Imagine your heart is a sheet of paper and Müller’s words, the needle – and then, let the typewriter go berserk. Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang. The words hit you, one after another, and her ink doesn’t run dry. The angst, the rage, the lament, the despair takes on unstoppable force and goes pinging on your heart like a tireless hammer – only it is a needle and the prick seeps into your blood like it has found a home.
In the last years of Nicolae Ceaușescu, one of the most brutal dictators in history and the last to rule Romania, no one asks “how are you?” when they meet each other; they ask instead, “how are you getting along with life?”. Under this cold and intimidating clouds of the communist regime and acute surveillance, Adina, Clara, Paul and Pavel are common citizens trudging along life. They wear their normalcy during the light but one of them works for the ‘Securitate’, the secret police agency and functions with heightened reflexes in the dark.
How many veins get choked when a friend betrays you? How many heartbeats get silenced when your home is no longer safe? How many memories are crushed when all roads to your past are barricaded? What promise does tomorrow hold when you can’t get through today without losing hope? What sense does it make at all to live the gift called life in such noxious air?
Herta Müller is raw, unvarnished power. With her haunting, metaphoric attacks, she transported me to a Romania which death-danced to life and compelled me to fall on my knees, gasping for dear breath.
And I fed that thing milk through a straw for thirty days, says the gatewoman. And raised her myself since nobody wanted her. After a week, says the gentleman, the kitten was able to open its eyes. And I was shocked to see the image of the supervisor deep inside those eyes. And to this day, whenever the cat purrs, he says, the supervisor is right there in both of her eyes.
The moon inside the kitchen window is so bloated it can’t stay there. By 6am, it has been gnawed by the morning and its face is bleary-eyed. The early buses go whooshing by, or perhaps that’s the moon trying to leave the city and its jagged edge is getting caught on the border of the night. Dogs yelp as if the darkness has been the large sheltering pelt and the deserted streets an untroubled brain. As if the dogs of the night were afraid of the daylight, when people are out and about, and when the hunger that seeks encounters the hunger that strays. When yawn meets yawn and speech meets bark with the same breath inside the mouth.”
I wanted to read an easy, light book to end this year. But life isn’t easy or difficult; it simply is. It goes on like the endless tide and it is for us to find the precious. One way is to be aware of the triumphs and vagaries our brethren has experienced across boundaries and taking up the right baton in whatever capacity we can. Drilling home the subjugation of not just the animate but the inanimate too with a spine-chilling precision, Nobel-laureate Müller throws her deeply charged voice behind the causes of freedom and dignity of life. And inspires me to do the same, in my own limited but definite capacity.