Tea, Kafka and Memories

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It was the year of watching movies and series on Netflix. I was new in the city and did not have much to do. Any new place brings new challenges in life. Whether it is the new home, new neighborhood, new city, the new culture or a new country. For me, it was a new city, a new culture, and a new country. The weather was new too. It would make me feel gloomy when it snowed for days and there would be no sunshine.

Of course, I would take my camera out and took photos of the snow-covered roads, trees and houses. They looked picturesque and such a sight was new to me. For initial few days it could be fun, but when there is snow every day and you have to get yourself heavily covered while going outside, it becomes monotonous and painful. Adding to the discomfort was the fact that I did not drive and had to depend on my husband for my weekly shopping. The best way to enjoy the snow for me was to sit near my living room window and have tea. That does not look like much of an adventure.

During one of these mundane days, I started reading Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”. Metamorphosis is the story of a traveling salesman Gregor Samsa who transforms into a monstrous insect. It is the story as to how Gregor tries to adjust with his new physical transmogrification? How his family members react to his new appearance and how they cope up with the fact that Gregor is no longer a human being. They find him to be nothing more than a despicable object. 

When Gregor was a human being he would take care of his family. He would work tirelessly so that his father, mother, and sister did  not have to face any problems financially. He was respected and loved by his family members ( at least this is what he thought). But, after he got transformed into the horrific insect, he no longer could go out and work. He got restricted to his room and dependent upon his family for his needs. His transformation had a cascading consequence on his entire family. The attitude of his family members changed towards him. His father and mother had to start working again. His younger sister also found a job to support her family. In addition to this, she had to look after Gregor. She would provide him food and would keep checking his activities. She would keep an eye on him so that he did not come out of his room and upset his parents. His father thought that he would harm the family and would bring misfortune to them. They started feeling that Gregor was of no use to them. In fact, he was now considered a burden. As far as Gregor was concerned, even as an insect he wanted the well-being of his family. He wanted to help them. Unfortunately, his family members were unable to read his good intentions. At one point his sister Grete insisted Gregor was no longer part of the family. According to her, Gregor was contributing to the disintegration of the family and must be eliminated. When Gregor died, the family did not feel any pain, in fact, they were relieved. His death emancipated them from their miseries. Isn’t it strange that death of the person who was once loved can be a source of deliverance.

As I read the end of this story I recalled some of the other stories where death was welcomed with relief. D. H. Lawrence’s “Sons and Lovers” also brings a similar situation involving love, dependence, affliction, death and emancipation. Paul Morel (protagonist) had been extremely attached to his mother, Gertrude Morel. The dominant role played by his mother in his life made it difficult for him to love any girl. He would seek the image of her in every woman he would fall in love with. When he would fail to find her reflection, he would find it difficult to continue the relationship. The story involved a strange relationship between Paul and Gertrude which is something beyond mother-son love.  Here I am not discussing that “relationship”. Paul’s bonding with his mother became a burden for him. When his mother fell ill, his relationship with his mother became painful. He even shared his desolation with one of his girlfriends Clara. 

 

“And she looks at me, and she wants to stay with me,” he

went on monotonously. “She’s got such a will, it seems as if

she would never go — never!”

 

During all these years of his mother’s illness, Paul was abstracted. He would frequently visit her mother. During one such visits, Paul stayed at home all the time to tend to his mother, along with his sister Annie. The task was torturous to both of them. Annie and he decided to give her an overdose of morphia to speed up her death. He put it in her milk. The mother slept heavily through the night and died in the morning. Her death brought an ease to his suffering soul. He no longer was held back by his mother. He was free as a butterfly. He felt he was relieved of the burden of love and attachment. Although, the story takes a different turn but that is not our concern here. (Even after Gertrude’s death Paul’s is not able to get away with his strong bond shared with his mother. His life becomes doomed).

