Monday, 3 June 2013

Discovering Anne Frank's diary at a remote railway station

Last month, I was in Munsiari for my annual pilgrimage. This time around, I had to make the return journey the conventional way - take a shared taxi straight to Haldwani and a train straight to Delhi and then to Bangalore. Unlike last time when I, along with another student, had many stopovers at unknown, but beautiful places and loving people.
I was to spend the evening and night at Haldwani since my train was scheduled for the next day. The evening was spent in buying a pair of chappals, having early dinner and enjoying a cup of chai. My older pair of sandals had been chewed and thrown away by Laddu - Malika's youngest doggy.

Back to the railway station and I had to make arrangements to spend the night at the station as I did not want to pay for a hotel outside. I feigned innocence and fear, and the station master fell for it. He got worried and allowed me to stay in the waiting room as the dorm keys were not available with him. He instructed me to lock the waiting room from inside so I could be safe. There were no trains throughout the night and I had the entire room for myself! I had some newspapers and a shawl (I wasn't carrying my sleeping bag because the trip was very short and somewhat planned). I have experience sleeping almost anywhere - at railway stations, parks, temples, footpaths, tents, no-tents, under the open sky, in a telephone booth, etc.. Compared to all that, an entire waiting room for myself was luxury.

With the accommodation taken care of, I started for the nth time, to read 'Design for the real world' but progress was slow - the print is small and the thoughts are heavy. My eyes then fell on Anne Frank's 'Diary of a young girl' at the station's book shop. It is a book that I had been planning on reading for a very long time and the time had finally come. I picked it up and was I glad! I wish I had read this book when I was a teenager. I feel every teenager - boy or girl - should read this book at least once before they step into the real world. As per the official website, the book has been published in Kannada also, and I am waiting to hear from the Kannada publishers about its availability.

The diary records a teenager's thoughts as her life changes drastically, within a span of 2 years, from a happy and carefree childhood to some of the worst living conditions imposed by The Holocaust. When I had a chance to travel in Berlin, many years ago, I had paid a visit to The Wall and spent some time at the museum reading stories of people who tried to cross The Wall. At that time, I did not connect much and my thoughts centered around people's stupidity - creating walls and then trying to cross them! Schindler's List made a better connection, but Anne Frank's writing touched me like never before.

When Anne starts writing her diary, she is curious and hopeful. But she then goes on to struggle almost everyday with her feelings and thought processes.
She is unable to get along with her mother and can't love her fully. She observes and comments on the stress imposed by extreme living conditions on relationships . She writes about her crushes, puberty and the changes in her mind and body, as it happens. She talks about love and beauty and the hope that it brings. She describes mundane details about the food and living arrangements. And how, alongside all the house hold chores, she enjoys her reading and writing. She aspires to become a journalist and something more than just a homemaker. She reports about the war as she hears from the radio and has opinions on politics; at one time, she calls Finland 'silly fools' for turning down a peace offer.

Here are some excerpts from the journal entries that I like most.. Though I have not been able to align fully to these thoughts, I am definitely trying to.

23rd Feb 1944 
"The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God.... And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles."

6th Jul 1944 
"I wonder if it's really a good quality not to let myself be influenced. Is it really good to follow almost entirely my own conscience?"

Quiet honestly, I can't imagine how anyone can say "I'm weak," and then remain so. After all, if you know it, why not fight against it, why not try to train your character? The answer was: "Because it's so much easier not to!". This reply rather discouraged me. Easy? Does that mean that a lazy, deceitful life is an easy life? Oh no, that can't be true, it musn't be true, people can be so easily be tempted by slackness.. and by money...

"We all live, but we don't know why or the wherefore. We all live with the object of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.... we have the chance to learn, the possibility of attaining something, we have all reason to hope for much happiness, but.. we must earn it for ourselves. And that is never easy. You must work and do good, not be lazy and gamble, if you wish to earn happiness. Laziness may appear attractive, but work gives satisfaction.
I can't understand people who don't like work...

How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to their minds the events of the whole day and consider exactly what has been good and bad. Then, without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day; of course, you achieve quite a lot in the course of time. Anyone can do this, it costs nothing and is certainly very helpful. Whoever doesn't know it must learn and find by experience that: "A quiet conscience makes one strong!" "

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