A PRES­I­DENT’S PIL­GRIM­AGE TO HIROSHIMA

‘YOU RE­ALISE THAT THERE ARE THINGS THAT EVEN NU­CLEAR BOMBS CAN’T QUITE DE­STROY’

Fiji Sun - - BIG STORY - Sa­ten­dra Nan­dan Fiji’s lead­ing writer Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor Sa­ten­dra Nan­dan’s fourth book of es­says, ‘Au­tumn Leaves’, will be pub­lished this year. Feed­back: jy­otip@fi­jisun.com.fj

These days, as elec­tion cam­paigns ac­cel­er­ate in Aus­tralia and Amer­ica, you hardly hear the words ‘moral awak­en­ing’ or ‘a moral rev­o­lu­tion’. The moral­ity of mod­ern pol­i­tics is sus­pect as cit­i­zens be­come more aware of their mor­tal­ity in a seem­ingly mor­tally wounded world. The em­pha­sis is al­ways on eco­nomic plan, free trade agree­ments—‘jobs n’ growth’. You won­der if any other kind of growth may be pos­si­ble in the stunted land­scape of our shrink­ing and so deeply dam­aged planet. Even the co­rals are be­ing bleached white in the Great Bar­rier reef, one of the won­ders of the nat­u­ral world.

The em­pha­sis is now on the con­cept of a planet – a planet of apes, per­haps, when you hear some of the as­pir­ing ‘lead­ers’. One, how­ever, doesn’t wish to be un­fair to our ge­net­i­cally an­cient an­ces­tors.

Obama, a voice of san­ity

Yet amidst all the chaos and un­cer­tain­ties, there are voices of san­ity. One such vi­sion­ary voice is that of now the lame-duck Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. He has been in the White House now for al­most eight years— the max­i­mum of two four-year terms for a US pres­i­dent.

In the last few months of his pres­i­dency, Obama has de­vel­oped a global reach and per­cep­tion, aware of the le­gacy he’ll leave behind; and cog­nizant of what Amer­ica could be­come if a wrong per­son be­comes the new pres­i­dent in Novem­ber. The per­ils of democ­racy are many and var­ied. In the last few months, Obama vis­ited Cuba as the US Pres­i­dent, first in 80 years; Viet­nam where Amer­ica suf­fered its first mil­i­tary de­ba­cle; and now Hiroshima, where the first atomic bombs were dropped by the Amer­i­cans in Au­gust 1945, when the life-giv­ing sun had be­come a shin­ing sheet-shroud.

Nu­clear age be­gins

The Sec­ond World War ended soon after when the Ja­panese sur­ren­dered un­con­di­tion­ally. Hitler had com­mit­ted sui­cide and the Rus­sians had in­ten­tions of paint­ing the world red. The nu­clear age had be­gun with a bang and man now had the power of de­stroy­ing more than Mother Earth. But, so far, we’ve sur­vived the bombs. In the cir­cum­stances, one is moved by the visit of Pres­i­dent Obama to the ceno­taph in Hiroshima. He laid a wreath in mem­ory of thou­sands of civil­ians killed by the first nu­clear bombs on Hiroshima and Na­gasaki. The sec­ond bomb, like the Sec­ond World War, re­mains an enigma. Only the other day I heard a re­spected com­men­ta­tor say that dur­ing the 20th cen­tury we killed 150 mil­lion hu­man be­ings, mostly civil­ians. It’s an ap­palling statis­tics.

As a young teacher, I re­call the clos­est the world came to self-an­ni­hi­la­tion was dur­ing those 13 days of the Cuban mis­sile cri­sis. To read that ac­count to­day is to shud­der at what might have hap­pened if you didn’t have a Pres­i­dent like JFK, who ig­nored the mil­i­tary ad­vice of his hawk­ish gen­er­als; in­stead he lis­tened to a Euro­pean diplo­mat who sug­gested: give an­other 500 miles to the Rus­sian fleet; in other words, give the Rus­sians space to think. They thought and blinked – the world be­came a bit safer from the dev­as­ta­tion of a split atom. This, of course, wouldn’t have hap­pened if we didn’t have the un­speak­able ex­am­ples of Hiroshima and Na­gasaki. The two have be­come sym­bols and bea­cons of the apoc­a­lyp­tic fate await­ing more than hu­mankind.

Obama’s visit to Ja­pan touches the writer

So Obama’s visit touched me: his meet­ing with the three el­derly hi­bakusha was the most poignant mo­ment as he em­braced one of them and clasped a with­ered hand as a sign of hu­man bondage be­yond any bomb.

You re­alise that there are things that even nu­clear bombs can’t quite de­stroy for it is the force of hu­man recog­ni­tion more pow­er­ful than any other. The at­mos­phere at the me­mo­rial was somber but it was im­bued with a sa­cred hope. Where 70 years ago a city was in ashes, to­day we’ve cherry trees, bird­songs and chil­dren rid­ing their bi­cy­cles on the grass-cov­ered paths, while young lovers walk hold­ing each other’s hands.

The writer-pres­i­dent, once again, in his mea­sured tone and thought­ful cadence, talked of mov­ing from that ter­ri­ble sci­en­tific rev­o­lu­tion to a new moral rev­o­lu­tion, an awak­en­ing of the hu­man spirit for bet­ter things. One hopes that once he has shed the bur­dens of the White House, he’d de­vote his life to the de­struc­tion of the nu­clear stock­piles which can de­stroy our earth many times over. It won’t be easy as the de­vel­op­ments in the South China Sea omi­nously in­di­cate.

