shaktiman’s ordeals are perhaps, themselves, implicated within a larger reality of animal cruelty and selective outrage. The point is that the moment of Shaktiman’s injuries, indeed its mortified body (as the ultimate species- and disfigured-Other), comes to stand-in as a “spectral present” (Das: p. 3), a grotesque emblem[4], allowing a double conversation, on the one hand of revenge against a collapsing civics (the witch-hunts of anti-nationalism, rising intolerance, the violence of public discourse, impunity sanctioned at high official levels as patriotism, etc.), and on the other, of resentment against the influence, at least in the public sphere, against entrenched, old orders.


Thinking of Shaktiman’s injury and its fallout as a “critical event”—and thus, as a perturbation that is both significant and troubling at scales individual and collective—leads me to think about where the story changed course, for Shaktiman did not die but was maimed. The specific context of her maiming may have connected her fate to the imagined fate of the nation and the state, but this maiming and the connections it generated to the collective also generated talk and action surrounding issues of disability, euthanasia, cruelty and suffering[5]. In this mode, one may witness the emergent reconfigurations of knowledge, power, affect, and action. For, the maimed body of Shaktiman on the streets of Dehradun was a liminal entity in search of a method of reclamation—a response to the catastrophic injuries sustained, and the immediate and larger circumstances, the perturbations, in which this liminality was established.

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Shaktiman was removed from the site of its injury and taken to the Police Lines in Dehradun,  where a shelter was established out in the open. I do not have details on this fascinating transition of body and destiny. How was Shaktiman moved from the zone of protest, what was the decision taken on site regarding how to proceed, who decided that doctors from outside the state would be called-upon to assist, or even how the open-air shelter at the Police Lines would be fabricated, both conceptually and materially, in the immediate aftermath of the injury [6]? But the fact that these took place suggests the operations of an experimental sensibility where euthanasia would have been a convenient norm. Part of this experimentation is, of course, tied to the symbolic accoutrements that accompanied this very specific kind of horse and its unique circumstances of injury—a police horse, maimed and videographed in the line of duty, its honour dishonoured at the hands of political expediency by a group of protesters led by a politician from a political party at the forefront of an ongoing reconfiguration in notions of civic conduct. Shaktiman’s body was, in this way, situated both in time—in the immediacy of circumstances of its injuries, in the circulation of cause/effect such as the outrage expressed online and the search for entities responsible, in the riveting narration of Shaktiman’s synchronic condition at the place where she lay after injury (followed by the more diachronic updates in health and circumstances once she was removed to the Police Lines), and in the subsequent arrest of the politician and one of his associates.

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 But Shaktiman’s body also became an emblem for a larger set of concerns that may be conceived outside the flow of linear time: concerns with an animal’s suffering and pain that could only be approximatively-imagined (if at all) and articulated mostly in squeamish or wincing terms, even on social media; the expression of collective grief at the corruption of the horse’s natural course of life that was expressed in the language of vengeance for meting-out the same “treatment” to those responsible; and the scramble for an experimental answer (and a new mode of value) to a catastrophic injury with seemingly predetermined consequences.

Gauri Maulekhi, Executive Secretary at the Dehradun SPCA, articulated some of this on her Facebook page [7], when she declared on the day of Shaktiman’s injury that “Shaktimaan will never be the same again. The team of vets have indicated extremely poor prognosis. The shattered metatarsel with a gaping open wound will be almost impossible to pin together. Amputation may be inevitable, but no desicion [sic] has been taken yet. In any case, the unfortunate creature will be reduced to utter lameness, even with a prosthetic leg (which seems like a far cry at the moment). PFA Uttarakhand runs the only equine shelter in Uttarakhand and has offered to keep Shaktimaan and care for it for the remainder of its natural life. The police department is providing excellent care to him at the moment along with senior vets from the Animal Husbandry Department and Pantnagar Veterinary College. We have offered full support to them and have also been assured that the accused will be arrested shortly.”

The shattered metatarsel with a gaping open wound will be almost impossible to pin together. Amputation may be inevitable. Here we see the simultaneous search for a language to keep measure with the catastrophic  nature of the biological injury, one where the pain of the sufferer is neither available nor immediate but is elusive. What is evident is the play of resentment and the coterminous hunt for an answer—any answer—in the face of that which is known but cannot be spoken just yet: the end of the line for the animal. It is particularly interesting to see how the synchronic and the diachronic coalesce in Maulekhi’s public statement: the character of the wound is entangled with the possibilities (or lack thereof) of biomedicine; diagnosis of the damage is tied with the hopeless prognosis; heroic action is posited alongside the articulation of villainy; the confounding present of Shaktiman is situated within the premise of other animals that the “only equine shelter in Uttarakhand” cares for.


 I suggest that Shaktiman’s curious presence, simultaneously in time but also outside it, is what determines her subsequent enrolment within an experimental imaginary of the prosthetic, because it links damaged circumstance to technoscientific horizons. Hope is central here. This is an imaginary that is not only in search of reclaiming a life, or one that performs a particular form of technical and social labour, but it is also the provisional language through which the future bequeathed by senselessness violence is occupied. And it is an imaginary that ceaselessly works to transform an individual’s damaged biography into a polyvalent social text (Das: p. 10).

For the experimental imaginary that I shall subsequently describe emerged from Shaktiman’s special position as a very particular kind of horse—an injured soldier, a “pride of the Independence day and Republic Day parades”, a rescuer in the 2011 earthquake, now valorously, yet silently, fighting against odds to not become the mindless victim of an all-consuming, poisonous, culture of political intrigue, an animal imbued with silent suffering that signalled both its enigmatic endurance and its repudiation of that particular culture [8]. Through this damaged body, a different civic course was  attempted to be charted—away from the blaming and disputations of responsibility along party-political lines; removed from the avowals of paying-for the treatment while denying causing injury; and  immune to the claims of defamatory political  conspiracies, or that an ‘animal-lover’ could not have possibly attacked an animal, etc.

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A report from the day after the injury suggests what was done as a mode of transcending this politics of vituperations: in the first couple of days, “external skeletal fixators with bilateral sidebars” were affixed after a four-hour long surgery under general anaesthesia; the surgery was conducted at a special tent-enclosure that had been constructed when Shaktiman had first been taken from the street. Shaktiman had “harbored infection” but was deemed stable by one of the surgeon’s from a team of veterinarians, who even declared that she was potentially capable of being “able to walk and even run again”. Her recuperation was planned in a special sand-enclosure at the Police Lines [9]. All of these fragments testify to the use of medicine and action in forging an alternative, experimental idiom within a feeling-culture and during the unfolding of a critical event—one that, I will argue, fabricated through technoscience and biosociality, a transcendental hope in the face of catastrophic damage.

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Fixators and amputators:

Shaktiman’s wounds generated both shock and hope: shock at the circumstances of its injuries, and hope that proper medical attention—the “fixators” that repudiated the norm of euthanasia, the urgently-constructed site of specialised care, the legal action against her tormentors—would together fix her wounded status. Maneka Gandhi, an influential minister in the Government of India, as well as an enduring animal-rights activist, called for Ganesh Joshi’s expulsion from the Legislative Assembly and the political party to which they both belong, while also demanding his prosecution [10]. Rakesh Negi, one of the veterinarians interviewed in Vinod Kapri’s documentary film (eponymously titled Shaktiman), described the dilemma surrounding the moments of Shaktiman’s arrival at the Police Lines: “In the army and the paramilitary forces, wherever there are equestrian wings, whenever an animal has a hind-led injury, particularly a compound fracture, they immediately put the animal down. That is the SOP that they have. So, we rang-up our counterparts in the defence forces; there is an equestrian unit here at the Indian Military Academy; they have their vets there: they also advised us that put aside the emotions and put the animal out of its misery” [11]. Against this norm of merciful killing (described as a “Westernised” protocol) emerged a radical set of practices, nested not in stable and predictable therapeutics but in the performance of vague manipulations, approximations, and chance. Another  veterinarian in Kapri’s film describes the logic of the initial surgery as one undertaken for fixing Shaktiman’s injured limb with “external fixators”, using pins to staple-together shattered bones, with the hope that the bones, held-together, would fuse at a point in the future when the pins could be externally removed. The surgical procedure with the fixators was followed by a biophysical one—the veterinarians decided to make Shaktiman stand with a generator-powered hoist, in the hopes of preventing complications that could arise for a recumbent horse, when equines are, otherwise, known to remain eternally upright, so much so that they supposedly sleep standing, too.

While this initial moment may be regarded as a routine procedure that connected an emergent injurious state to familiar medical and practical protocols, the amputation was pure contingency—an action, in lieu of the more ordinary mode of euthanising a similarly situated animal, that was necessitated by the lack of blood-supply below the injured portion of the limb, and the spread of gangrene from the affected limb into the rest of the body. It is in that moment, when amputation was chosen over euthanasia, that one can locate the expansion of the experimental imaginary—one that made life and potentiality, and thus pure contingency, rather than protocol action, its locus of interest. But I get ahead of myself and the story.  For the external fixators, and the biophysics of the hoist used to make Shaktiman stand, serve as exemplars of ‘epistemic things’, described by Hans Jorg Rheinberger as assays of actions, instrumentation, and know-how that proceed simultaneously within an experimental moment, and that generate the future of the experiment in which they, themselves, emerge and unfold. This is evident in Kapri’s documentary, in how the team of vets, policemen, and paramedical staff, along with volunteers, used informed guess-work as a mode of addressing Shaktiman’s injury. The hoist  moves up and down, it is adjusted, titrated on the basis of observed responses; in it is injured Shaktiman, symbolising a suspension of (dis)belief. Wounds are washed with antiseptic agents used by humans—povidone-iodine, savalon, saline, bandages—in the heuristic hope that what cures the human body works on the animal body as efficaciously. Ropes attached to Shaktiman drag him from one technical point in the enclosure to the other, and one can tell that there is novelty in this arrangement of bodies and things. The fabricated enclosure and its objects—the tent quickly erected, the sand-pit prepared on the day of injury, the bales of hay and the foam-mattresses laid-down—suggest a tentative arrangement that, while vital to Shaktiman’s life, nevertheless suggests the operations of heuristic actions that sought to make imperilled life adequate to the tasks and demands of living.