Elie Wiesel’s “Night” is another story which brings forward the queer aspect of human nature. “Night” is the story of horrors of death, persecution, abuse, rendition, torture and survival. It is a survivor’s account based on Wiesel’s experiences with his father as prisoners in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald during Second World War. It presents a heart-wrenching account of the plight of Jews and Holocaust. The story also brings the conflict going on in the mind of Eliezer as he along with other inmates go on “death march” ( In January 1945, with the Soviet army approaching, the Germans decide to flee, taking 60,000 inmates on a death march to concentration camps in Germany. Eliezer and his father are marched to Gleiwitz to be put on a freight train to Buchenwald, a camp near Weimar, 350 miles (563 km) from Auschwitz.)

Eliezer comes across an incident during this march and would constantly pray to God to give him strength.  One of the inmates knowingly left his father and marched ahead to get rid of him. The life in the concentration camp was difficult. Surviving on limited ration given by Germans was a constant challenge. More difficult was if one fell sick or was old and could not keep pace with the group. Germans would show no mercy in eliminating such inmates. Eliezer noticed Rabbi Eliahu’s son left him behind and marched ahead. But he did not speak a word to Rabbi when he started looking for his son.

“But then I remembered something else: his (Rabbi Eliahu) son had seen him losing ground, sliding back to the rear of the column. He had seen him. And he had continued to run in front, letting the distance between them become greater.

A terrible thought crossed my mind: What if he had wanted to be rid of his father? He had felt his father growing weaker and, believing that the end was near, had thought by this separation to free himself of a burden that could diminish his own chance for survival.

It was good that I had forgotten all that. And I was glad that Rabbi Eliahu continued to search for his beloved son.

And in spite of myself, a prayer formed inside me, a prayer to this God in whom I no longer believed.

“Oh God, Master of the Universe, give me the strength never to do what Rabbi Eliahu’s son has done.”

 

Throughout his stay in the concentration camps, Eliezer struggled to maintain his humanity. He sensed that his father was a burden and might diminish his own chance of survival.  But at the same time, he also attempted to shun such inhumane thoughts and felt genuine guilt. One of the inmates advised him to take care of himself and not his father.

 

“Listen to me, kid. Don’t forget that you are in a concentration camp. In this place, it is every man for himself, and you cannot think of others. Not even your father. In this place, there is no such thing as father, brother, friend. Each of us lives and dies alone. Let me give you good advice: stop giving your ration of bread and soup to your old father. You cannot help him anymore. And you are hurting yourself. In fact, you should be getting his rations …”

I listened to him without interrupting. He was right, I thought deep down, not daring to admit it to myself. Too late to save your old father … You could have two rations of bread, two rations of soup …

 

Later when his father fell sick and was nowhere to be found. Strange thoughts would come to his mind while  looking for him.

 Don’t let me find him! If only I could get rid of this dead weight, so that I could use all my strength to struggle for my own survival, and only worry about myself. Immediately I felt ashamed of myself, ashamed forever.

His father’s condition kept on deteriorating. One night as everyone slept he heard his father beaten on the head but he did not speak a word for fear of being beaten too. He also heard his father make a rattling noise, “Eliezer.” In the morning, he found another man in his father’s place.

 

His last word was my name. A summons, to which I did not respond.

I did not weep, and it pained me that I could not weep. But I had no more tears. And, in the depths of my being, in the recesses of my weakened conscience, could I have searched for it, I might perhaps have found something like – free at last!

 

 Human emotions and relationships are strange and unusual. They are not sacrosanct. They keep changing with time and circumstances. It is difficult to foresee how an individual  would react in conflicting circumstances. Only adversary brings the true nature of the relationship we share with loved ones.

 

Every man lives for himself. There is nothing that can bind him forever. Yet, we fall in love, make friends, and respect our family. But at the same time, we seek for our individuality, freedom, interests, profit, comfort, survival and peace. Whenever one of these is at stake we head for egotism.  We start looking for what is best for us.

Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved

 

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