- a story based on three real life people and a letter but it's all a figment of imagination
May 29, 2019
YIN AND YANG
1954, Coyoacan, Mexico: The pen was dipped in the ink and the sound of scribbling resonated in the almost-dark hall illuminated by the only small, rectangular high-window. Frida, with her determined head, bent over her letter, paused for a moment to glance sideways at a portrait nearby. It was a strange portrait - strange in its simplicity for the canvas held two erect figures, not quite human. The figure on the right of the canvas was a white ghost in the black background while the other half of the background was a startling white on which a stark black form stood. The figures stood close to each other, almost touching yet, they weren't actually. They stared at the creator without any discomfort but causing plenty to its painter. Kahlo, with evident uneasiness, shifted her gaze back to the letter and continued to scribble away for another 15 minutes. Contrary to popular belief, The Yin and Yang was the last work of the famous Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo and not Viva La Vida. Only, no one ever knew about the former for it was removed before some could put their hands on it. Frida's husband and the only true love of her life, Diego Rivera, after reading another letter instructing him to dispose the painting and her letter after her death as per her direction, had immediately written to Pope Pius XII of Vatican, asking him to keep the portrait along with the original letter meant for no-one in particular in the Vatican Secret Archives. Frida had always loved that city and she had a feeling that she might never make it to the Vatican but always desired to leave a part of her there. She knew about the secret archive in the Vatican and the fact that some of the most prized literary works of art have been preserved there, making it even more enticing for her to carve a niche for herself there. Her wishes were fulfilled – her work was given a dimly lit corner of the archive, and the letter kept on a high slab beside it. Frida Kahlo, a proud Mexican mestiza woman who fought for civil rights of the people, a feminist, a supporter of LGBTQ movement, a passionate lover and wife and the emblem of national traditions and zest for life, passed away three weeks after her last work was consummated.
2003, Iraq: There was a lot of hubbub in the colossal palace-like building. The press, the Iraqis and the Catholics have been waiting for this day for eons. The Papal Envoy, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray was sent by Pope John Paul II to Iraq as a Diplomatic intermediary to avert the war that was impending upon Iraq if it didn't give in to U.S. A's demand for the disarmament of weapons of mass destruction for succoring terrorism. The Cardinal, on the appointed date and time, was ushered into a lavishly beautified room where the Iraqi Dictator, Saddam Hussein was waiting for him though not exactly looking forward to it. The discussion that went on was declared perfervid by a few officials privy to the conversation. Everyone knew what the agenda was but what actually took place behind the closed doors - no one knew, and those who had the knowledge knew better than to spill the beans. If they had opened their mouth, Saddam would have shut it forever. However, if the first meeting wasn't a mystery enough, the Cardinal and Saddam jointly declared another meeting, a more private one which would include just the two eminent personalities and their translators after a tea break of half an hour. After the tea-break, the meeting went on for almost an hour, almost clandestine in its nature for no one ever got to know what went beyond the closed doors that day. The translator never disclosed anything for their own better. But people knew that nothing had changed. The meeting was a failure and its purpose couldn't be realized. They knew that because after an hour was almost over, Saddam burst out from the room, his face flushed red with his translator hurrying behind him, apologetically but not to the dictator but for the very man's conduct in the room. The latter informed the press and others that an official statement regarding the meeting would be issued. Inside, the Cardinal was found sitting on the plush sofa but a strange pallor on his face spoke the unsaid. The people were doomed. The war was inevitable.