The experimental imaginary operates through epistemic things and the generation of technics, thereby linking the epistemological to the instrumental. Rheinberger seeks to interrogate the relationship between modern science and its technical manifestations. Following Heidegger, he claims that it is this technical manifestation of modern science which puts that science ‘on the stage’, allowing for a “scientific bringing to the fore” (Rheinberger, “The Epistemic Thing and its Technical Conditions”, p. 281). Technology, through its methods and tools of realization, allows for the production of “epistemic things”. Experimental systems, as arrays of such technics for the production of epistemic things, are viewed by Rheinberger in functional terms—as systems of method and material that allow for the making of knowledge at “nodes” and enable a perpetual generation of facts and things. In Rheinberger’s scheme, the experimental system comprises two components that are fused together yet analytically distinct. The first component in experimental systems is the ‘epistemic thing’—reactions, structures and processes that need to be figured-out experimentally and which are, in a manner of speaking, vague, not present in a ready-made fashion, and must be made known, representable. Once made known, or “determined”, we move to the second component of experimental systems—the technical object. Technical objects ‘embed’ as well as ‘restrict’ the epistemic thing. Experimental systems, by their nature of manipulation, make possible a transition from epistemic things to technical objects. As Rheinberger describes the exchange-relationship between epistemic and technical objects in an experimental system: “the technical objects determine the mode of representation of the scientific object; and sufficiently stabilized scientific objects in turn become constituent parts of the experimental arrangement. They then begin themselves to determine the latitude of the questions that can be asked within the system. By this, the experiments become clearer in some directions, but at the same time less independent, because they more and more rely on a hierarchy of established procedures” (Rheinberger, “The Epistemic Thing and its Technical Conditions”, p. 283). In other words, the emergence of the new—the generation of surprises, the move to a future, the play of the possible—in experimental systems is always immediately haunted by limitations of concepts, procedures of reproducibility, and questions that can be asked at any given moment in time. The future is kept in check by that present which is already such a future’s past. And yet, this check is itself interrogated by the perpetual generation of facts and things, of methods and material. This perpetual generation in the face of constriction harks to Heidegger’s notion of a “country of technic” and gestures at an “adventure of what is to be given…[It speaks of] a race of being posited” (Rheinberger, “The Epistemic Thing and its Technical Conditions”, p. 281; emphasis  added). Thinking of experimental systems as “future-generating machines” that are simultaneously open and closed, generative and constrictive, and peopled with epistemic things, is to think with Rheinberger of the “ambiguous movement” of science and technique—a functionalist account of movement and reverberations in experimental enterprises beyond the crystallised confines of “measuring devices, instruments, or…arrangements for experimentation”(Rheinberger, “The Epistemic Thing and its Technical Conditions”, p. 281-282).


These elements—the experimental imaginary, the ambiguous movement of epistemic things, instrumental technicity, and a “race of being posited”—help us in understanding the time and landscape that emerged once Shaktiman’s initial surgery, and experiences with the “external skeletal fixators with bilateral sidebars”, were deemed unsuccessful. But I suggest that introducing another concept—of biosociality— into the experimental imaginary would help us understand some of the terrain that emerged around Shaktiman. For, this terrain included not only methods and materials of science and medicine and engineering—the surgeries, the special enclosure, the medicines and therapeutic agents, the padded bales of husk and foam-mattresses to cushion the equine body, the generator-powered and (later) crane-enabled hoist to lift Shaktiman’s damaged body with the hopes of preventing gastrointestinal distress, skin sores, or myositis (an inflammation of the muscles). This terrain also brought together a series of faithful participants: the veterinarians from Pantnagar, the policemen doubling as carers for the injured animal, an equine orthopaedic surgeon from the Mahalaxmi Racecourse in Pune (Dr. Pheroze Khambatta), an animal-carer in Bhutan and a champion of prosthetics for nonhuman life-forms (Jamie Vaughan), the numerous media correspondents who followed Shaktiman’s condition as an ongoing concern, a documentary filmmaker, Shaktiman’s carer and rider (Pramod and Ravinder), and numerous other specialists and lay-folk on site or in digital/political/activist worlds. Each of these participants, perhaps, had varying interests in adopting  Shaktiman’s cause, but what interests me here is that they , together, demonstrate the effective working of a biosociality. Biosociality is a term from the anthropologist Paul Rabinow that separates itself from the deterministic burdens of sociobiology: “If sociobiology is culture constructed on the basis of a metaphor of nature, then in biosociality, nature will be modeled on culture understood as practice. Nature will be known and remade through technique and will finally become artificial, just as culture becomes natural. Were such a project to be brought to fruition, it would stand as the basis for overcoming the nature/culture split” (Rabinow, “Artificiality and Enlightenment”, pp. 241-242; emphasis added).


What Rabinow is gesturing at is the emergence of inter-actions and group-socialities on the foundation of biological conditions. And what Rabinow approaches, in speaking of biosociality, as the ‘bonded base pairs—labor and life, life and language, language and labor’ (Rabinow, p. 236)—are fascinating triptychs to think about how Shaktiman’s injury is mobilized in ways of being, ways of doing, and ways of seeing, within an emergent and fabricated experimental regimen. Together constituting ways of knowing and becoming, these triptychs remain the ingredients that constitute the biosocial through—and within—an experimental imaginary. The arrays of methods, materials and practices, in addition to the lives, labour and language, that enveloped Shaktiman’s shattered fetlock, point to the terrain of faith and action in which a multiplicity of beings were in operation [12].

Vinod Kapri’s documentary is a visual record of this experimental imaginary that soon came to surround Shaktiman, and the biosociality that emerged around her. Narrated with the same auditory aesthetics that accompanied the superhero and spiritual television shows of the Doordarshan era before the arrival of satellite television, Kapri’s mimetic work cinematically gestures through Shaktiman’s injuries at the corruption of a seemingly-idyllic, innocent time, one when the superhero Shaktiman waged battles against (televisual)villains. With Shaktiman’s collapse, the documentary seems to be hinting, this, literally prelapsarian, time has passed. This work of mimesis within the documentary is important, for it links heroic life to a damaged one, and in so doing, raises the ethical aporia in which the horse Shaktiman resides, having transitioned from a form-of-life steeped in the symbolics of duty to a life-form reduced to damaged valour.

Shaktiman had harboured infection from the initial surgery on March 15, and over the next few  days, developed gangrene at the site of injury. While initial news reports had claimed jubilantly that she would recover, that perhaps she would even run again and, at the very least, that she would be retired to an animal shelter, that jubilation was excised with a surgical amputation below the fetlock [13]. For, in those moments within 72 hours of the first surgery, disheartening news emerged regarding Shaktiman’s condition, relayed to the public by the state’s Chief of Police: Shaktiman had not been responding well to the initial surgery; she had developed gangrene that was spreading; that an “emergency” amputation had been conducted on her injured limb in order to “save” her life; and that the external fixators had not worked, in spite of the heroic (and bloody) actions of the Dehradun surgeons depicted in Kapri’s film [14]. There is a video from that time, a violent one that I remember seeing floating in the interwebs from the early days of Shaktiman’s first operation, the one in which Shaktiman attempts to stand on the limbs stabilised by these bilateral external fixators, but repeatedly and forcefully collapses. It is this second collapse, beamed to millions, that separates a state of injury from a state of radical alterity—one that marks a transition from wound to damage. It is a video that, perhaps for a striking moment, offered some measure of the suffering of this animal, for it fused endurance with biological recalcitrance, suggesting a corrupted biomechanics to which life was now subservient [15].

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The simultaneous corruption of biomechanics with a corruption of blood—the second fall of the horse and the flowing gangrene—generated a realisation in the experimental imagination that amputation was one, perhaps the only, mode of reclaiming Shaktiman’s life. Life became the point of attention where, for a moment after her initial injury, it had seemed that adequate arrangements for living were vital. Consequently, and with the supervision of the recently-arrived veterinary-orthopaedic surgeon Pheroze Khambatta of Pune, and his collaborator, the Bhutan-based animal-rescuer Jamie Vaughan, an “emergency” surgery was performed, marking a second intervention on the hind limb of a damaged life. Notwithstanding the attempts of the Dehradun surgeons to salvage the fixator-model of therapeutics, the arrival of Khambatta and Vaughan marks a change in direction in the experimental imagination, one where amputation—by way of gangrene and the unworkability of the fixators—emerged as the index of a new set of epistemic things—of facts and objects generated within the experimental site of Shaktiman’s damaged condition at the Police Lines. The experimental site emerges, in Rheinberger’s scheme, as “description of a “thought centred on a tiny fragment of the universe…” (Rheinberger, Towards a History of Epistemic Things, p. 74). This fragment is crystallized into semiotic apparatuses—both conceptual and theoretical, as well as physical and material—that allow, simultaneously, for isolation and verification, for a capacity to constantly generate novel problems against which extant tools might be tested. Khambatta and Vaughan’s prior work with injured equines, and with prosthetics for animals in Bhutan, respectively, served as a trace within the experimental system, and it is by way of this trace—the “double movement of becoming central and fading into marginality within the realm of a particular experimental culture” (Rheinberger, Towards a History of Epistemic Things, p. 226)—that the amputation and the prosthetic emerge, occupy, and fade from that scene in which Shaktiman and her biosocialities remain suspended [16].


For the arrival of the duo and the immediate amputation of Shaktiman’s dead limb not only saved its life, ensuring the perpetuation of the experimental imaginary. That act also generated a novel life-form for which the task of making living adequate began afresh. The prosthetic, as a trace of prior and external experiences, became central to this revivified task of generating adequacy, once the horse’s life itself had been salvaged. This is evident in Khambatta’s statement to the media, whilst standing in the shadow of Shaktiman’s tent in the darkness, prior to the amputational surgery that he conducted. The prosthetic or “artificial” leg is to be part of a syntagmatic chain in Khambatta’s description, where  being able to stand and walk with it is, quite directly, tied to the possibility of life. When Khambatta claims that they have “no option” other than to conduct amputation, he is gesturing not so much at what is said as much as to what is not—by pitching their acts in opposition to what is “generally” pursued (euthanasia) the experimental imaginary is sought to be repressed, but in repressing it, it becomes the raison d’être for this biosociality itself [17]. Dilemmas emerge before the amputation has been conducted, dilemmas that serve to propel the experimental system forwards by generating novel problems against which extant techniques and tools are put to the test: for instance, Shaktiman weighs 400 kilograms, nearly double the weight of equines normally fitted with prosthetic limbs; she has an ongoing infection that is threatening to be generalised in the body; and she has no access to a disinfected space for (post)operative and rehabilitative care [18].