But it’ll bring a spe­cial kind of great­ness to the Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent who has cre­ated so many hope­ful prece­dents dur­ing his ten­ure of be­ing the most pow­er­ful per­son in the world’s only su­per power. In his book Dreams From My Fa­ther, one dis­cov­ers it is re­ally the dream from his mother that shaped him most cre­atively: ‘I know that she was the kind­est, most gen­er­ous spirit I have ever known, and what is best in me I owe to her.’

Poem ded­i­cated to Obama

Some years ago I’d writ­ten a poem, after read­ing the death of the last sur­vivor of the two bombs. I ti­tled it:

The Twice-Bombed, The Twice-Blessed

And to­day I ded­i­cate it to the writer­pres­i­dent Barack Obama, twice-elected. The poem was pub­lished in a New An­thol­ogy of Con­tem­po­rary World Po­etry, The Sec­ond Ge­n­e­sis, con­tain­ing po­etry from 60 coun­tries. On Jan­uary 6, 2010, Tsu­tomu Ya­m­aguchi died, aged 93. He was the last sur­vivor of the two nu­clear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Na­gasaki. I read his story in a mag­a­zine in New Delhi on 30 Jan­uary,2010. Ma­hatma Gandhi was as­sas­si­nated in New Delhi on 30 Jan­uary, 1948. I was a stu­dent in Delhi Univer­sity in the 1960s when Pres­i­dent Dwight Eisen­hower on his visit to In­dia, stand­ing next to the philoso­pher-Pres­i­dent S. Rad­hakr­ish­nan, spoke to us: Ike’s im­age and phrase - ‘hu­man­ity was hang­ing on the Cross of Iron’ – has re­mained in­deli­bly etched in my mem­ory.

The gar­den is green, beau­ti­ful, In the leaves of trees there’s peace: The birds twit­ter, the cater­pil­lars crawl: There are but­ter­flies On the quiet breast of their earth— Re­main close to your home-soil.

The old man sits, cry­ing un­con­trol­lably.

Tears have wet his tat­tered cheeks, torn shirt: His face is lean­ing to­wards in­fin­ity. He’s past ninety, past life, past dreams.

Yet noth­ing is re­ally past.

Mr Tsu­tomu Ya­m­aguchi, in his hoed gar­den, Died on 6 Jan­uary 2010.

I’m read­ing about Gandhi— The papers in New Delhi, hav­ing seen The pa­rade of weapons, Are full of trib­utes to an­other life’s span.

What re­ally is the mea­sure of any man?

The morn­ing in Au­gust, in Jan­uary, Had its usual bright­ness The sky was blue and the birds flew In a pat­tern which only they knew: It was an or­di­nary day.

Ya­m­aguchi was walk­ing to catch a train From Hiroshima to Na­gasaki; He’d fin­ished his as­sign­ment-Time to say good­bye to friends In the of­fices of Mit­subishi. And buy a gift or two for his wife And his only son. Three months in Hiroshima Was long enough—it’s time to re­turn home.

All good things have their ends.

Across the green po­tato fields He walked: Some­times Life can be just cross­ing a green field. In the clear , blue sky, a plane hov­ered, Cir­cled the city, A white para­chute mush­roomed Ya­m­aguchi saw them float, fall Be­fore he fell, face burned, Flesh a molten mon­stros­ity In a sheet of light.

He re­mem­bered the flash Its white mag­ne­sium light-I’ve be­come Death, de­clared the red sun:

Kr­ishna-Christ, Gau­tama-Gandhi are One.

He lay in the burnt po­tato fields Bleed­ing Feel­ing the soft earth be­neath his melt­ing skin. It’s re­ported he was two miles from The epi­cen­ter of the first atom bomb Dropped on the heart­beats of a city And a very young man.

Burnt, eardrums rup­tured, He made his way to the rail­way sta­tion To catch a train to Na­gasaki: How trains still ran on time.

He crossed the an­gry river On the raft of hu­man re­mains Float­ing, bro­ken, dead: Corpses in the sunken Ganga.

II Years later, he told the school chil­dren: On the bridge of in­hu­man­ity On the boat of bloated bod­ies I crossed to the other side.

The old man wept The chil­dren stared at his wet face. He sim­ply said: he reached Na­gasaki, just in time, To re­port to his of­fice. His man­ager at Mit­subishi Was, as usual, in­cred­u­lous, skep­ti­cal: How can a city be killed by a sin­gle bomb?

For a na­tion at war with it­self Weapons are a nec­es­sary evil.

Sud­denly the same white blaze Flashed through the of­fice win­dow: The bars melted, the boss died. Young Tsu­tomu was thrown again To the ground, made of steel.

Close to death, he clung to life In the re­in­forced bars; His house was va­por­ized, His wife, his lit­tle son sur­vived.

His son was to die of cancer, aged 59. At the funeral, the Fa­ther wept twice: How the white light had dark­ened his son’s life.

III Of­ten Mr Ya­m­aguchi would cry Long into the mid­night When there was noth­ing But the ap­proach­ing si­lence of death, Birds asleep in their nests And dried leaves flut­tered On an empty path to­wards a gar­den Into a green po­tato patch.

It’s said the old man Painted many faces of the Bud­dha, He wrote tanka—31-syl­la­ble po­ems. Within these acts of cre­ation He sum­ma­rized two nu­clear bombs Be­liev­ing in the name­less art of wor­ship And small hu­man af­fec­tions.

Peace, he of­ten mur­mured, is God: And the blue sky, the green earth Will not per­ish.

He be­came the only ni­jyuu hi­bikusha: The twice-vic­tim of the first two atom bombs.

And now he, too, is gone: Surely some­where an­other Ma­hatma must be born?

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