An hour before, inside the room: The Dictator took his time to get comfortable for he knew that this meeting would be very personal unlike the first one where most of the time went in exchanging pleasantries and the courtesy fanfares touched with very formal diplomatic talks regarding the situation or rather the impending doom that threatened the people of Iraq and he was looking forward to the old Cardinal pleading, coaxing and cajoling the dictator with the hope of getting him to call off the impending war. But the thing with people like Saddam Hussein is that they don't listen. Not because they are deaf in their ears or because they think that their decisions are always right. But the fact that people might think that they aren't capable of being inflexible and rigid in taking decisions and can be orchestrated by others – this couldn't be borne. And like a true dictator, Hussein too, had remained immutable to any dissent from others and disturbingly, sometimes from himself too. He looked mockingly at the aged Cardinal in front of him. “Say, Cardinal. What is that you had to tell me ?” The Cardinal didn't say anything but with a smooth, graceful gesture pulled out a silk pouch and handed it to him. Saddam emptied the contents on his lap to find two letters and a small picture. The picture held two figures in white and black in the background of black and white, respectively. Nothing very aesthetic to the eye thought Saddam. “Read the letter with the black seal first”, the Cardinal spoke before Saddam could open the red sealed letter which was the letter written by Pope John Paul II to Saddam. The Dictator quietly opened the letter which was a photocopied letter of the original and read the contents of the letter. The translator on behalf of Saddam, would later often recount this story to his grandchildren. He would tell them that, as the daunting dictator read that letter written in English (for Saddam could read as well as write in English better than he would admit) a strange transition took place. The room became unendurably quiet and yet there was a sense of peace and contentment, which was visible on Saddam Hussein's face. The frown disappeared, the eyebrows eased and a thin smile was detected on his face. Twenty minutes of silence, another two for contemplation. “Do you believe what the letter says?”, the Cardinal's voice interrupted Saddam's reverie. “I don't know. But I sure liked it,” retorted the dictator. “In that case would you like to join it?”, the Cardinal had a hopeful expression. The dictator gave hardened laughter,” As long as it is free. Can't afford to pay any more membership fee.” The Cardinal smiled too this time and said, “It requires no membership fee. The only thing that it requires is some rumination. Of every thought, every action. There must be a perfect balance of the dualities mentioned our thoughts and endeavor will speak for us. Our footprints will be left in the sands of time and that is how evolution - of society, of individuals, their behavior and ideas - that is how the transformation will take place. But you must agree to be part of this society first. If you agree, you must acknowledge the same and work towards it. You must keep this letter and photograph with you always. Even if you have strayed, this will help you to overcome your obstacles.” “Ha! Is this what it takes to be a member of such a distinguished society unknown to most? Of course, I would like to be a part of it!” The Cardinal gave a sad smile and said, “Your words bind you. You are a part of this now and you can't revoke your decision and it requires you to assess your every action to develop humanity. I believe you once gave over two million dollars to a Chaldean Church and have been very generous to many other such Churches. The Pope and I believe that you are capable of such compassion.” “Yes, I am capable of compassion! Where is this going?”, the Dictator asked sharply, the thin smile giving way to disturbed anger. “Peace. Without peace, no one can be happy. The war will devastate your people and...you too. I hope you know that you won't get to see another sunny day if you wage this war. It would spell death for you!”
The Dictator got up angrily, his face a crimson red. “ Let the war come. I will not even consider my decision. I know what I am doing is right. Let U.S.A go to the dogs! This war is meant to be. It will happen.” Saying so, the dictator stormed out of the room with his translator not far behind. The latter didn't understand much of the conversation for he wasn't privy to the contents of the pouch but he understood this very well: the war was going to happen. When people looked inside the room, the found the Cardinal sitting quietly, helplessly and tired. He had done his best to stop the tyrant. But he knew the war would happen.
And the war did happen.
30 December 2006, Iraq: Two days later, a new year would begin. A year with new hopes, promises, newfound happiness, and sorrow – a new era would begin. But Saddam Hussein would never live to see it. As he waited for his death in the military base, Camp Justice, he fell into a silence of cogitation like every man waiting for his death. Where did he go wrong? – he thought he was invincible. He was a good Muslim - he lived his life according to the Quran, he loved his family and people. He stood for what he thought was right. He took out his wallet that he would have to give up very soon and from it, he took out a small photo and a letter. The letter and photo had never left his wallet because perplexingly, reading the letter and looking at the photograph quite a sense of tranquility. For that, he always thanked the Pope in his mind. He never quite understood the photo or the letter but he knew he should have paid more attention to it. He requested the letter and photo to be burnt before his death. And just like that, he went to the gallows, waiting for his execution.
Like a true Muslim, he recited the Shahada twice and roared, “Allah hu Akbar!” - but what he couldn't obliterate from his mind were the contents of the letter. It made so much sense now, with the noose around his neck and the trap door of the gallows beneath him. At 6:00, the proud Dictator was executed. If only people had understood what was going on his mind right before his death, they would have known that he had finally figured out what the letter was all about. He had figured out what he should have done differently. His last thoughts - “Oh Frida!” and then Saddam Hussein was no more.