Kapri’s film does not show how these dilemmas are handled specifically. Instead, as a memorialisation, in life, for a life projected to slip away, the film deftly moves-past what would undoubtedly have been hauntingly disturbing visuals when the gangrenous limb, wrapped in surgical plastic and bacterial blood, the surgeon with his lamp hovering above it with a saw revving in the background, would have been separated from the equine body. As an artefact where hope, despair and, promissory futures collide, the film serves as a record. In it, the moment of amputation is the moment where biology and life come apart, and are then put together in radically reconfigured manner. It is a  moment of provocation, for it demands interrogating certain forms of life when they come to be situated in the context of radically altered life-forms. The experimental system, as it unfolds, will enable that interrogation, for the arrays of methods and materials that it would subsequently put into play—the prosthetic being emblematic here—sought, once again, to make living adequate to the reconfigured life-form that was the amputated horse [19].

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In the film, Shaktiman wakes up to life without one limb and to a clatter of claps, for they had hoped against hope for this moment: a horse, without a leg, suspended on cranes, eating bales of grass. It is a spectacular moment, where they refer to Shaktiman as “beta”—son—thunderously thumping the length of her body, lest the muscles go cold. In an experimental system, Rheinberger writes, “the scientific objects and the technical conditions of their production are inextricably interconnected. They are, inseparably and at one and the same time, local, individual, social, institutional, technical, instrumental, and above all, epistemic units. Experimental systems are thus impure, hybrid settings” (Rheinberger, Towards a History of Epistemic Things, p. 2). Further, experimental systems are “generators of surprises”— as technologies capable of “differential reproduction”, they “behave as devices for producing scientific novelties that are beyond our present knowledge…to be productive, experimental systems have to be organized in such a way that the generation of differences becomes the reproductive driving force of the whole experimental machinery” (Rheinberger, Towards a History of Epistemic Things, p. 3; emphasis added). It is in this world of hybridity, unknowability, experimentation, and novelty that Shaktiman awoke on March 17, 2016.


The Prosthetic Horse

The Prosthesis trope has had a rich, if fraught, intellectual journey. On the one hand, prosthesis has been thought into living—as objects of addition and replacement that signal, simultaneously, lack, damage and enablement, while holding the promise of a return to a recognisable life-course. The future, through the prosthetic, is sought to be both controlled and foretold. Questions of value, aesthetics, and labor are central here—the prosthetic device allows a damaged body to reclaim these and fabricate a socially viable future. As a concept, prosthetics first denoted “addition or extension” (from the Latin pro [forward] to a thesis; cited in Coffey); towards the 16th century, the word acquired medical and surgical connotations “to denote the substitution of an artificial body part for missing limbs or teeth (Jain, p. 32; cited in Coffey). Thus, Katherine Ott writes against the metaphoric  (ab)use of prosthesis, arguing that “prosthetic devices, as social objects with a complex set of meanings in the daily lives of people, have rarely, if ever, been understood as part of vernacular material life” (Ott et al., p. 2). Ott takes exception to the cyborgian use of prosthesis in referring to “body-machine interfaces”, or the deployment of prosthetics in reference to cars, computers, sexual devices, tennis rackets, etc. to refer to “any machine or technology that intervenes on human subjectivity”, and argues that these “assertions, while intellectually  provocative and culturally insightful, hardly begin to comprehend the complex historical and social origins of prosthetics…[they] rarely consider the rehabilitative dimension of prosthetics, or the amputees who use them”, or the material -historical bases of these uses (Ott et al., p. 3).  Instead, Ott calls for a historically-nuanced look at how prosthetics are lived with, how the “evolution of and design of technologies of the body are intertwined with the subjective and practical needs of people” (p. 5).

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Prosthesis [20] is generally understood as an effecting process that brings about forms of supplementation through the addition of objects, technologies, techniques, procedures and knowledges—geared towards an extension, compensation, enhancement, or replacement—against some limitation, loss, or (perceived or physically-evident) lack. This process of addition and supplementation, further, brings about ‘human- technology relationships’ (cited in Jain, abstract) that are an extension of organic capacities—what Marshall McLuhan described as “any extension of ourselves” [21]. The classic images of the prosthesis are the wheelchair, the crutch, the Jaipur-foot, athletic-running blades worn by Oscar Pistorius, etc.—each of which (and many others) works doubly, not only in “simultaneously supplementing a deficiency [but also in] signalling deficiency in the object to which it is supplied” (cited in Coffey). Prosthesis supplements as much as it limits and diminishes—it aids materially, but that aiding must be, as McLuhan argues, bearable to be effective, or the arrangement will collapse. In this way, enablement and wound coexist (Jain, “The Prosthetic Imagination”, p. 32). This bearability is conditioned by a certain “numbness or blocking of perception” (McLuhan, cited in Coffey)—a signal that prosthesis as a supplement works only by limiting (‘amputate’) certain other faculties. As Sarah Coffey reminds us, the idea of amputation  has long been associated in the history of ideas with thinking on prosthesis: Marx’s work on commodity fetishism foregrounds prosthesis through objects, at the cost of “alienating men from one another and from themselves”; this is a system of exchange that is inherently prosthetical where, “the materialism of the commodity sets up a prosthetic system in which social relations are determined by the material relations between commodities”. Henry Ford, on the other hand, celebrated the prosthetic-led extension of human capacities and capabilities, especially when the body is seen as inherently lacking (amputated) and, thus, requiring ‘compensation supplied by man-made machinery’; Ford cheerfully employed humans of various permutations on his assembly-lines, based on careful studies of their individual capacities to contribute: legless men, one-legged men, armless men, one-armed men, blind men (in Coffey). For Freud, prosthesis is what actuates and mediates ‘binary relationships [between] mind/body, internal/external, and conscious/subconscious’; prosthetics is a capacity that man deploys—with consequences for the self and outside— foregrounding the cleaving and amputating capacity of marshalled objects upon human structures of mind, thought and (sub)consciousness. This marshalling of “auxiliary organs” makes man a “prosthetic god”, even though Freud was concerned that these organs are not organic, and give trouble (in Coffey). Heidegger, in thinking of man’s “essential distinction” as one that was fundamentally embodied, argued that prosthesis enabled “a form of bodily destruction”—a form of amputation that unfolded by erasing the “trace of the body”; the labor of the body, in being transmuted to the labor of the prosthetic, spelled for Heidegger the end of man and his embodied essence (in Coffey). Derrida, contrarily, examined writing itself as a “prosthetical device”, arguing that as a mode of supplementation, it “simply replaces a lack”. For Derrida, writing and speech operated not as hierarchies of expression, but as “substitutive significations [in a] chain of differential references” that together marked the perception, or “trace”, of existence itself [22]. Sticking with the question of supplementation, Sarah Jain asks in a seminal article, “How does the use of the term prosthesis assume a disabled body in need of supplementation? How might the prosthesis produce the disability as a  retroactive effect?…How is the normative configured” (Jain, p. 33). It may be argued that prosthesis creates the need—through a culture of consumption based on the satiation of desire—as much as it seeks to supplement a lack. Thus, prosthesis, as Jain suggests, is“that which supplies the deficiency”; it is based upon an imagined physical and social body, and is deployed through the work of rule, repetition and ‘averages’ (Jain, p. 43) [23]. This argument may have important resonances with the creation of desire and its fulfilment through processes of pathologization and subsequent curative deployments. However, what is important to note is the seduction of prostheses, for not only do they supplement, they also seek to resolve problematics of agency, availability and access to living. ‘Disability’ of the body itself, then, may operate as a prosthetical category for the creation, search and resolution of desire and needs. Here, needs are both cultural constructions as well as biological necessities, with constructions emerging on a shifting conceptual foundation of necessities required for life amidst bare survival. Jain describes this as a process of personal and political ‘bodily  expectations’ (Jain, pp. 40-42).

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Staying with recent literature, one goes in various directions, and some exemplars stand. Diane Nelson introduces the prosthetic as a material-metaphorical “point of departure for problematising transnational, state, national, ethnic, class, and gender identifications” (Nelson, “Phantom Limbs and Invisible Hands: Bodies, Prosthetics, and Late Capitalist Identification”, p. 303). This is a problem of “exploring the slipperiness of identification, the violence that bodies suffer” under regimes of late capitalist institutions—institutions that are “complex networks, power soaked-integrations” of finance, family, and (trans)nation-states that continue to wound the body and will, and against which, the “active wilful body does not simply seize a passive instrument—it is changed by that connection” (Nelson, p. 304-307). Marquard Smith and Joanne Morra, in their edited contribution, offer an excellent collection of works on supplementation, ones that bring to light the edges of the human and posthuman by not delving solely in metaphor but also examining “the phenomenological, material, and embodied nature of prosthesis”—that is, the conceptual- historical space between the “flesh and its accompanying [dialectical] technologies”. Prosthesis, to the purpose they are put, may function either to extend alienation and exploitation, or they may foster an enablement, addition, augumentation and replacement; bridging the human and the technical, the body and the machine, prosthesis is simultaneously “technological as well as teleological, material as well as metaphorical”.  (Smith & Morra (ed.), The Prosthetic Impulse, p. 11). Recuperating the present on premises of the past while fantasising about the future, prosthesis here is electrified by an impulse for technology and limited only by the imagination.

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Assaying between the metaphorical and the material, between aesthetics and trauma, between life and disabled living, between fantasy and debilitations, between lack and augumentation, and between the history of prosthetics and the prosthetics of histories (that vast array of “machine or technology that intervenes on human subjectivity” [24]), these works on the prothesis, nevertheless, remain troublingly human in their locus. This essay, on the other hand, is thinking of humans and animals as simultaneously of a continuum, interrogating the mobilised regimes of value, epistemic things, and experimental imaginaries—those lives, labors, and language—that serve to equip a damaged life-form—a horse—with a biological life that can be lived. Here, I take the speculative and the phenomenological aspects of the prosthetic trope equally seriously (Smith & Morra, p. 3), arguing that an experimental imaginary of material and time, of epistemic things and hopeful futures, of modes of being/becoming and doing and seeing,  links a damaged animal body to human impulses of restitution.

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Shaktiman’s amputation saved its life, to be sure, but it also offered a transition from biological circumstance to a newer mode of sociality. It is in this transition from the  death-worlds borne by biological limbs to a realm of amputated disability, from wound to damage, that the figure of the prosthetic becomes essential. Dr Rakesh Nautiyal, at one point the day after the amputation, in Kapri’s documentary, describes the life-giving role of the prosthetic in these terms: “Its body language—which was deteriorating till yesterday—we can say there’s a 70% improvement in that condition, in the total  body condition. It will feel now, gradually, that it can walk, the pain will reduce. The fluid will dehydrate, and the toxins in the body will be flushed out through urine. Things will improve” [25]. The scene shifts to a desperately thirsty Shaktiman, slurping water that is fed in her mouth by her carers, and the doctors see this desperation in metaphysical terms—signs of an urge to live.

