Shishir Tripathi | August 7, 2015
Seventy years is a long time for the memories to fade. But when it is shaped by the most horrific incident of written history, time too fails to erase it from collective remembrance. August 6 marked the 70 years in the lowest point of World War II- dropping of nuclear bombs on Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
For a generation to which I belong, which is distanced from the incident, both in terms of time and geography, any realisation of the brutality of the act comes only through the writings that chronicled the horror.
One of the finest among them was a poem written by Vikram Seth. The poem that was published in 1990 brilliantly reflects upon the absurdity intrinsic to the war. It also, to a great extent, helps in countering any defence to the war and ambiguities attached to its purpose. It underlines the savagery attached to it. And more than anything speaks of unspeakable and unthinkable violence, which it unleashes on people.
The poem which starts with a vivid picture of a beautiful morning ends up describing a miserable picture, where people are failing to recognise themselves as human being.
The poem was part of the collection called ‘Images of Life’ which I read some 15 years ago as a class 9th student. While Wordsworth and Frost remained with me for all these years for their inspirational oeuvre, I could never forget Seth’s work as it always reminds me of the futility of war.
In June this year, former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf said in an interview, "If I say in Chaudhry Shujaat's style, do we have nukes saved to be used on Shab-e-Baraat?". He was warning India of a Nuclear strike. Every time such chest-thumping jingoism compels a leader of any country to favour a nuclear strike, I only wish that they have read what Seth wrote.
Nuclear weapons are the deadliest evil created by mankind and ‘A Doctor’s Journal Entry’ by Vikram Seth tells this with an evocative clout. Reading it only can tell you how and why.
A Doctor’s Journal Entry by Vikram Seth
The morning stretched calm, beautiful, and warm.
Sprawling half clad, I gazed out at the form
Of shimmering leaves and shadows. Suddenly
A strong flash, then another, startled me.
I saw the old stone lantern brightly lit.
Magnesium flares? While I debated it,
The roof, the walls and, as it seemed, the world
Collapsed in timber and debris, dust swirled
Around me – in the garden now – and, weird,
My drawers and undershirt disappeared.
A splinter jutted from my mangled thigh.
My right side bled, my cheek was torn, and I
Dislodged, detachedly, a piece of glass,
All the time wondering what had come to pass.
Where was my wife? Alarmed, I gave a shout,
‘Where are you, Yecko-san?’ My blood gushed out.
The artery in my neck? Scared for my life,
I called out, panic-stricken, to my wife.
Pale, bloodstained, frightened, Yecko-san emerged,
Holding her elbow. ‘We’ll be fine,’ I urged –
‘Let’s get out quickly.’ Stumbling to the street
We fell, tripped by something at our feet.
I gasped out, when I saw it was a head:
‘Excuse me, please excuse me –‘ He was dead:
A gate had crushed him. There we stood, afraid.
A house standing before us tilted, swayed,
Toppled, and crashed. Fire sprang up in the dust,
Spread by the wind. It dawned on us we must
Get to the hospital: we needed aid –
And I should help my staff too. (Though this made
Sense to me then, I wonder how I could)
My legs gave way. I sat down on the ground.
Thirst seized me, but no water could be found.
My breath was short, but bit by bit my strength
Seemed to revive, and I got up at length.
I was still naked, but I felt no shame.
This thought disturbed me somewhat, till I came
Upon a soldier, standing silently,
Who gave the towel round his neck to me
My legs, stiff with dried blood, rebelled. I said
To Yecko-san she must go on ahead.
She did not wish to, but in our distress
What choice had we? A dreadful loneliness
Came over me when she had gone. My mind
Ran at high speed, my body crept behind.
I saw the shadowy forms of people, some
Were ghosts, some scarecrows, all were wordless dumb –
Arms stretched straight out, shoulder to dangling hand;
It took some time for me to understand
The friction on their burns caused so much pain
They feared to chafe flesh against flesh again.
Those who could, shuffled in a blank parade
Towards the hospital. I saw, dismayed,
A woman with a child stand in my path –
Both naked. Had they come back from the bath?
I turned my gaze, but was at a loss
That she should stand thus, till I came across
A naked man – and now the thought arose
That some strange thing had stripped us of our clothes.
The face of an old woman on the ground
Was marred with suffering, but she made no sound.
Silence was common to us all. I heard
No cries of anguish, or a single word.
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