“She felt an enveloping happiness to be alive, a joy made stronger by the certainty that someday it would all come to an end. Afterward she felt a little foolish, and never spoke to anyone about it.
Now, however, she knows she wasn’t being foolish. She realizes that for no particular reason she stumbled into the core of what it is to be human. It’s a rare gift to under stand that you life is wondrous, and that it won’t last forever.”
The love for life, to be able to be alive seems so common an idea that we are used to take it for granted. While we celebrated love, the terrorist attack in Pulwama resulted in the death of several soldiers of the Indian Army. And now, in our desire for vengence we have lowered ourselves to denigrating an entire religion and brought upon ourselves communal hatred. We are doing exactly what “the men on the hills” want us to do; we are letting them decide for us whom to hate, and this is absolutely unacceptable.
I read this book last year, but some of its lines have been coming back to me for these past few days.
A man comes out of his apartment everyday at 4 o’clock, unfolds his stool on the spot where a shell had killed 22 people standing in a que to buy some bread, sits down and plays his cello. Regardless of the shelling, the ongoing war around him, he plays on and on. This goes on for 22 long days; after his last performance he drops his bow on the ever-growing pile of flowers near the indentation where the mortar fell, and breaks down. Revolving around this seemingly inconsequential act of defiance are the lives of the three protagonists – Kenan, Dragan and Arrow.
While the men on the hills are hell bent on wrecking their physical and moral spirit, the cellist, emerging from underneath the rubble, comes across as the sole guardian of hope, keeping alive its shaky flames from the forces of darkness. He plays Albinoni’s Adagio, sitting in the open, in the direct line of a targeting sniper. He tries his utmost to fight the deep dark despair and keep it, restrain it from engulfing whatever little is left of the city and its residents. While everyone and everything is fixated on the sole purpose of wringing out the last drops of humanity still pervading their senses, the 3 of them try and retain their wavering sanity, their ideals, the mutual love and respect they have for everyone.
The intense turmoil raging within them reaches a decisive end with the Cellist’s last notes. As the notes fade into the distance amidst the screeching of shells and wailing of the victims, it plants an idea in their conscience. The idea not to bow down to the will of the men on the hills, the idea that they would not be told by anyone about whom to hate, the idea to not loose the grip on life, the idea to be alive once again, they’ve “heard what there was to hear. It was enough.” All of their actions converge with this incident and sets rolling the ball of hope, faith, beauty, love and solidarity. Kenan sets off towards the brewery unafraid, Dragan crosses the intersection at a leisurely pace, Arrow refuses to target a civilian of the opposing side in spite of her superior’s orders. She lays down her rifle beside the cellist’s bow because she realizes – “She didn’t have to be filled with hatred. The music demanded that she remembers this, that she knows to a certainty that the world still held the capacity for goodness.”