But more urgent dilemmas take over with the materiality of the prosthetic. Shaktiman has been fitted with a temporary prosthetic, while measurements are taken and sent to the United States for a permanent artificial limb. Surgeon Khambatta warns that the “stump” of the temporary prosthetic limb will not hold, that a way needs to be found to ensure that rot does not set in, and that the wound at the site of amputation is protected and cushioned. A human prosthetics-specialist—a maker of the famed “Jaipur-foot”—is called into the experimental zone, to advise on and forge a device that is still very much within a human prosthetics imaginary—but a device which must be adequate to the needs of a horse. After a search for such a specialist, and the seeking of permission from seniors in the police bureaucracy, participants in the experimental space need to “design something that potentially can allow his hock to move”, allowing Shaktiman to, possibly, get up. Both materials and language, therefore, are interrogated by this experimental move—materials in the biophysical sense of what can be constructed to an adequate requirement for bearing the weight of a damaged, amputated body; and language because a new mode of articulation of needs and possibilities must be discovered in the absence of ceaseless linguistic feedback between human and animal. The human, by language, is often set apart from the animal (even though advances in cognitive and linguistic anthropology and science have suggested the linguistic capacity of animals in communication). But within the experimental imaginary surrounding Shaktiman we see the operations of perpetual heuristics to enable a conversation between the men (and woman) and the animal in a scene where language, itself, is reduced to bodily gestures, to pain, and to the sympathetic imagination. The prosthetic mediates this generation of heuristics; the “design” supplies the technical language to the suffering, silent animal, and stands as a sign of intervention where the speech of pain is silent. It is also the sign of an experimental system geared to the perpetual generation of both surprises and futures.

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The fabrication of the prosthetic, therefore, mediates material, language, and method. It comes into being at the site of both utter-agnosticism—that which is unknown about its effect(iveness)—and a certain faith—from experiences outside that haunt the epistemic space. The past and the future coalesce into the moment of the prosthetic. Khambatta and Jamie confer and offer a model for the prosthetic to be made locally—a ubiquitous Araldite epoxy synthetic material that will be “very easy to construct” yet will be strong [26]. The human prosthetician, Vijay Nautiyal, a Dehradun resident, is called-upon, and offers to construct two artificial devices, one of which, made of thermoplastic, would be easily-removable for the frequent cleaning of Shaktiman’s wounds. Measurements are taken; casts for the prosthetics are made using plater-of-paris. Jamie Vaughan promises to mobilise her contact at an American prosthetic maker, Virginia’s Animal-Orthocare, that will provide the permanent artificial  device for free.

From the prosthetic to its maker, the plot turns: “Most people just decide to euthanise, because it is easier for themselves. The animal can’t work anymore, that’s for sure, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to live and be taken care of. The injury is not going to affect the horse’s lifespan. If the wound is treated and the prosthetic provided , then the animal can have a long, healthy life”—Jamie is animated here by a radical desire to save damaged animals from euthanasia, for one, because to her what is convenient is not what ought to be desirable, and second, because she believes that an amputation and the resultant disability is not a question on the lifespan of an animal such as Shaktiman. Jamie, therefore, interrogates both the value of life and the life of value, and finds in technoscience and its prosthetic manifestation a modality to “make live” rather than “let die”. In contrast to pre-modern sovereignty, where the right to kill, to take and to expropriate—life and goods—defined sovereignty as the ‘right of death’, Michel Foucault typifies modern sovereign power (or biopower) as the power to make live and let die. This is the power to allow proliferation, to secure life, extend it, and to make its possibilities the focus of politics.

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Jamie, in arguing against euthanasia, is interrogating how value circulates in biopower. She is, at once, taking biopower to its logical end-point—life and its proliferation—by arguing that disability is not the end of life but life by other means, where value is generated through altered mechanisms that are simultaneously ethical, aesthetic, and laborious. These are mechanisms that “reterritorialize the body” (Deleuze, in Biehl and Locke, “Deleuze and the Anthropology of Becoming”, p. 322) and, in doing so, make the damaged body re-available to the proliferative logics of biopower. But Jamie is, at the same time, also urging one to think of what is necessary for value—the excisions, denials, and abandonments of some necessary for the proliferation of others. By thus destabilising the a priori of biopower, Jamie offers a different imagination of life, labour and language—an imagination of “what could be”, traversed by the prosthetic device and its experimental milieu (Biehl and Locke, p. 323) [27]. In so doing, she brings humans and animals within a continuum of living, damage, and value, urging a different mode of thinking about animals and humans, not as beings with set life-courses but as becomings. Adopted from the works of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze by the anthropologist Joao Biehl, becoming refers to a particular mode of living, one with conditions that point to “those  individual and collective struggles to come to terms with events and intolerable conditions and to shake loose, to whatever degree possible, from determinants and definitions—“to grow both young and old [in them] at once”” (Biehl and Locke, p. 317). The power of the critical event; the open-handedness of experimental imagination; the desires marking the generated epistemic things and the congealing biosocialities surrounding an injured animal that will not be ‘put down’ but which, alternatively, through its very suffering and its recalcitrance, gestures to the “in-between, plastic, and ever-unfinished nature of a life”—these animate Shaktiman’s care (Biehl and Locke, p. 318). This ever-unfinished nature of a life is marked not purely by determinants or specific value but by what Deleuze has called the “lines of flight” (Biehl and Locke, p. 322)—those “movements through space time and social fields” constituting cartographies shaped by desire and intensities— which emerge within and beside Jamie’s particular blend of the experiential, the experimental, and the ethical. It is through these lines of flight, within the experimental imaginary, that a future is reconfigured [28].

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But lines of flight are easier said than realised. Return to Kapri’s documentary, if you will, and you will find the torturous path of fitting Shaktiman with the temporary prosthesis made by Vijay Nautiyal, revealing the wide gulf between the making of a prosthetic device and its essential quality of bearability that McLuhan spoke about. The question of bearability in prosthetics speaks to a quality that prefigures the coexistence of enablement and wound on the one hand (Jain, p. 32), while it demands a certain “numbness or blocking of perception” on the other  (McLuhan, cited in Coffey). It is riveting part of the film—full of kicks and cracked prosthetic braces and persistent effort and fatigued bodies, flailing bandages and plaster, disfigured pen-marker lines and crowd-control and plier-cutters to make the last bit of vital adjustment—all modes of achieving bearability that hide behind, haunting, the serenity of words and image in a Facebook post later put up by Jamie: “Up and fully weight bearing just in time for me to leave him and return home… Immensely overjoyed. Go Shaktiman!!!” [29]. Rakesh Negi, the Dehradun veterinarian who first responded to Shaktiman at the point of her injury, is still there, part of the experimental scene, but is overcome with the horse’s disposition when he remarks: “We don’t want to keep him lying for too long on the ground; the leg and wounds will heal over time, it is a matter of a few months—four, six—the wound will certainly fill. I have never treated such a beautiful animal. It listens to everything, to its rider, understands us when we ask it to be still when we draw blood with a syringe” [30]. Khambatta and Jamie echo-in, perhaps together articulating and reflecting their own peculiar position with this damaged creature: “He’s definitely a fighter. He has the will to live, so he just needs help from everybody…He’s a very brave horse, and that is the most important, primary category, when you start working with them” [31]. And what Rheinberger describes as central to experimental systems and their production of epistemic things—that such systems “function as machines for making the future” (Rheinberger, Towards a History of Epistemic Things, p. 80)—is evinced in Khambatta’s statement the morning after the surgery: “It’s going to be a long draw for this horse. He’s going to be in pain and he’s going to be uncomfortable. I don’t think comfort is [a question]. He’s certainly going to be more comfortable than he was yesterday while the leg was flailing around, but he’s not going to be a very happy horse for a few days” [32]. Affects surrounding the brutality of the amputation congeal easily with promises for future that the prosthetic holds. Bearability mediates the ever-moving present.

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Only part of the question of bearability with the prosthetic is its fitment to the amputated limb.  Another is the question of its everyday, ordinary use. Because the artificial limb would have to be removed and put-on regularly, Jamie decides that anaesthesia should not be used, by way of a trial, since it cannot be administered as a regular tool, to put the prosthetic on Shaktiman [33]. If the prostheticisation of Shaktiman is an epistemic thing, that must be figured-out experimentally, then the withdrawal of anaesthesia is a move to the future via a technical object of the amputated body. Technical objects mark the “sufficiently stabilized scientific objects…[that] become constituent parts of the experimental arrangement. They then begin themselves to determine the latitude of the questions that can be asked within the system. By this, the experiments become clearer in some directions, but at the same time less independent, because they more and more rely on a hierarchy of established procedures” (Rheinberger, “The Epistemic Thing and its Technical Conditions”, p. 283). The bearability of the device and the capacity to bear pain, together, suggests how the experimentation with a damaged animal moves towards a struggle with stabilisation, a struggle that ultimately determines the livability of a life-form. They realise after innumerable attempts, and with frustration mixed into joviality, that lying-down, Shaktiman is unlikely to allow them to put the  prosthetic on her. She kicks and damages the prosthetic, confirming Jamie’s previous suspicion about one particular section of the artificial limb and its viability to withstand force [34]. Disappointment and recalcitrance, therefore, are also learning curves in the experimental imaginary—true reflections of the epistemic thing that is the absent, amputated limb, to which the prosthetic is supplied as both material and meaning, as action and entwined knowledge, as equipment and hope.


A construction crane enters the scene as an index of the epistemic churning generated by the question (or lack) of bearability. They decide to suspend Shaktiman from the crane with hoists, using the dangling moments to try another way of fitting the amputation with its replacement; anaesthesia is injected into Shaktiman, and the limb rapidly put onto her suspended body. They succeed in putting the limb on Shaktiman this way, but the crane will return at a later stage, an ever-presence in Shaktiman’s reclamation, when they seek a mode of sustained weight-bearing on a shaky prosthetic.

