June 9, 2014
June 1, 2014
During the BBC Radio 4 Today programme of 6th June 2014, coverage of the seventieth anniversary of the D-Day landings appeared alongside the breaking story of dead babies shoved into the septic tank of a post-war home for fallen women (unmarried mothers) in rural Ireland.
How wide, I wonder, is the
divide between these two sets of
casualties – the
infantile and adolescent? Both of
them ended up in the
slurry, dropped right in it to meet the
requirements of the
time; in accordance with the
orders of the
day.But even as I say this, I know I am slurring my words for polemical effect. Unlike undifferentiated baby waste, leaving no distinction between a child’s body and the
his nappy, the
young soldiers forming the
first wave of
Operation Overlord were always marked out as heroes. Their hero status was as clear as the
cocoa smeared on their faces – not faeces – for night time camouflage.
In the wartime broadcasts of BBC radio reporter Richard Dimbleby, even the waste products of their successful advance were duly honoured. Of the equipment left behind by the first Allied troops to land in Normandy, in his sing-song voice Dimbleby said: ‘Today the gliders and some of the discarded parachutes lie like crumpled flowers inthe wet wooded countryside north east of Caen.’
Catch the cadences in that!
Dimbleby’s prose is as sonorous as Dylan Thomas issuing his order to the wartime generation – ‘do not go gentle into that good night’. Thomas was writing not about thewar but for his dying father. Yet both the poet and the war reporter accorded the same high honour to human life and death.
Theirs is not an empty formality, but the proper use of form – to formulate what we are. As writers ordering experience as best they can, they order their readers and listeners to do the best we can.
Citing ‘parachutes..like crumpled flowers’, Dimbleby was already memorialising, only hours after ‘our airborne troops have successfully completed this, the first of their operations in the new battle of Europe’. Whether or not they lived to tell the tale, he was writing an elegy for this, their bravest action.
Seven decades later, the memories of the old boys who came flooding back to Normandy one last time, must now be imbued not only with the shades of fallen comrades but also with the ghosts of all they have and haven’t done with their lives inthe 70 years since that first landing.
Was D-Day what made them find their feet as grown men, or is it that the ground beneath them never seemed so solid again? Scanned by television cameras, their faces said both these things at the same time.
Strange fruit hanging from the mango tree. Villagers gathered in a circle around its bitter crop, congregating as if for Harvest Festival. In the front row a girl of seven or eight looks up, awestruck.
awful thing that strikes me, looking down at a photograph of
this scene in Northern India, is the
beauty of the
two human forms which the
young girl is gazing up at. Dressed in colourful shalwar kameez (turquoise and crimson and purple), they float upon the
breeze, heads bowed in a picture of
modesty.But these are the
corpses of the
two teenage cousins of
Katra, a remote village in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh; low caste Dalits who were gang raped, then hung until dead with ropes slung over the
lower branches of
a nearby tree – in a grove of
mangoes only 250m from where they lived.
When the low caste girls were first reported missing on the night of 27 May, their plight was ignored by police officers who belong to the higher caste of Yadav. Even when they were found murdered, the police were slow to respond; hence the solemn vigil ofpoor villagers who would not allow the girls’ bodies to be cut down until their death was registered across the world.
Since then the authorities have been keen to be seen leaping into action. Arrests made, suspects displayed; two of them shown roped together – boyish, sheepish and unkempt; strung out by what is happening to them (but at least they have not been strung up).
In the cool of the evening, the girls had gone out into the fields to defecate. Not that Father was in the lavatory reading the News of the Screws. Pull the other one! In theplace they called home there simply is no sanitation.
Hours later they were swinging free of the trials and tribulations of rural poverty: no longer yoked to heat and dust; cut loose from the dumb repetition of agricultural toil.
Continually coercive drudgery, lives lived by a thousand and one degradations, punctuated by short and nasty episodes of brutal violence. This combination amounts to a whole way of being for millions of the rural poor.
Didn’t it kill the two teenagers of Katra as much as the criminals who kidnapped them?