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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Night

The first time I read about the Holocaust, I was in school. An excerpt from 'The Diary of a Young Girl' by Anne Frank was prescribed for school text. By the time I was  15, I had read the book and was fascinated by how a girl about my age had been so hopeful in the hiding, even under the threat of obliteration. There are those who believe that the Holocaust did not happen; that it is a propaganda against the Nazis. Denial is killing them twice.

The more I read about the persecution of the Jews, the more I revere a race for having survived all odds. Their faith and their sense of community. When today becomes yesterday, and history is written, the survivors become the hero, and the persecutors are put to shame in a civilized world. Nothing can justify genocide- in Rwanda, in Bosnia or within the confines of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Humanity should never have to witness those chains of events again.

The book by Elie Wiesel has a body of about 112 pages. Written in Yiddish as 'And the World Remained Silent', it was translated into French first, then into English. I read the version that was translated by his wife, Marion Wiesel.

He begins with his childhood in Sighet, Transylvania and his inclination for religious studies- Talmud in the day and Kabbalah by the night, until the Spring of 1944. German soldiers with their steel helmets and their death head emblem marched on to Sighet- to confine the Jews to a sixteen square blocks of ghetto, and then to transport them in cattle cars to labor camps and concentration camps. On the day of the 'transport':
'The street resembled fairgrounds deserted in haste. There was a little of everything: suitcases, briefcases, bags, knives, dishes, banknotes, papers, faded portraits. All the things one planned to take along and finally left behind. They had ceased to matter.'

They were greeted by the smell of burning flesh when they arrived in Birkenau. All illusions left behind in the wagons they arrived in. The world  'chimney' was not an abstraction there. It floated in the air, mingled with the smoke.

'Men to the left! Women to the right!'
Eight words, spoken without emotion by a Schutzstaffel (SS) man, and it was the last time he saw his mother and youngest sister. Another of those countless separations that happened on a single night. A night so long that the survivors had forgotten whether it was one night or several such nights.

Every day was a struggle between faith and agony. Overcome by fatigue and hunger, even his dreams were reduced to that of an extra ration of bread. He felt different. He ceased to be human and became A-7713.
' My soul had been invaded- and devoured- by a black flame.'
There are several passages that I wish to read to you, share what I felt as I read them, but there is one, in particular, towards the end that appealed to me:

'Pressed tightly against one another, in an effort to resist the cold, our heads empty and heavy, our brains a whirlwind of decaying memories. Our minds numb with indifference. Here or elsewhere, what did it matter? Die today or tomorrow, or later? The night was growing longer, never-ending.
When at last a grayish light appeared on the horizon, it revealed a tangle of human shapes, heads sunk deeply between the shoulders, crouching, piled one on top of the other, like a cemetery covered with snow. In the early dawn light, I tried to distinguish between the living and those who were no more. But there was barely a difference. My gaze remained fixed on someone who, eyes wide open, stared into space. His colorless face was covered with a layer of frost and snow.'

Imagine being so exhausted that you want death just to be able to rest. The author survived and chose to be the voice of those who had been quietened. His survival meant something. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tulips in the snow


Sometimes, a picture is a thousand words. It gave me to great hope see the bright red and yellow flowers blossom from the frozen earth. Made me think- if you have the potential, you will fight even the most unlikely and harshest conditions to grow. 

Human interest stories inspire me. It needn't be the biography of a President or a Nobel prize winner, but stories of regular folks who rise above the occasion and emerge as heroes. A situational hero is as good as any other.

The archetypes usually have inherent goodness; I don't believe that you need even that. You are what you do- and if you go beyond your self-imposed limitations or the benchmarks set by your immediate environment, you are a hero.

(I am looking for such stories, if you have one email me at thevariegatedsky@gmail.com )

Sunday, March 15, 2015

An awkward age

My best friend from school shared some pictures she had from our school days, circa 2000, before our ICSE exams. It was an awkward age. I didn't know what to do with my eyebrows, tied my hair like a nun, and wore glasses that were most unflattering.

But I had good friends and hopes for a better tomorrow. I believed in myself.  I knew that life's battles are not always won by the prettiest or the smartest, but by those who never give up. NEVER GIVE UP.


Of people you miss, you miss their smiles the most. And the way they made you laugh...

Friday, March 13, 2015

আমার নি:সঙ্গ নীল রুকস্যাক

This is one of my favorite poems by my father. It is about a blue rucksack that travels the world. But then there is more- in the end it says how humans are crueler than animals.

I traveled the world with those words, I imagined the red, blue, yellow, green prayer flags of Tawang monastery. I saw the eyes of a mother zebra, caught by a predator, imploring its child with silent screams to run away to safety. I see the room transform into a Sun temple of Peru with the narrative. It shall remain one of my favorite poems ever. Apologies to those who do not understand Bengali.