Jamie leaves on the seventh day, returning to Bhutan, and there is an image of her with her collaborators and with Shaktiman—together they stand there, the silent-scream of their hope only matched by the image’s caption: “Shakti [trans. Strength] in Dehradun”, a nod to the viability of the experimental imaginary, and the tenaciousness of the team put together to pursue an experimental future for a past that would have liked itself to be foretold. The crane links in this scheme to harnesses, to mattresses and mosquito-nets, to tyre tubes for cushioning Shaktiman’s head and back, to massagers for the horse’s body, to a bath that is as much a celebration as it is a health necessity, to physiotherapy  and ice-packs for the wounds, to water-coolers and fluorescent lamps and supplied high-energy feed from a charitable manufacturer [35]—as the next two weeks unfold, and while they wait for the stump to heal, for health to be regained, and for the permanent prosthetic to arrive. There is the birthday video from March 23, 2016—evidence of weight-bearing, and an anniversary into which is read the evidence of tenaciousness experimental and biographical [36].

shaktiman 2

There are other aspects in the story: Tim Mahoney, the American who had never met any of the team in Dehradun, but who saw a request on Facebook for a “flight volunteer” to carry the prosthetic limb to India; Mahoney traveled from Kentucky to meet the prosthetic-maker Derek Campana in Virginia, and then to Dehradun with an aim to supply the prosthetic to a “loyal” animal deserving of “peace”. This is an arrival, then, that  holds-forth a promise of new friendships and illustrations of the “lines of flight”: those “movements through space time and social fields” constituting cartographies shaped by desire and intensities (Biehl and Locke, p. 322). There is the circulation of Kapri’s film on television news and in schools, where kids watch and mourn [37]. And there is the re-mobilisation of epistemic things with the newly-arrived permanent artificial leg from the US, with which have also come four sets of equine boots for support. Aimed at addressing “support limb laminitis” in the limbs that are now bearing the weight of the amputated one [38], these boots are tried one after the next on the right hind leg (that was not amputated)  of “a reluctant Shaktiman…One of them fits and there is an air of cheer all around” [39].


There is Shaktiman’s page on Facebook, charting her route to damage and her struggles with reclamation. The page offers on-the-ground pictures and videos, offering a trajectory from a supine, to a harnessed, and then an independently-standing Shaktiman, peppered with scenes of inheritance: the bath given on the day marking the anniversary of arrival to the police stables; the fruits being fed; bloody, prehistoric images of the shattered limb, now amputated and prostheticized; the ropes and hands and Holi-color covering every inch of the experimental body; the periodic updates in words where image or others modes are absent; the arrival of absolute strangers from worlds away  bearing life-giving gifts and the promise of long associations (or absorptions) within the experimental imaginary.

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 6.27.47 PM

And there is death: sudden, merciless, incontrovertible death [40].



Kapri’s film ends with a struggling Shaktiman, attempting to rise on the American-made permanent prosthetic. It is a scene of great pathos, a montage of imageries where biophysical struggle meets the recalcitrance of will. It is a moment where the experimental system comes to its culmination—in the transformation of an epistemic thing, an injured animal, into a technical object—a prosthetic equine. But the horizon of that culmination is not an altered future in life, as desired by the experimental arrangement and its biosocialities, but, instead, an attainment of a logic of total transformation realised  only in and through death. As Shaktiman totters, attempting to stand up on her four limbs, other horses—comrades—stand outside her special rehabilitative enclosure, standing witness to this month-long experimental ordeal [41].


As the scene unfolds in the film, amidst encouraging calls by onlookers aimed at Shaktiman to stand up [42], the narrator abruptly declares Shaktiman’s death, but we know that there is more to the story. There are videos where Shaktiman progressively emerges from the harnesses—harnesses of support first taut, then limp, finally invisible [43]—for she also achieved an unthinkability through the course of her experimental, prostheticized life: fully- weight bearing and standing for hours on all fours [44]. There are images, and you need to look very closely, down there, for she stands tall in this full-frame, weak but without signs of fetters [45]. In another image, she stands with wounds and her saddle, drenched in colors of Holi [46]. There are, too, the news reports and ground-reports—media-persons turned prognosticators of experimental hope [47].


But death arrived 36 days after Shaktiman’s injury, in the form of heart-failure and final collapse from a pre-anaesthetic routine—prior preparation to a “minor surgery” that was planned on her stump, to make it suitable for the permanent prosthetic to be put on. Not the prosthetic, itself, or the wounds of her month-long supineness, but sudden death, illustrating, again, the wide gulf that can emerge between the biology sustaining life and the logics of making live.

There is the early morning message on April 20th, 2016, on my phone from my sister—“Shaktimaan died”. Stark, gut-churning, descending darkness, a failure of language to measure the weight of the world in that moment. This is perhaps that which TS Eliot denotes as a “raid on the inarticulate”. I open the world of Shaktiman, and the ether-world of online feeling-cultures is abuzz, once again. Ordinary failure of language, or a proliferation of affects: The calls for justice and that word-less-ness with being “sad” that is, at once, pure intensity. The cold vengeance of an eye-for-an-eye. The reflection and vigils in distant places on the abysmal state of animal-cruelty legislation and its implementation [48]. The guilt at having “failed” this animal. The ironic mockery of “beef eaters” in mourning [49]. The petrol pump to be set up at the Police Lines in Dehradun as a gesture of memorialisation both to this heroic equine and the experimental life of its amputated destiny [50]. The forest fires in Uttarakhand as the new index of the state of the nation aflame. The cruelty to other animals in other places as events of viable public concern [51]. The circulation of images of Shaktiman’s stiff corpse, contorted body strewn with flowers, and you spot that woman in the centre of the frame, awkward slump and face in agony. The elegiac, afterlife of Shaktiman—myths and metaphors to make sense of her perishment, that hark both to the naked brutality of party-politics and to her significance as a Cassandra of contemporary civics [52]. And the collective reflection on a loss of humanity, an attack on innocence, and a corruption of those very essences—of reason and compassion—that renders the human, an allegedly unique phenotypic form, now bestial [53].


Four remnants from this time of death surface in my mind. There is, first, the sets of images of Shaktiman’s dead body, strewn with flowers that camera-wielding visitors have brought with them. A policewoman stands to attention in another, saluting the garlanded corpse; in the left-hand corner stands Shaktiman’s rider Ravider Singh in yellow, the iterative presence of the last 36 days, clutching a bag of marigolds, expressionless, struggling still to articulate the mixed-feelings of value—of having lost his horse as a rider, and yet, remaining part of an experiment to sustain its life [54]. Huddling around its awkward lifelessness, the people remain, while the white body soon disappears below a brown shroud, its colour anticipating the burial-at-site.

Second, there is Jamie Vaughan’s silence—48 hours long and deafening—after which she posts on Facebook [55]: She apologises for the “lack of updates” and speaks of the “incapacitating” shock of the “sudden death”. Behind this sudden death, she appraises us, was Shaktiman’s “pristine” condition—wounds and vital signs all in order, enduring strength, nothing remiss: “His wounds were pristine and all of his vital signs good. Most notably, he was stronger and more lively than any other day since the horrible attack that did this to him. His appetite was excellent, his coat brilliant, his eyes bright and interested in everything, and his behavior more expressive than I personally have ever seen. All of us of Team Shaktiman that were there with him that day, and so many days before, were so unbelievably happy with how well he was doing – aside from the all the other positives – he was 100% using his new prosthetic leg”.

It is a fascinating account of how the everyday shades into, lulls one against, the sudden end of things. In the descriptions there is the morning rise of the horse, her attempts to adjust to the prosthetic by looking at it, there is the walk, the logics of the planned surgery to fit the prosthetic better. And there is the sudden chill that her absence left—“gone”—just like that; nothing doable. There is the declaration of utter ‘dismay’, and attempts to understand the experiment as the pursuit of “life and recovery, and what should have been his survival”. Life, recovery, survival. Anti-euthanasia. There is the talk of Shaktiman’s service—service, family, honor, and their removal in Jamie’s lexicon from petty politics. There is talk of surviving and of being valued as disabled, of hardships that are the stigmata of life, of the material gifts and logics of care. There is the question of possibility in thinking of life: “And for those equine “specialists” (or anyone else) that have been saying since day one he would die, or not euthanizing him was “morally wrong” – the only things morally wrong about this is his attack in the first place and lack of prosecution to his attacker thereafter, and not giving him a chance at life by euthanizing immediately. Just because YOU don’t want to take the needed time and resources to provide the required care does not justify killing. There are many horses worldwide thriving with 3-legs and prosthetics because IT IS possible and, if you value life, it is worthwhile. If you don’t believe me, come check out my place – we have several equines doing well with prosthetic legs, and we have many more who may not walk perfectly because of earlier fractures, but with homemade stabilization with PVC and/or welded hardware, we saved their legs and they are well and happy. And if we can do it here in Bhutan with the ultimate of limited resources, including even x-ray machines, the possibilities in developed nations should be countless. If anything is learned from Shaktiman, it should be that all life is important and should be valued, penalties for animal cruelty should exist, and opportunities for life should be given, if not mandatory.”

And then, at the end of life, there are those who remember.



Remembrance is a strange thing—it brings curious collectives to do seemingly-unthinkable things. For, Shaktiman’s tenth day of death brought together the local veterinarians of the Animal Husbandry Department in Dehradun, on the occasion of World Veterinary Day, making them reflect not only the damaged life of the horse they had attempted to salvage but also on the paradigm of “One Health” [56]—of using health to think of human and other species as part of a continuum of life, contingency, and care [57]. In the images from the day is Shaktiman’s own image— images within themselves, mimicking the multiplicities that constitute a life. In the left corner, garlanded, stands Shaktiman’s image, but this time the flowers sanctify not her lifeless corporeality but, instead, her memory. This is a process for that memory’s memorialisation, for mining its rich resonances and harnessing its potentialities, a process where selves, biologies, experiences, and affects from the experimentality surrounding Shaktiman percolate and order, through her ordeal and death, a different future for imagining and for valuing varieties of cohabiting lives. Here, One Health emerges as a “strategy to better understand and address the contemporary health issues created by the convergence of human, animal, and environmental domains”, as the American Veterinary Medicine Association’s Task Force Report (2008) argues. One Health, the report suggests, has a long intellectual genealogy, but recent emergencies of zoonotic diseases, the commingling of peoples, environments and animals at unprecedented levels, and the travel of vectors on a planetary scale, has institutionalised the One Health Commission as the liaison between institutionalised public health and animal healthcare, in the US, but as Shaktiman’s memorial by her veterinarians suggests, also in Dehradun, India. One Health, then, is both a new mode of conceptualising cohabitation and an emergent multi-sited institutional practice.


