GURGAON Journal: Sombre Summer

The April Pink Moon glimmers down on a sombre land, a land jousting with an (un)expected vicious adversary snuffing out the young and old in its free run.

This year the Pink of hope and rejuvenation is White, an April nightmare of body bags, as we stare at an abysmal vortex of burning ghats and burial grounds.

April is spring in the Northern hemisphere and in the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay it comes “…. like an idiot…. babbling and strewing flowers.” For us in India it is the stepping stone to summer, the season of mangoes, water melons, melons and blazing Sunflowers. Of morning walks in gardens and parks. My social media is inundated with images of vibrant colourful flowers and then I scroll down to sombre images, of smiling faces of friends and acquaintances….casualties of the stalking virus.

“There is something in even the darkest situations that we can make a positive in our lives.” — Deborah Norville

We became complacent on rolling out of India made vaccines and the first Vaccine jabs. We were eagerly following our leaders, who by their actions, gave the impression that Covid dragon has been shooed of our land. Weddings, parties, domestic/ international travel to countries that permitted our entry, crowding markets and malls, recreation centres, political rallies, religious congregations…after all we are believers in ‘What will happen will happen, God is there to look after us”. My young neighbour would constantly chide me “Everyone is going to be affected by the virus’ whenever I told her to mask up and be careful. She must have read some doomsday prediction. Somehow it is happening

‘Resistance’ and it worked. My second Covid Shield dose has given me hope as every day is a continuation of ‘wintering’ of our summer. Through out the cool months we believed we have conquered the virus and gave into our desires little knowing Summer is still far away. Rainer Maria Rilke, the Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist alludes to winter as ‘the season for tending to the inner garden of the soul’. “Suddenly to be healed again and aware that the very ground of my being — my mind and spirit — was given time and space in which to go on growing,”

Did we do that? Nope …we let life meander in different directions, squandering the lessons learnt.

Now the hot summer winds of May blowing across the plains entire India bring a message to isolate, to sit inside, to mask up, to wait for life to turn normal, for flights to take off and roads to drive on.

In trajectory with the somber mood I read a book about World War II. We too are fighting a war …. 

Read of the Month: The Nightingale by Kristan Hannah

World War Two is an evergreen subject for word crafters adept at romanticising pathos and action. Growing up in a house of four boys my favoured were comics and paperbacks about the daring sorties of Allied pilots, the armies marching across North Africa & Europe, about the daring action adventures of Biggles the fighter pilot of World war 1 and 2. (Biggles – Wikipedia). The love for real and fictionalised action continued…. Leon Uri‘s The Exodus, Catch-22, The Pianest to name a few. In the present, movies such as Schindler’s List, the Dairy of Anne Frank, Dunkirk….

The Nightingale’, a historical fiction in same genre, woman-focussed, captures the resilience of two sisters differing in age, experience, ideals, passion and in embracing their paths to survival, love and freedom in German occupied war town in France. Isabelle, the younger sister, The Nightingale, is inspired by the heroics of Edith Cavell (1865-1915) a British nurse working in German-occupied Belgium during the First World War. Edith was the ‘ Nightingale’ to hundreds of British, French and Belgian soldiers helping them escape the Germans. Unfortunately she was arrested, tried and executed in 1915. Isabelle, the fiery rebel, followed in Edith’s footsteps leading downed Allied pilots over the Pyrenees into Spain and safety.

For me the name Edith resonated with Mount Edith Cavell located in the Athabasca and Astoria River Valleys of Jasper National Park, Alberta,Canada. The mountain, celebrating , Edith’s sacrifice and bravery, is a popular tourist spot both for its picturesqueness and connotations. Previously the Mount was the “White Ghost” for First Nation, ‘la Montagne de la Grande Traverse’ for French mountaineers and the prosaic Mount Fitzhugh until Word War I.

A close-up view of the North face of Mount Edith Cavell, visible from Cavell Meadows and multiple lookouts in the area, highlights the hanging Angel Glacier with its expansive snowy wings stretching over a 300 metre cliff of the North face. The shape resembles an angel spreading her wings and over the years the wings are there, but the bottom half of the glacier has eroded away.

Our hiking companion for short while, maybe hoping for some treat, followed us as we walked the trail head from the parking lot, traversing rocky paths, crossing meadows and bridges towards the Lake with the mountain in the background. It was a crowded paved way to the Cavell Lake or Pond culminating in a crescendo of exclamations on seeing the Angel tapering towards the mint green waters studded with mini ice bergs. Visitors are prohibited to step close to the Lake due to falling chunks of glacier. We had visited in 2015 and I wonder if the wings are still fluttering.

Back to ‘The Nightingale’: With so much of coincidence, in favour, THE NIGHTINGALE is a pleasurable, panoramic read as it plays on what Karen writes in the preface, ‘In love we find out who we want to be, in war we find out who we are.’ This in way helps Karen ‘shoe-horn’ the complexities of loss, rejection, sorrow, pain, friendship, honour, jingoism of life in war torn France in a single space. My rating: Three/half Stars

Our 2021 Covid fight is nothing short of a War and as we save ourselves, our families, friends and countrymen from an indestructible mutating enemy we learn the value of life. As news and visuals of selfless contributions of health care and frontline workers, of neighbours unmindful of their safety working tirelessly round the clock, keeps pouring in we pause and pray for the departed souls and pledge to do better in improving the infrastructure.

The latest count, May 1 2021, is over 3.92 lakh new cases, 3,673 deaths and numerable suffering from accompanying maladies.

We can all pitch in with our share in raising funds/ donating in kind towards helping the less fortunate. There is an acute shortage of medical oxygen , hospital beds, medicines, after care, food….there are genuine organisations, private and governmental to reach out to in giving whatever you want.

Do not let it become a Summer of disconnect.