আমার নি:সঙ্গ নীল বাউন্ডুলে রুকস্যাক 
ভ্রমনে নিবেদিত প্রাণ। এই বুঝি লাফাবে পিঠে, 
মনে হয়, ঠেলা দিয়ে বাসাড়ে আমাকে
নিয়ে যাবে ভূপযর্টনে। বস্তুত প্রায়শই হাওয়া 
হয় সে, ইচ্ছেমত, ফিরেও আসে
অদ্ভুত সফর শেষে, ধূলোবালি মেখে। 
রুকস্যাককে ঝেড়েপুঁছে সাফসুতরো বানালে,
শোনায় সে শীঘ্রগামী বিবাগী কাহিনী
ভালোবাসে সে যেতে এমন মুলুকে
যেখানে যায় শুধু স্থিরমতি যাযাবর অপ্রচুর। 
কখনো সে চলে যায় মাছুপিছু , ইনকা সভ্যতার
হারানো শহর, ধ্বংস করেছিল যাকে লুটেরা
স্প্যানিশ। নীল রুকস্যাক কখনো যায় নাতিদূরে
তাওয়াং গূম্ফায় বা দেখে কঙ্গোর রক্তাত নদীতে,
কুমিরের গ্রাসে, মা জেব্রা পালাতে বলে স্তম্ভিত 
শিশুকে, চোখের ইশারায়, বোবা আর্তনাদে। 
মেকং নদীতে মাছেরা কেন পরিযায়ী হয়,
হরিণেরা নিশ্চিন্তে বেড়ায় তৃপ্ত সিংহিনীর পাশে,
প্রণয়াধিকার নিয়ে পশুর লড়াই - সবই দেখে
আমার নীল রুকস্যাক। তার কাহিনীর সাথে 
আমার ঘর বদলে যায় সবুজ বৃক্ষময় চাতালে,
ঝিঁঝিঁ ডাকে, বৃষ্টির মত বজ্র  ঝরে অবিরাম;
কখনো প্রাচীন মমি বা দিব্যমূর্তি নেমে আসে
প্রখর উজ্বল পাহাড়ী আলোতে, এই দীনহীন ঘরে। 
গভীর সবুজ উপত্যকা, পাহাড়, গ্লেসিয়ার ও নদী
জেগে উঠে ঘরে, কোকো পাতা ও পেরুর ডুমুরে
সূর্য মন্দিরে পরিবর্তিত  এ ঘর যায় ভরে। 
কখনো হাওয়ায় দোলে লাল, নীল, সবুজ, হলুদ
শান্তিকেতন; সোনালী, লাল ও সাদা গুম্ফার পথে
বুদ্ধ অভয় মুদ্রায় তাপিতকে বিলান শান্তিবারি। 
রুকস্যাকের গল্প শেষ হলে ঘর ফেরে স্বস্থানে। 
অলৌকিক নীল রুকস্যাক বলে, 'পশুরা প্রায়শই
মানুষ তবে নরপুঙ্গবের চেয়ে নিয়তই ভালো;
হত্যা অকারণে বা ধষর্ণ নেই তাদের শব্দকোষে,
মাদি ঝিঁঝিঁ বা সিংহিনী প্রণয়াধিকার ঠিক করে, 
সুভোজ্যেও খায় না ভরপেট শিকারী শ্বাপদ।'

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Dear Me,


Transcript

If I had to advice my younger self I would say:
Don’t seek approval from anyone- you don’t need validation for your actions.
Be kind to yourself, it is okay to make mistakes.
Love your parents and keep them happy. They sacrificed a lot to raise you right.
There is no need to blend in.
People who bully or make fun of others are deeply insecure about themselves.
 Pity them.

In a few years’ time, love will come to you, so stop looking in the wrong places.
Don’t be afraid to be alone. You can create beautiful things in solitude.
Write another book.
Make plans to travel.
You will learn to cook, eventually. So, you won’t starve to death.
Most sincerely,
Your future self.

Friday, January 02, 2015

A few good men

My bet is that you will not read about this in the newspapers tomorrow because the pages will be filled with more important news about the cleavage of actresses and the lavish wedding of corrupt politicians’ spawns.

A friend from school is a Flight Lieutenant in Indian Air Force (IAF). He is based in Rajasthan currently, but his previous unit was in Kashmir. He volunteered for his previous unit for an Area Domination Patrol (ADP) at Mendhar, Kashmir, based on the input of IB, RAW and local intelligence.  They were a group of 7 on a joint counter-insurgency operation, with men from both the Indian Army and the IAF.  Terrorists (he estimates about 200 men) were trying to infiltrate from three sides at around 4 in the morning. The terrorists opened fire, and the unit changed positions for a counter-attack making them believe they were greater in number.  They killed five terrorists and lost one Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO), who was due for promotion. The terrorists raised a white flag, which our men respected and ceased fire. My friend was shot in the shoulder when he was trying to retrieve the dead body of the JCO.

The unit returned to base with their wounded and the fallen by walking back 8 km. A little dizzy from the loss of blood, my friend had a surgery around 5 pm that lasted for an hour. Media called during his surgery to ask about the nature of the ops and the infiltration. They asked how many terrorists were killed. Not a single question about how many were martyred.

The widow of the martyr talked to my friend and said, ‘Sab aap samhal lena’ (Please take care of us). My friends doesn’t believe that she will get a government job reserved for the family of  martyrs anytime soon because the officials in her resident state have already started demanding bribe in lakhs. Nevertheless, he promised that he will make sure she gets her dues.

I called up my friend when I received the news, concerned for his health. He was still cracking jokes, claiming it was normal in the line of duty and that duty came first.  And if anything happened ever to him, I should take care of his family.

What does our system give back to our heroes who risk their lives to protect us? They have to fight the enemy from outside as well from inside. The outside enemy is still better. At least they are known.