Thursday, February 4, 2010


On a three-hour flight to Chennai, I finally started reading a book that I’d bought years ago but never managed to sit down in a corner with… Elie Wiesel’s Night. It’s a brutal book… like a cold strong hand that holds your own limp fingers and drags you through a portal into a hellhole called Auschwitz where you smell the acrid smell of burning flesh, a pungent smell that stays with you long after you have put down the book, closed your eyes and wondered if all this really happened?

And then images fl oat by… Barbedwire fences, chimneys spewing smoke, and the bodies - writhing, screaming, broken bodies, of children thrown into the fire… alive. But the hand doesn’t let you stop. You feel it grow thin and bony but it doesn’t let go… it pulls you with greater strength into the concentration camps where you hear the sound of baton beating bone, the poignant struggle of a father struggling to hold on to his son as the prisoners stampede for a crumb; everyday, people die of cold, of hunger, of fear; where stripped of their clothes, their identities and their dignity, naked bodies of plump bankers, muscled blacksmiths and pampered children have all been reduced to a hungry bag of bones and tattooed numbers. Each day, death stalks them in the glazed eyes of a frozen neighbour or the raised arm of a sadistic guard.

The hand scoops up earth and snow and throws it in your face. The snow stings and you feel the grit in your teeth and you know that they oft en only had this to eat, for days…

Now the hand turns on itself, with honesty as brutal as the soldier’s boots that kick the dying to their deaths. The hand plucks out its own heart which once shed tears for the love of God, for a lost mother, and sisters, which even till yesterday, cared for nothing more than to see his father make it through the day, to see him survive the death squads that swooped down on the weak, but today is too afraid to respond while his father cries in pain, as the guards rain blows on his back. The old man calls his son again, and again till his voice ebbs and dies… but his son’s heart has grown cold with fear. He doesn’t respond to his father who dies with his son’s name on his lips. The hand is ashamed of its heart, which at that moment, instead of feeling shame, remorse and the emptiness that comes with the passing of a parent, felt relieved and free of the burden of having to keep both of them alive where even for one to survive the next hour was an excruciating miracle. The hand plucks out that heart and flings it at your feet, where all the remorse and the pain streams out of it in a crimson river of words that line the pages of the book I held in my hand.

Elie Wiesel survived that death, and the others that came before it, including the passing of his own faith in God, man and self. Night, the account of a teenaged Elie’s rite of passage through hell won Wiesel the Nobel Peace Prize. But more than being cathartic, this book has a message. In the early pages, Elie spoke of his days in Transylvania where in the summer of 1944, word of Hitler’s war and his hate reached their town. The sound of cannons and rumours of the terrible death camps drew near but no one believed it. It was 20th century Europe after all. The world wouldn’t just stand and watch, they told each other. Then one day, the German army marched into town. Their nightmare had begun. And yes, the world did just stand and watch…

In his acceptance speech in 1986, Wiesel said “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy… because of race or religion… we must interfere. (And we must not forget) because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices”. But we’ve forgotten, in Cambodia, in Darfur, in the Balkans, why even in Iraq. And there are smaller fires that simmer, which our silence shall fan into uncontained infernos that, heaven forbid, will inspire yet another Night.

I was quiet when Gujarat burned, but you too were silent when the Kashmiri pundits never returned; I am too far away to listen while Manipur screams, while you turn a blind eye to the ‘Sena’s’ parochial dreams.

Is our silence any better than that of thousands of Germans who found the voice to denounce Hitler only after millions lay dead? As Elie’s Night reveals, there is a fiend that lurks in every soul, and with each unpunished act of violent oppression (irrespective of claimed historical provocation), it grows stronger, bolder and more vicious than ever. We encourage them with our silence at our own peril. In our own way, let us all speak… before it is too late yet again…!



  1. i read this article in the sunday indian tamil magazine today. good article. i was happened 50 year ago.. the painful thing...sametime this kind of incidents happened in srilanka.. there is not a single words in that article. all north indian medias hiding that issue also be silent...why?????

    Send me mail pls.