If you were alive, around this birthday, you’d have inched towards eighty-nine. Around the same age as my patti, my grandmother, would have been, had she been alive today. And yet, you will live on for years to come, forever at fourteen.
I find myself wondering what you would have thought of the world if you were alive today. I hear the voices of many of your contemporaries – Sophia Veffer, your dear friend from school; Alicia Appleman-Jurman, whose path didn’t cross yours although the trajectory was largely as difficult if not more; Helga Weiss, who also kept a diary like you did. I wonder what you would think of the way the oppressed has turned oppressor world over, of the way borrowed hatred continues to inform and encourage action, behavior, thought and deed. I wonder what you would make of the speedy run the world is dashing into a downward spiral with.
Your diary holds the answers, answers that you wrote with a clear prescience at an age where wisdom is not even considered a thing to be coveted. I hear you whisper into my ears in the voice I gave you inside my head. “I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death,” you say. “I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.” These words ring true, day in and day out. And like the pulsating rhythm of the breath that continues my existence, these words continue to keep me alive, filling my heart with hope and my mind with an idealistic optimism. When people around me try to break down my idealism, sometimes calling it childish, sometimes naïve, other times, ignorant, I hold onto your words, this lifeboat you gave me that I cling onto and swim in these turbulent seas.
Today, Anne, much like in your time, religion is constantly surging forth as a bad word, a divisive factor, a basis to hurt, a basis to discriminate, a basis to kill. Countless numbers of religious leaders have come and gone, countless numbers of followers have clung to ideology after ideology – some pivoting a wrong reading to leverage hate, some holding onto a right reading but in silence for they aren’t able to hold sway against hate. But the truth of religion and what it does for humanity is lost on mankind. You say that people with a religion should be glad, for not everyone has the gift of believing in heavenly things. I have chills when I recall to mind the quintessential truth you wrote about religion: “It isn't the fear of God but the upholding of one's own honor and conscience. How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to their minds the events of the while 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!”
Samuel Huntington says that the third world war will be fought on these ethnic, religious and cultural identities, as they will be the primary sources of conflict. How remarkably true this is turning out to be. Identity is a dangerous nuance, today, for being myself can evoke hate in another, for there is a constant othering on any basis man can find. My skin colour, my gender, my sex, my sexual orientation, my religion, my race, my caste, my sub-caste, my ethnicity, my nationality, my regional affiliation, my faith, my eating preferences, my language… the personal is incredibly political, today, Anne, as it always was. And as I say this, I remember how you wrote so poignantly, that war is not only the work of politicians and capitalists, but also the work of common man – because otherwise, we would have rebelled a long, long time ago, as you said. We badly, badly need that metamorphosis you talked about, when you wrote, “There’s a destructive urge in people, the urge to rage, murder and kill. And until all of humanity, without exception, undergoes a metamorphosis, wars will continue to be waged, and everything that has been carefully built up, cultivated and grown will be cut down and destroyed, only to start all over again!”
At the base of most of the world’s divisive identities, is gender. There is no country for women, Anne, today as it was yesterday, as it was in your time – except that we are beginning to speak louder, now. Women are shut out of public spaces, out of leadership, out of families, out of life. Women are disregarded and sacrificed in the horrible pursuit of chest-thumping toxic masculinity which is firmly entrenched in the worst form of structural violence, patriarchy. A truth you wrote, that “Women, who struggle and suffer pain, to ensure the continuation of the human race, make much tougher and more courageous soldiers than all those big-mouthed freedom-fighting heroes put together.” When I think of all the challenges that lie on the path of the life of a woman, there’s a cold, clammy hand gripping my heart – and I see that it is a sense of fear. Is there one space, one time, in the life of a woman where she isn’t facing discrimination? A foetus is aborted if it’s a girl. An infant is killed at birth for being a girl. Heaven forbid she grows up – she’s married before time, or her genitalia is cut up to keep her sexuality in check, or, she is smack centre in a lifetime of hatred, discrimination, violence and exclusion. Her personal agency is a unicorn. Her consent is a centaur. They’re mythical, they don’t exist in the real world. And yet, Anne, just like you did, we persist. We rise. We move. We search for that metamorphisis that we are also supposed to be a part of.
Today, in your name and in pursuit of the fizzing ball of energy you leave me through your diary, I work for gender equality, for peace, for the end of hate. And just like you, “It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
Something gripped me, a month ago. I sat up one night and wrote feverishly, not pausing for a moment to see what I wrote. The next morning, I found a whole play had written itself through my hand – but I suspect you wrote it, through me. Eight voices spoke through poetry, in that play, talking about genocide and the constantly formulaic approach to genocide that continues to date. Eight voices told eight truths through poetry – and with the bounteous kindness of three amazing women – Samyuktha PC, Aparnaa Nagesh and Keerthi Pandian – those voices will come alive on your birthday, speaking in your memory. On your birthday, these stories will retrieve your memory in a piece of Germany inside India, and we hope it will leave people thinking. Frankly Speaking, we call it. Because you speak through all of them, and they speak unheard truths.
I don’t know where those that lived once go. But I know they live on in memory. And if there’s anything in this memory that connects to you, I hope you can hear me.
Will you watch, Anne?