In thinking of One Health and Shaktiman’s experimental life, I return to my second epigraph for this essay, where Mike Fischer writes of “Anthropology [as] the speech, account, reason, or logics of the animal operating semiotically, psychically, emotionally, intro- and projectionally between the bestial and the divine. The anthropo-logics include affects and actions that—after giving reasons for actions run out and yet decisions and actions must be taken—leave enduring legibilities, traces, hints, or cues in the rhythms and sounds, the catacoustics of the social text”. If the experimental imaginary that emerged with Shaktiman’s catastrophic wounds offers a display of the legibilities, traces, rhythms and catacoustics that emanated from within a biosociality scrambling to make life adequate to living, then One Health, within this mode of thinking anthropologically, offers the techniques and perturbations  that resonate between bestial and divine modes of action [58]. It addresses, as technique and as philosophy of life, the “disputation, and questioning, address and response, the ear, face, and eye of the other, learning across the tympanum of exchanges between self and other”—a radical other, one that is beyond our language, but certainly not beyond eliciting our response, forging our action, and divining contemplation of alterity that is, at the same time, a continuum of entwined existence. The locus of One Health and of the experimental imaginary surrounding Shaktiman, then, is the same as what Derrida describes to be the “Question of the Animal”—against essentialised reductivities in thought concerning animal-others, Derrida invokes  “radical heterogeneities…the disparate modes of being, relation, and language to be founds among animals” (Calarco, p. 4). This heterogeneity finds an ethical counterpoint in the “face of the other”, through which Derrida argues that this face of the other is not only human—that “animals of various sorts might have a face, which is to say, animals might call upon and obligate me in ways that I cannot fully anticipate” (Calarco, p. 5). Derrida also enquires whether we know how to think about animals at all (Calarco, p. 5) [59]. Derrida “argues against the Western philosophical tradition that separates animal from man by excluding the former from everything that was considered “proper to man”: thinking, laughing, suffering, mourning, and above all, speaking. Animals have traditionally been considered the absolute Others of human beings, a radical otherness that serves as the rationale for their domination, exploitation and slaughter. What Derrida called “la pensée de l’animal” (which can be translated as “thinking concerning the animal” but also as “animal thinking”) is a “poetic” and “prophetic” way of thinking differently about animality and humanity” (Berger & Segarra, p. 11). I argue that by thinking of the experimental space that came to take charge of Shaktiman, we witness the lives, labors and languages implicated in a struggle to understand the animals’ mutual sufferings. This allows one to think of Shaktiman as an epistemic thing, an experimental body, and a ground for “entangled” torment (Kirksey & Helmreich: 2010), that evokes both an ethico-poetics and a technological response.

Stefan Helmreich and Sophia Roosth gesture at the keyword “life-form” as the site of potentiality: “a space of possibility within which life might take shape” (Helmreich & Roosth: 2010, p. 27). For them, through tracing a historical movement, the concept of life-form has transitioned from “a term referring to abstract, idealized, aesthetic possibilities through reference to biogeographic and evolutionary possibilities to, today, conjectural and future possibilities” (p. 27).  This transition in the history of a concept has entailed movements in reasoning. From the realm of the deductive confidence in a “drawing of conclusions from known principles”, through an inductive faith in drawing  “inference from particulars toward general conclusions”, we have arrived at abductive reasoning where fantasy is fundamental to the formation of futures. Here, Helmreich & Roosth use Charles Sanders Peirce’s description of abduction to point to “a method of forming a general prediction without any positive assurance that it will succeed either in the special case or usually, its justification being that it is the only possible hope of regulating our future conduct rationally” (p. 28). As a mode of operating on assumptions that “may or may not materialise in the future”, this contemporary description of life-forms applies equally to astrobiologists, struggling with defining life at the frontiers of what can be known, as it does to the experimentalists in Dehradun, struggling to bring viable living to a prostheticised horse that would, ordinarily, be put down when a body such as her’s became the subject of a catastrophic circumstance. It is to record an experimental imaginary’s essential inordinariness, and to remember its terrain of faith and action in which a multiplicity of beings were in operation, that I have written this.


There is one image that comes to me, as I close my eyes. It is not the image of Shaktiman trotting in the winds, or her collapse, nor is it the stiff corpse left behind enveloped in flowers and her death. It is the image of Shaktiman, blue-plastered and suspended, her face outside the image-frame.  Absent-present. Surrounded by those who have cared for her, amputated her, prostheticised her, and sought to reclaim her—the surgeons and policemen and nurses—there they stand and sit, suspended, and it is a moment emblazoned in my mind. In memory, there they remain, these actors, interlocked in time and circumstance. It is a moment that congeals space-time and affect-intent, and you know just by the quality of the image, by the assembly of the experts and the hopers in it, that this is no ordinary time. While the cruelty and the beauty of life, to me, remains that it goes on regardless, in the image they  nevertheless remain suspended together, spectral and animated—those creatures reverberating between the bestial and the divine. What links pure biology and pain to being and otherness, I ask myself aloud, looking at this image? What is the nexus of “life, labour and language” in this story? What faiths congealed in this damaged body, fusing nature and culture into an epistemic thing, one where medicine, biomechanics, norms and forms of value, and experimental lives, jostled to make life adequate to living; to make the absence of one type of language present through other modes of friendship and doing; and to reclaim forms of (disabled)living from the contingencies of biological circumstance? Something was felt here, in this place of repair; something collided so many worlds.


Perhaps it is with William Meredith’s evocative, deeply-ambiguous, reflections on the Jain Bird Hospital in Delhi, and that site’s ministrations of birds through “faith, cognition, and nonviolence”, that one might fitfully conclude [60]:

“Outside the hotel window, unenlightened pigeons 

weave and dive like Stukas on their prey, 

apparently some tiny insect brother. 

(In India, the attainment of nonviolence 

is considered a proper goal for human beings.) 

If one of the pigeons should fly into the illusion 

of my window and survive (the body is no illusion 

when it’s hurt) he could be taken across town to the bird 

hospital where Jains, skilled medical men, 

repair the feathery sick and broken victims. 

There, in reproof of violence 

and of nothing else, live Mahavira’s brothers and sisters. 

To this small, gentle order of monks and nuns 

it is bright Vishnu and dark Shiva who are illusion. 

They trust in faith, cognition, and nonviolence 

to release them from rebirth. They think that birds 

and animalslike us, some predators, some prey 

should be ministered to no less than men and women. 

The Jains who deal with creatures (and with laymen) 

wear white, while their more enterprising hermit brothers 

walk naked and are called the sky-clad. Jains pray 

to no deity, human kindness being their sole illusion. 

Mahavira and those twenty-three other airy creatures 

who turned to saints with him, preached the doctrine of ahimsa, 

which in our belligerent tongue becomes nonviolence. 

It’s not a doctrine congenial to snarers and poultrymen, 

who every day bring to market maimed pheasants. 

Numbers of these are brought in by the Jain brothers 

and brought, to grow back wing-tips and illusions, 

to one of the hospitals succoring such small quarry. 

When strong and feathered again, the lucky victims 

get reborn on Sunday mornings to the world’s violence, 

released from the roofs of these temples to illusion. 

It is hard for a westerner to speak about men and women 

like these, who call the birds of the air brothers.

We recall the embarrassed fanfare for Francis and his flock. 

We’re poor forked sky-clad things ourselves 

and God knows prey to illusione.g., I claim these brothers 

and sisters in India, stemming a little violence, among birds.



(books and articles; links remain in footnotes; images have been gathered from various social-media platforms that they came to anarchically circulate in):

  1. Berger, Anne and Marta Zegarra (ed.) Demenageries Thinking (of) Animals after Derrida. Rodopi: 2011.
  2. Biehl, Joao and Peter Locke, “Deleuze and the Anthropology of Becoming”, Current Anthropology, Volume 51, No. 3. 2010.
  3. Calarco, Matthew. Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida. Columbia: 2008.
  4. Coffey, Sarah. “Prosthesis,” available at
  5. Das, Veena. Critical Events: Anthropological Perspectives on Contemporary India. Oxford: 1995.
  6. Derrida, Jacques. The Animal That Therefore I Am. Fordham: 2008.
  7. Fischer, Michael M.J., “Philosophia and Anthropologia: Reading alongside Benjamin in Yazd, Derrida in Qum, Arendt in Tehran”, in Das, et al., (ed.) The Ground Between: Anthropologists Engage Philosophy. Duke: 2014.
  8. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, vol. 1. Vintage: 1978.
  9. Helmreich, Stefan and Sophia Roosth. “Life Forms: A Keyword Entry.” Representations 112: 27-53. 2010.
  10. Jain, Sarah S. “The Prosthetic Imagination,” Enabling and Disabling the Prosthesis Trope,” Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 24 No. 1. pp. 31-54. 1999.
  11. Kapri, Vinod, “Shaktiman” (documentary film), available at (starting at the 0:38 mark).
  12. Kirksey, S. Eben, and Stefan Helmreich: “The Emergence of Multispecies Ethnography”, Cultural Anthropology. 25(4): pp. 545-575. 2010.
  13. Kochhar, Rijul. “The Analytics of Disability: Bodies, Documents, and the Order of the State”. MPhil dissertation, Delhi School of Economics, India. 2013.
  14. Lundblad, Michael. “From Animal to Animality Studies.” PMLA 124:2. pp. 496-502. 2009.
  15. Maurstad, Anita, Dona Davis, and Sarah Cowles. “Co-being and intra-action in horse–human relationships: a multi-species ethnography of be(com)ing human and be(com)ing horse”. Social Anthropology 21(3): pp. 322-335. 2013.
  16. Mbembe, Achille. “Necropolitics” Public Culture. 15(1): pp. 11-40. 2003.
  17. Meredith, William. “The Jain Bird Hospital in New Delhi”, in Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems, Northwestern: 1997.
  18. Miyazaki, Hirokazu. The Method of Hope: Anthropology, Philosophy, and Fijian Knowledge. Stanford: 2004.
  19. Nelson, Diane M. “Phantom Limbs and Invisible Hands: Bodies, Prosthetics, and Late Capitalist Identifications.” Cultural Anthropology 16(3). pp. 303–313. 2001.
  20. Ott, Katherine, et. al Artificial Parts, Practical Lives: Modern Histories of Prosthetics, NYU: 2002.
  21. Rabinow, Paul. “Artificiality and Enlightenment: From Sociobiology to Biosociality”, in Incorporations, Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter (eds.). Zone Books, pp. 234-252. 1992.
  22. Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg. “The ‘Epistemic Thing’ and Its Technical Conditions: From Bio-chemistry to Molecular Biology”, in The Interaction between Technology and Science, Bart Gremmen (ed.). Wageninggen Agricultural University, pp. 281-291: 1991.
  23. Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg. Toward a History of Epistemic Things: Synthesizing Proteins in the Test Tube, Stanford: 1997.
  24. Smith, Marquard, and Joanne Morra (eds.). The Prosthetic Impulse: From a Posthuman Present to a Biocultural Future. MIT Press: 2006.



[1]  Michael M.J. Fischer, in The Ground Between: Anthropologists Engage Philosophy, p. 188

[2] See one of the early reports at “BJP MLA beats up a horse. No confirmation whether the horse was anti-national” (March 14, 2016): The riff over the term “anti-national” here gestures to an ongoing public debate in India concerning the ruling parties’ appropriation of the determination concerning activist and citizen action as anti/pro national, a loosely defined term that has generated as much violence as it has ironic consternation. Shaktiman’s injury as a critical event emerges within this larger trend of violently policing the claims to activism and accountability, and must be seen as a reverberation within that violence.

