Bookshelf - Winter comes before Spring

5 minute read |

Smell of a new book
Silence of a winter’s night
Where will you take me?

This round of additions to my bookshelf seems to have followed an unintended theme. It feels intimately linked with the world outside, as I see it through my window. Yet, at the same time, the books offer an escape into a reality that is not mine. Let’s dissect this apparent dichotomy of worlds.

Maus, by Art Spiegelman
This is the first graphic novel I’ve ever bought and I couldn’t be more proud of my decision. It offers an experience that is both visceral and intellectually stimulating because of the enormous detail and subtext that underlies every statement and panel drawn in the book. It transports you seamlessly into a time whose reality still haunts the collective conscience of humanity. Maus follows the life of the author, Art Spiegelman, interviewing his father, Vladek, about his experiences through the Holocaust as a Polish Jew. Jews are portrayed as mice, Germans as cats, and Poles as pigs which eerily touches on their characteristic nature as depicted in the book. Split into 2 parts, the first introduces the main characters, their lives before the upheaval, the descent of society into the chaos of war, the whip of propaganda turning friendly neighbors into enemies, and their constant struggle to survive in an inhospitable world that has denied their fundamental right to even exist. The second part follows Art’s mother and father into the hell of Auschwitz, their separation, their immense resourcefulness, the unspeakable horror and trauma that etched every corner of their world, and finally their liberation. Maus does not skimp out on details or their vividness. Instead, you are left grappling with it all. You may come out of it feeling horrified, hopeless, and in disbelief. Even worse, you may also feel the terrifying lack of control that the characters felt in trying to ensure a positive outcome for themselves. You’d be right.
All hope is not lost though. Sprinkled throughout the 2 parts, you’ll notice seemingly random acts of kindness by strangers towards one another and experiences that testify to the human spirit and its resilience. It may not be enough, but it reassures you that when the world becomes bleak and dark, you will not be in it alone. That where there is shadow, there will always be a ray of light.

Swaraj, by Arvind Kejriwal
90 years after India’s socio-political leaders publicly declared their commitment to fight for Swaraj, India still struggles to find its own political identity and free itself of the shadow of centuries of British colonial rule. Despite the tremendous progress made during its 70 years of sovereignty, India faces a myriad of unique problems including that of rampant corruption that pervades all spheres of common and political life. In light of the disheartening outcome of the popular protests of 2011-2012 demanding legal and political reform, Arvind Kejriwal, one of the leaders of the anti-corruption movement committed to provide a political alternative to disrupt the seemingly indestructible status quo. Swaraj is his manifesto that delineates his motive, his vision, and his political ideology. The book reveals how the common Indian no longer has any control over the state and its resources. It shows how modern India lacks any practically realizable influence over the governance of herself and her people. Full of shocking real stories, the book depicts the concrete and never dabbles with the abstract. Next, the book paints a picture of Swaraj in India walking through specific examples of governance and citing real-life examples, emphasizing the principles of Swaraj at play with decentralized political power in the hands of grassroots local government. It then dispels fears and misconceptions like the abuse of power by local governments, skepticism on participation, and localized rise of social evils by providing practical solutions of checks and balances. Finally, Arvind lists the changes necessary to achieve the vision of Swaraj for some of the most critical domains identified throughout the book including corruption, licensing, policy-making and implementation, tax collection, controlling natural resources, transparency and whistleblowing, and social reforms.
The people of Delhi rallied behind Arvind Kejriwal, his ideology, and his political party voting them into power in 2013 and 2015 with an overwhelming majority. Since then, Delhi has been the site for interesting experiments with the ideals of Swaraj manifesting themselves as Mohalla sabhas and educational reforms, among others. The manifesto serves as a reminder that much more is yet to come to the people of India.

The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
It is hard to describe this book and equally hard to comprehend the impact it has had on our world. Anne Frank’s diary is her deeply personal account of her inner world, her intimate experience of the existence she and her family carved out for themselves amidst the chaos outside, and the horrors of the reality that surrounded them. Her writing is both visceral and self-reflective as a diary ought to be. She bares her soul to the reader, and we find that the lines separating her worlds and the modalities of her existence become blurred, time and again. Despite this psychological turmoil, Anne’s spirit remains triumphant and heartbreakingly true to itself up to the very end. In light of her extraordinary maturity and self-awareness, it is easy to forget that Anne was only 13 years old when she began her diary. In its short course, we watch Anne grow up, explore the world around her, genuinely enjoy the little things, struggle with the challenges of her teen years, navigate her way in the microcosm of the Secret Annex, come to terms with her reality, discover her own self, and forge a legacy that would inspire and ground generations to come without even knowing it. The strange duality that existed in the harsh reality of the world outside and the eerily surprising normalcy of life in the Secret Annex is strongly oxymoronic. Perhaps, it was her young age that allowed her to see the world clearly, allowing her inherently innocent act of writing a diary in capturing it for what it truly was. Her writing remains just as relevant today as it was then. Her voice echoes through the decades reminding the world of the evil against one another that humans are capable of. Her life is a testament to the righteousness of the human spirit. Her diary will always have a home in my bookshelf.