non fiction Posts

Of “Maus” and men

My eleven-year-old daughter and I are reading Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer-winning graphic novel, Maus. It is chilling as Spiegelman draws his father’s memories of Nazi Germany and surviving the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Then I read Sameera Khan’s article in the Indian Express — “That January“, published on 6 January 2021. It is about the mobs that went on a communal rampage in Mumbai in Jan 1993, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on 6 Dec 1992.

Sameera Khan recounts how they were the only Muslim family in their block of apartments and thus a marked family.

We first heard about the election lists circulating in neighbourhood with Muslim names conspicuously identified. The newspapers reports on mobs entering buildings and pulling residents out. Many residential buildings removed the boards listing names of flat owners. Our apartment building decided to take out only our name from the board below. The only Muslim residents of A-wing. The B-wing had no such problem: There were no Muslims living there. My parents tried not to get upset about this in front of us but I recall my mother calling up the building secretary and asking most decorously how this was allowed to happen. When you are the only ones, you keep your voice low. One morning a chand-sitara (moon and star) was scrawled in chalk on the wall next to our door. We had been marked. … That was Bombay, India, January 1993. It might have been yesterday.

Decades may have passed; but inexplicable, senseless hatred and cruelty of man vs man persists.

Today, writer Andrew Solomon posted the following image on Facebook with the comment: From yesterday’s riots [storming of Capitol Hill by Trump’s supporters]. In case Jews (or gay people, or BIPOC people, or educated people) thought they were safe. The abbreviation on this shirt stands for “Six Million Wasn’t Enough”

What is the difference between Spiegelman’s. Sameera Khan’s stories and the riots on Capitol Hill? Nothing. No time seems to have elapsed. Hatred thrives. Why?

8 Jan 2021

Ways of Dying

It has taken the pandemic for many of us to confront our mortality. Living with the fear of contracting the virus is like living in the shadow of death 24×7. It is a gloomy existence. Fortunately those able-bodied souls who have the chance and exercise their choice, know how to plan for their future, assuming they live. Yet “death” has been explored in literature ad nauseam. It is a complicated part of life since death brings with it a flood of emotions. Grief being predominate but much else happens too. Every individual affected by grief react in their own way.

“Ways of Dying” is a fine collection of literary writings around death and its rites that are observed by the living. All the pieces assembled in this book are extremely well known. But to have them arranged in this manner, shifting gears constantly between the public and personal spaces, unleashes a roller coaster of emotions in the reader. For instance, descriptions of the communal riots in the heart of the Indian capital in Oct 1984 (Amitav Ghosh), Khushwant Singh recalling the last hours of his grandmother, Amitava Kumar’s moving account of his mother’s death, or the fascinating extracts from David Davidar’s book “House of Blue Mangoes” and Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal” leave one’s head spinning. The quality of writing is excellent. Controlled and measured . It engulfs the reader in the writer’s hurt at witnessing death. It is an indescribable moment. But at least we are spared that finality of the moment. Because when it comes, it is devastating. It is numbing. These stories can only bring you close to the experience. No more. But it is sufficiently chilling to read especially during the pandemic.

Pick it up. It is worth it.

9 Nov 2020

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