[3] By necropolitics, I gesture to Achille Mbembe’s description of the “creation of death-worlds, new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead” (Mbembe, 2003: p. 40). I argue that contemporary and ongoing political discourse in India and the valences that it generates and circulates are the grounds on which this death-world of civics is being constructed—the witch-hunts of anti-nationalism, rising intolerance in the name of ‘hindutva’, impunity sanctioned at high official levels as patriotism, the targeting of women and minorities, a bolstered creed of masculinised violence in public discourse, a celebration of anti-intellectualism and a suspicion of critical thought, a perpetual generation of suspicious others that enables a certain self-fashioning, etc.

[4] See the commentary connecting the emblem of the collapsed horse to an emblematically-broken republic, at “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They”, by Alok Rai:

[5] It is in this generation that I find salience with Veena Das’s notions of the critical event, following François Furet, as “a new modality of historical action which was not inscribed in the inventory of that situation” (Das, p. 4).

[6] Some early reports from the time of injury suggest that Shaktiman was taken to the Indian Military Academy’s veterinary facilities before being shifted to her stables at the Police Lines. See (March 14, 2016).

[7] Gauri Maulekhi (March 15, 2016):

[8] In Vinod Kapri’s documentary (available at, Sadanand Date (mark 10:25), the Senior Superintendent of Police at Dehradun, decodes this particularity of Shaktiman through her name—“Shaktiman” or the Being of Strength. Date describes how Shaktiman is the strongest of all the horses in the police force, that the name is apposite to describe her strength of body and of character (she can kick-back six or seven times continuously, Date claims, unlike any other horse on the police-force) and it is this strength that has allowed Shaktiman to endure its severe injuries. Ravinder, Shaktiman’s rider and another tragic figure in this entire story, occupies the position of a friend and keeper seeing his partner diminished; Ravinder describes (mark 8:35) the sorrow of bearing witness, and expresses the deep hollowness of having been unmounted, “gone pedestrian”, once the “good horse, a follower of the gods” has fallen. Here, Ashva, another term for horses, has historical and mythological resonances—and points to the vedic ritual of Ashvamedha that marks claims of imperial sovereignty through the wandering figure of the king’s horse. If the horse returns from its wanders within a year and is unharmed, that return is also the symbolic verification of the king’s claims to undisputed sovereignty; the horse is then sacrificed. By tracing this story’s narration in the epic of the Ramayana to Shaktiman’s injury, therefore, one might see in the attack on the horse and attack on the sovereignty of the Indian State where, while the people may be sovereign, that sovereignty is symbolised by the (legally circumscribed) authority of the state’s agents. The animal-suffering of Shaktiman, moreover, adds bulk to the collective disquiet felt by a physical attack on an agent of the state, inviting regimes of care and displays of disgust in varying measures.

[9] “BJP MLA hits horse: Shaktimaan doing fine, Ganesh Joshi caught in the eye of political controversy” (March 15, 2016):

[10] In an email response, Maneka Gandhi took onboard some of my hurriedly-assembled suggestions regarding veterinarian resources—for care and for prosthetic equipment—and forwarded them to her “team” in Dehradun that was in touch with Shaktiman’s carers. In the same message, she reiterated her resolve in ensuring that the MLA would be legally punished; she forwarded me this news report as a sign of her intentions: (March 18, 2016).

[11] Kapri’s documentary on Shaktiman followed the experimentation for making her life adequate to living. It is a bewitchingly haunting story, one that narrativises the visuals of Shaktiman’s woundedness and simultaneously visualises the narrative of her tribulations. The documentary charts the materials and methods of this experimental imagination, speaks to the persons congealed around her care, and seeks to crystallise the complex affective terrain in which Shaktiman’s story unfolded over the month of her post-traumatic endurance. The film, which I treat as an ethnographic treasure-trove, can be seen at at the 0:38 mark.

[12] A critique of biosociality asks after the locus of the normal and the pathological against which such socialites, founded in biological conditions, emerge. I sidestep this critique, hopefully, by examining a case of injury that rendered a horse catastrophically debilitated. What I do critically examine is the experimental imaginary that sought to prevent Shaktiman’s euthanisation by way of a prosthetic existence (one dependent on human care and a physical prothetic). Thus conceived, biosociality helps me in thinking about the range of affects and actors that formed around an injured animal, and the array of materials and labour that constituted attempts at its reclamation.

[13] Because the nature of the injuries splintered the bones in Shaktiman’s hind limb, it is difficult to corroborate the exact point at which the amputation was conducted. Nevertheless, I go with the diagnosis mentioned at, and triangulate it with Jamie Vaughan’s description of the temporary prosthetic fitted-onto Shaktiman which had a “static hock…to keep the distal limb protected”. I also use images of the affected limb captured in videos or online to confirm the diagnosis.

[14] These actions involved stabilising the fixators as a last resort, prior to the amputation, using a second set of fixators. In Kapri’s film (mark 11:40), we see a physically tormented horse and his fellow beings—amidst splattering blood, quivering bodies, and dangling limbs—trying to salvage the fruits of the first surgery, while the limb gets progressively severed from the horse’s body. This is a crucial moment, too, and not only because it presages the amputation that followed, but also because it suggested some of the working of the experimental imagination and that imagination’s reliance on epistemic things: the assays of knowledge and practice that are produced simultaneously, and within, the larger experimental moment itself.

[15] See the moment of this second collapse at (at the 1:37 mark).

[16] Rheinberger’s materialist agenda, laid out in the prologue of his text, Toward a History of Epistemic Things, concerns aspects of (dis)continuities and changes as aspects of experimental systems. In contrast to the Kuhnian paradigm of paradigm-change and revolutionary science within systems, Rheinberger’s schema is marked by the generativity of traces in the movement of historical facts, achievements and ephemera—that is, it entails enquiring into the “cascade from scientists to science to (scientific) things” (p. 3). Rheinberger’s agenda, in one way, may be thought of as searching for answers to Kuhn’s question—“does it really help to imagine that there is some one full, objective, true account of nature and that the proper measure of scientific achievement is the extent to which it brings us closer to that ultimate goal?” (Hacking, xxxv) Instead, Rheinberger looks at the historical traces of scientific achievements and their constant irruptions in ongoing experimental work to argue against such a “one full, objective, true account of nature”—as well as to argue that scientific achievement is at once predicated on what is unearthed as what was left behind, only for that past to (re)emerge serendipitously in present concerns.

[17] See Kapri’s documentary at (14:00 mark).

[18] The parallel with Barbaro is instructive here: Barbaro, a celebrated racehorse, was injured two weeks after winning the Kentucky Derby in 2007. For his value as a stud, and his status as a multiple prizewinner, Barbaro’s owners decided to surgically reclaim his limb injured around the right hind fetlock, if only to prolong his reproductive value. Barbaro’s story is a fascinating one, and provides many instances of the experimental imaginary and the riveted media interest that one finds in Shaktiman’s story—except the crucial differences that Barbaro was treated in a state-of-the-art facility at the University of Pennsylvania, and did not undergo amputation on his injured limb. See the useful curation of media articles charting Barbaro’s surgical afterlife at

It might also be worth mentioning here  that Shaktiman’s treatment at the Police Lines had a very particular reason tied to regulatory and legal developments: “Dehradun was not always without a veterinary hospital. The historic district veterinary hospital at Dispensary Road, constructed in 1886, was the mainstay for all veterinary emergencies until the Mussoorie-Dehradun Development Authority pulled it down in 2008 to construct a multistory complex-cum-parking lot.” (see the story “No vet hospital: Shaktiman’s wounds healing amid flies, mosquitoes” at The article describes an ongoing legal battle between environmentalists and the civic authorities—the latter who, despite making promises in court—have not fulfilled promises of releasing funds for the construction of a veterinarian facility in that city.

[19] The experimental system fabricated in Shaktiman’s injured presence is a demonstration of a multi-species domestication—a form of mutual presencing and becoming, or “co-being and intra-action…[where] horse and human meet and change as a result of their meeting”. For more on this mode of inter/intra-species domestication forged in the presence of the other(species), see Anita Maurstad, Dona Davis, and Sarah Cowles. 2013. “Co-being and intra-action in horse–human relationships: a multi-species ethnography of be(com)ing human and be(com)ing horse” Social Anthropology 21(3): 322-335.

[20] Some aspects here are taken from my MPhil dissertation, titled “The Analytics of Disability: Bodies, Documents, and the Order of the State” (2013, Delhi School of Economics, India). For a competent summary of works invoking the prosthesis trope materially and metaphorically, see Smith & Morra, p.13 fn.11.

[21] Cited in Sarah Coffey, “Prosthesis,” available at It may be argued that capacities are never organic per se, but constantly need supplementation through objects of some form—cultural, technological, medical, etc.—that serve as extensions of the biological body to form selves; for analytical purposes, I nevertheless make this distinction, even as I am aware, for instance, that recent advances in medical science have shown how the organic imagination of the self-contained body is chimerical and is belied by the body’s cohabitation with other life-forms that both extend it, impede it, or supplement it; in this sense, as Smith & Morra argue, the “body is always and already prosthetic”.

[22] The idea of supplementation in Derrida is important because it speaks to the supplemental-use of a prosthetic leg for making life adequate to living. In this, the prosthetic leg is imbricated with the question of existence itself, an existence that has been reconfigured through injury and the experimental imaginary, but which—through the leg’s artificial enactment—makes the reality of life possible. What Coffey argues to be the “charged territory of prosthetics…of attraction and repulsion, the desire for extension and the fear of amputation” becomes, in the case of Shaktiman, the force-field of life, and its possibilities. It is a field where the realities of amputation of the horse’s leg coalesce with the desires to extend its life by making that life adequate to the tasks and necessities of living.

[23] The prosthesis is simultaneously extensional and cancelling, supplemental and dismembering; to use Mark Seltzer’s formulation, “If from one point of view, such a fantasy projects a violent dismemberment of the natural body and an emptying of human agency, from another it projects a transcendence of the natural body and the extension of human agency through the forms of technology that supplement it. This double-logic of technology as prosthesis (as self-extension and as self-mutilation or even self- canceling) begins to make visible the interlaced problems of the body and uncertain agency.” (quoted in Jain, pp. 34) Only, as Jain argues, correcting Seltzer, that this simultaneity of prosthesis is not without its underpinning and determining context, but is instead, wholly cultural, historical, and constructed.

[24] Ott, et al., p. 3.