October 2018, Vatican City: The Pope was sitting with his diary open in front of him with a photocopy of Frida's letter in front of him. Pope Benedict XVI had handed it to him a few days after his papal inauguration. “Every other Pope before you had a copy of the same and it is only right that you have it too and pass it on to your successor. But it is our secret weapon. We must use it and induct people into this society whenever we think that they are digressing away from the path of Goodness.” Pope Francis had looked up at him and thought to himself as to why this can't be told to the masses. But later, he realized that maybe they wanted to preserve the sanctity of the letter by exposing it to as less number of people as possible. The longer it is kept concealed, the more it shall have the air of mystery around it. Now he too wanted to keep the letter to himself and figure out the meaning of it. But lately, he has been keeping himself busy with the more-than-one-can-handle problems of the world. And the decision about dismissing Cardinal Gerhard Mueller and the three best priests of the CDF– that was gnawing at him too. In the years after his pontification, Pope Francis has shown the world that with time, one must change and if people do good, then they shall be accepted by God – irrespective of their religion, race, color or sex. Radical – that is what people think of Pope Francis when they think of the times where he expressly accepted the LGBTQIA community, he reached out to the poor and sick like no Pope before, he comforted rape victims, he tried to bring the Israeli and Palestinian Presidents together for dialogue. He helped in the U.S. A – Cuba prisoners exchange and he waged a war against global warming. He was the perfect Pope, trying to incorporate Religion in the problems of the world and helping as much as he could in his capacity. What more could he have done? He wasn't done yet and was still trying to mitigate the sufferings of the common mass in his own way as much as he could. But he knew somewhere he had failed when people started criticizing him for being tin-eared to the cries of the victims of sexual abuses by high clergymen like Rev. Fernando Karadima and Don Mauro Inzoli, an unmistakably cruel abuser of many boys who were, in 2012, found guilty of abusing boys as young as 12 even in the confessional. The Pope didn't know why but he felt so helpless for some reason regarding this matter. He prayed hard for The Lord to show him the right way. For now, he had no answer and he was falling into a dark pit – yes, even the Pope feels helpless at times.
Pope Francis stared at the letter and the open diary in front of him. “Oh Frida, if only you could tell me how I could do things differently!” With that, he closed the diary, pocketed the letter and left his room for another day of serving Humanity.
“Time and again, life has shown that by no means, perfection could be achieved. Nothing can be painted in black and white, life is a painting of many colors. Yet strangely, black and white are pretty much the colors that dominate our life. Which is why my fascination with the symbol of Yin and Yang knows no bound. The Tajitsu symbol represents the cosmic duality of good and bad that are complementary to each other. The Yang or the white part represents everything bright, passionate and positive whereas the Yang or the black part stands for shadows, stillness, and everything negative. But the beauty lies in the black and white dots in the white and black part of the symbol, respectively. The philosophy baffles me because of its simplicity. It is this - that good and bad are intrinsic to each other. There is no good or bad without the other. There is no perfect saint or evil. Our perfection lies in the consonance of the two. That is the cosmic truth and as conscious beings, we must maintain the equilibrium. There is good and bad in all of us and we must use every effort to ensure that they don't overtake the other. Great is that man who does not pretend to be Righteous personified and yet is nauseatingly tainted. He who understands the interplay of the forces and doesn't turn a blind eye to one of them hegemonizing the other. But the agony is, almost always it’s the fiend in us that overpowers the virtue we possess. Hence, it is essential for us to reflect the words that are spoken or deeds done. I believe that most of the population suffers from a conflict of conscience at certain points of their lives. We can only hope that it is never too late to realize that. I also believe that this is a junta of people where each is drowning in the myriad of questions with respect to life – it's meaning, its purpose, our purpose, the reason for our existence, whether it is possible to attain perfection, etc. Maybe it's to us to define our lives. Maybe someone is there to define our lives for us. We shall never be perfect in the truest sense but we must strive to be so. Our beliefs, our ways of life, our way of thinking and analyzing – these must amalgamate to make our lives wholesome. On our deathbed, we shall have regrets in plenty but there will be nice memories to which we shall smile to ourselves. However, it is imperative that our last thoughts shouldn't pass away in ruing our lives. Rather, we must accept the flaws. It is essential to know where we went wrong. But we must accept it all – not as a resignation but because that is what our life was and the hands of the clock would never turn and we have the option of dying a painful death of regrets or accept the fact that we lived our lives to the fullest in our own ways. There was nothing we could have done. But for the ones who are yet to live their lives, if they could know, comprehend and acknowledge this truth, life would be a little easier. They would become part of this expedient society, inclusive in general by nature yet exclusive for it stubbornly refuses to let people be enlightened. But it is my strong belief that at one point of everyone's life (something tells me it’s the last moments of our time on Mother Earth), they shall be enlightened. In their own way.”
And so they were. Frida while writing this letter, Saddam while waiting for his final release and the Pope while meditating about his decision to oust Cardinal Muller. The previous Popes who were privy to this letter. The great personalities who were privy to this bitter wisdom. The common people who weren't. At some point. They were and would be finally enlightened.