[25] See Kapri’s documentary at (17:28 mark). The comparison that one of the policemen makes between Shaktiman and the cancer-survivor and cricketer, Yuvaraj Singh, is instructive—both are survivors who will, through the prosthetic promise of modern therapeutics, return to their life-course. The prosthetsis, therefore, signals as much a lack as it supplies a replacement or a modification to damaged life in the hope that this will reconfigure life to a role that is something recognisable from the past.

[26] See Kapri’s documentary at (19:50 mark).

[27] Biehl & Locke, via Deleuze, link milieu to modes of becoming and cartographies of subjectivity that must be deciphered: “The objects of cartography, what the analyst maps, are milieus—worlds at once social, symbolic, and material, infused with the “affects” and “intensities” of their own subjectivities—and trajectories—or the journeys people take through milieus to pursue needs, desires, and curiosities or to simply try to find room to breathe beneath social constraints” (p. 323). As assemblages of “institutions, powers, practices, desires—that constantly, simultaneously construct, entrench, and disaggregate their own constraints and oppressions”—the story of Shaktiman, her amputated limb and her experiences with prosthetics, are situated within a critical event that must be read for the ‘needs, desires, and curiosities’ illuminating participants.

[28] Of course, biological circumstance does not always follow cultural formations or the best intentions, and nor does an experimental imaginary have universal purchase. Some, like the veterinarian Lt. Col. JC Khanna, President of the Bombay Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, doubted Shaktiman’s chances of survival early on, and attributed a high-risk of gangrene and other weight-bearing complications, urging, instead, what he deemed a humane end to a saga of pathos. See a short interview with JC Khanna, raising the prospects of prosthetics for large animals, and featuring the question of gangrene and chances of post-amputation survival of Shaktiman, at For a biographical vignette of JC Khanna, see

[29] See Kapri’s documentary at (24:00 to 30:00 mark). For Jamie’s post prior to her departure, see (20th March, 2016). Sadanand Date, the SSP, reflects on Jamie’s “positive” presence thus (Kapri, 29:30 mark): “There are ups and downs in Shaktiman’s recovery. Since Jamie has arrived, our expectations have risen. The best thing is that she’s very positive; that infectious positivity has reenergised the team. And we have much to learn from her. Whatever field you work in, do it with so much passion that you enjoy it. Jamie has infused positivity in the team, she has always maintained that he [Shaktiman] will be alright, that he will emerge from this. She is always the last to move from here…in a way, she has changed the whole scenario”. I read positivity and teamwork here into Rheinberger’s scheme, thinking of these admirable qualities as essential ingredients of tenaciousness in an experimental system given to fluctuating between the reverberations of epistemic things and their technical stabilisation through time and labour.

[30] See Kapri’s documentary at (22:32 mark).

[31] See Kapri’s documentary at (23:07 mark).

[32] See Kapri’s documentary at (22:05 mark).

[33] See Kapri’s documentary at (26:10 mark).

[34] See Kapri’s documentary at (28:03 mark).

[35] See the news-items at, and at

[36] The text accompanying the post, in part reads: “And today marks his birthday in a sense… as on 23rd March 2006, he came to the police line in Dehradun for the first time and found his family — all of the wonderful police and community who continue to work non-stop around the clock catering to his every whim and need. Not too many horses can say they have their own and very giant mosquito net, and most definitely not their own personal massage machine and masseuse! Truly, the Police, caregivers and vets attending to him are amazing!”

[37] See the news-item on the reception of Kapri’s documentary film in high-schools The film pitches itself as a reflection on a “beautiful relationship between man and an animal”, aims to achieve an intervention in the debate surrounding animal cruelty, and moves with the aim of affecting children in a way that they become “compassionate and…good human beings”.

[38] See descriptions of the threats that limb-injured horses suffer from factors other than just the limb injury at “Saving the most famous horse you haven’t heard of (yet)”:

[39] Boots from: The boots and the experience with the new prosthetic are mentioned in this news item, titled, “Shaktiman learns to walk again—with shoe, prosthetic leg from US”:

[40] A news-article tries to make popular and general sense of this particular death, offering reasons for why leg injuries are fatal to horses—the fact that lighter bones, essential for speed, make equines prone to fracture, and that less soft tissue makes “open fractures” more probable:

[41] See Kapri’s documentary at (31:00 mark).

[42] See Kapri’s documentary at (35:05 mark).

[43] Video of Shaktiman standing without harnesses: Another video with harnesses:

[44] Shaktiman stands in this video, its temporary prosthetic leg inconspicuous: Another video with harness and a playful Shaktiman digging the hay:

[45] Image at:

[46] The saddle and colors of Holi (image) at:

[47] See, for instance, the news-report “Shaktiman does not lose courage; stands without a harness”, at: Hirokazu Miyazaki’s The Method of Hope: Anthropology, Philosophy, and Fijian Knowledge (Stanford: 2004) is a recent work that examines the socio-cultural powers of hope “as a method of engagement with the world” (p. 16); it argues for hope’s implication in the moment of time (the “not yet”) and how “moments are produced and experienced” (p. 7); it offers the suggestion that hope is always futural, that “the retrospective treatment of hope as a subject of description forecloses the possibility of describing the prospective momentum inherent in hope” (p. 8); and it examines hope’s saturation in a variety of “forms of knowing” (p. 4) as they unfold in time in Fiji. In this mode of theorising, one finds similar dynamics of prospectivity, futurity, and engagement with the worlds, in the deployment of hope towards Shaktiman’s prosthetic moment.

[48] The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960, available at Neha Sinha reflects the larger conversations regarding the Rs. 50 fine imposed on animal-cruelty offenders—an appallingly meaningless amount that reflects the wider apathy for animal life in the Indian penal imagination. See the relevant section on fines in the legislation at A Member of Parliament sought a “Zero Hour Mention” in Parliament to bring this legislative purgatory to attention, using the trope of Shaktiman’s dignity and the oft-cited wish  of “animal lovers” to prevent “cruelty and ill-treatment”, to demand enhanced penalties:

[49] One striking hoarding at Jawahar Lal University resolves to never let Shaktiman be killed “again”. A twitter-user mocks these aggrieved-believers as the “avengers of #Shaktiman at #JNU who wanted to celebrate #Beef Parties in college campuses across the nation!” ( Two forms of reflection, likely irreconcilable, on animal life and value emerge here—two ways of animals and their culturally-specific modes of consumption. And then there is the levity of “Revenge of Shaktiman”, sign of an emergent cultural signifier that appears with the corporeal death of the animal:

[50] Vincent Crapanzano ( suggests that his interests remain “on the body and pain as anchoring linguistic systems, emphasizing trauma and memory…[Crapanzano conceives of] memory as a sort of backword/justificatory frontier, in which he argues for considering memory, both individual and social, as a memorialization rather than as simply a ‘content’.” This memorialisation of memory—moving away from content to include trauma and experience, pain and its ‘anchoring linguistic systems’—suggests a move towards the embodiment of emotion, and urges attention to the investments of meanings at a nexus of the self, of biology, of experience and their collectively evoked affects and emotions. The modes of memorialisation captured in the petrol-pump speak to this nexus of selves, biologies, experiences, and affects from the experimental imaginary surrounding Shaktiman; this mode of naming is also a mode of indexing that nexus:

[51] The report on a puppy-killer in Bangalore: The reckless roadkill of a police-dog, Gulabo, in Bihar: Prosthetics for Chennai bull (shared by Tim Mahoney on FaceBook):; and a prosthetic for an injured cow in Uttarakhand: The candlelight vigils for Shaktiman:

[52] See Neha Sinha’s elegy: “Farewell: The Fall of Shaktiman Mirrors Our Inevitable Death of Innocence” at

[53] A piece imagines Shaktiman’s end ( “At the last breath of life, Shaktiman must have been wondering about its treatment —the cruelty, the suffering, and then the inevitable mourning. It must have thought about all the times of duty—the rides, the obedience to command at the pull of the reins, the digging of the heels, the weight on the stirrup. I was an animal, Shaktiman must have thought, but you were a human, but you lost your humanity, why did you become a beast? You killed me in the name of love. I served this nation like my mother, this soil, but you killed me. And yet, there are a few good people amongst a large number of good people. May he who caused my death be given some good sense by god to treat animals not as animals.” There is a very interesting deflection here, one where the human’s humanity has disintegrated, but there is hope that the animal will be treated better than merely animal-like.

[54] As this article reports ( “Among those working round-the-clock for Shaktiman is Constable Ravinder. He may not have veterinary expertise but no one possibly shares a better understanding with Shaktiman than him. The constable was astride the steed when the mishap occurred and colleagues say, Ravinder was inconsolable for days following the incident, fearing euthanasia for Shaktiman. But the new lease of life has ushered in new hope for Ravinder who has partnered with Shaktiman on many occasions. He is forever by Shaktiman’s side, helping feed him, goad him into a sitting position for the occasional selfie-seeker or to handle the physiotherapy. In between, he fishes out a cellphone to show some old videos of him and the horse in their parade finery. “Kya sundar ghoda tha,” he says, “ekdum shaandar. Sab kuch khatam ho gaya. Lekin shukr hai ki woh zinda hai (He was such a beautiful horse. It’s all over now. But thankfully, he’s still alive)”.”


[56] The American Veterinary Medicine Association’s Task Force Report on One Health (2008) is at See, for more on the One Health Initiative and its transmissions across countries,

[57] See the images from the World Veterinary Day and the memorialisation of Shaktiman through the One Health paradigm, at

[58] A blog post by Vinod Kapri, the documentary film maker, address this doing that resulted within the experimental imaginary; it posits question about culpability, action, and guilt, but also vividly traces the impact that the death of the animal has had on the gathered collectivity—it is an impact that tries hard and imaginatively to collapse the human/animal binary:

[59] For more on Derrida’s investment in the figure of the animal, see Derrida, Jacques, The Animal That Therefore I Am.(Fordham: 2008). On animality—and attempts to collapse the “easy distinctions” that enable the human/animal binary—see Lundblad, Michael, “From Animal to Animality Studies.” PMLA 124:2. pp. 496-502. 2009. Lunblad brings up Donna Haraway’s critique of Derrida where she sees that “”actual animals” are ultimately “oddly missing”” (p. 497). In Shaktiman’s experimental life, I have sought to take this critique on board, and deploy her emergence as an epistemic thing within a critical event to make an animal’s presence—its damaged reality—paramount. Like Haraway’s dog, then, Shaktiman, too, is “good to think with”.

[60] William Meredith, “The Jain Bird Hospital in New Delhi”, in Effort at Speech: New and Selected Poems, Northwestern: 1997.


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