Why swine flu is good for you


The world is going crazy and paranoid over this certain new strand of the flu
virus. But really, you should be happy to get one.Why?

(a) Once you have it, you realize, really, really, this is JUST ANOTHER type of FLU dammit! Granted, you feel lousy for a day or two but then in a week, you are back to your old charming self. For most people.
(b) Finally you get to stay away from work and devote more time to that book you've been meaning to read or the movie you've been meaning to watch or that project you've been putting off.
(c) You're no longer in the dilemma whether or not to take the shot. You've already gone through the worst 🙂
(d) You realize that so many people are making so much money just taking advantage of your fears 🙂
(e) You've now have more faith on human immune system and how resilient it can
be 🙂

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"Unaccustomed Earth" – Some thoughts …


Recently, I finally finished reading Lahiri’s latest book. Oh boy, I am still immersed in it’s thoughts, thinking about the fate of some of the characters and the messages the stories tried to convey. This blog will give some of my impressions and thoughts on the book. The readers should be aware that there might be spoilers here and there. So if you haven’t read the book and do not want any inkling about the storyline, you should probably not read this blog.

If you have previously read Lahiri’s earlier book, The Namesake, you would like and love this book as much. Just like Namesake, Lahiri’s writings deal with the complicated emotions of new immigrants and their struggle to cope with the new lifestyle in North America. This new book takes a step ahead and deals with the lives of their kids and how their parents eventually come to terms with the new ‘Americanized’ lifestyle lead by their own children. I think Lahiri has an uncanny ability to express deep emotions and loneliness through mere words in her writing, in each and every of her story-lines. This new book takes a bolder step in this direction. The writing is so intense at times that it moves you, makes you sad, in pain and even makes you cry. Clearly, the author has spent lot of time studying and observing people, the human psyche, their emotional and physical needs, the darker and suppressed needs, their changing lives and the ability to accept even the once unthinkable things. Lahiri delves deep into the experiences and background of each of the characters of her book, describes their psychology and character and creates a vivid picture in the mind of the reader about each of them. You’d have seen this already if you have read The Namesake. This book, aside from being a great contemporary literary work, is also an excellent psychological study. Further, as a fellow Bengali, I am often surprised to see how well and deep her understanding of Bengali culture and lifestyle is. This understanding has enabled her to create characters that are so real life like that I can almost feel them. It’s just amazing!

Lahiri’s writing in this book is also amorous and arousing at times, no different from it’s predecessor. Sex and sexual needs are well explored in her writing, to explain characters at a core level, as tools that explains deeper elements in relationships, as something of a source of pain and loneliness or even happiness, as something that can sometimes unite people who are otherwise unsure, unaware of their own feelings and needs. This book is for adults who have deeper understanding of life – it is the experiences that makes us wiser and this book is all about human experiences. It is not for minors, as it should never be.

The book is a collection of six short stories, the last one having being broken up into three sections. The two stories that really moved me are ‘Hell-Heaven’ and ‘Hema and Koushik’, the later has a remarkable similarity with The Namesake in that just like The Namesake, it explains the lifetime of experiences and struggles of one character primarily, that of Koushik. However, to be really honest, I really enjoyed reading each and every story in this book. Except for ‘Hema and Koushik’ and ‘Choice of Accommodations’, in all the rest of her writings, she has sort of left a numerous number of questions unanswered in the reader’s mind. In The Namesake, we wonder what would have happened to Gogol, would he remain alone? Would he find someone to settle down with? Would he and Maxine eventually ‘fix up’? What would Ashima do? etc. In this book too, we are left with a similar set of questions that remain unanswered – would Sang and Paul ever see each other (Nobody’s Business)? Will they confront each other’s feelings and come to terms with what transpired involving Farukh? Will Ruma’s dad ultimately find happiness in the rest of his remaining days with Mrs Bagchi (Unaccustomed Earth)? Will he oblige her daughter and visit her daughter again and live with her once more? Will Sudha and Roger ever forgive Rahul (Only Goodness)? What would happen to him? Would he ever becomes successful and settled just like his had would have loved to see? Will Deborah overcome her pain (Hell-Heaven)? Will she find the consolations she was looking for from Usha’s mom? Will Pranab understand what he did and come back to her again? ….

Yeah, indeed, too many questions. Too many painful endings. Too much loneliness. Broken families, broken hearts, hope and optimism, strong ties between families, human emotional needs … all these are explored in each and every pages of the book. Does it really matter whether one had an American or Indian upbringing? Does the racial and cultural qualifications really make a shit of difference in the end? We all have common feelings and needs. That there are only certain basic ingredients that make a long term successful relationship. That lack of those basic ingredients can virtually make a marriage empty if not legally terminated, that we all sometimes feel the need to be loved and wanted and we would sometimes make great compromises towards getting them. That we all feel immense pain from the suffering of our loved ones, to see them wither away in front of our eyes, slowly inching towards a certain painful death, not being able to do anything. All these are common, basic characteristics of every human, regardless of physical boundaries of counties and culture. And just like The Namesake, this book thus has an universal appeal.

‘Hema and Koushik’ is the most intense of all the stories in my opinion. In particular, it has that rare definitive ending – the ending that came with the death of Koushik in the hands of the Asian Tsunami. It is finally death that put an end to all those questions that would perhaps have remained unanswered otherwise. Throughout the book, through the shared experiences of Hema and Koushik, the author has brought the two characters closer, even without the knowledge of the characters themselves. Koushik has seen his mom wither away, painfully, slowly but surely in the jaws of death from breast cancer and Hema, to some extent has shared this experience. Those pages where the author explains koushik’s emotional state as he goes through him mom’s terminal illness, her pain, her loss of hair, those days spent in injecting morphine that had to be administered just to suppress those pains yet not unable to avoid the finality of the disease, his dad’s over pampering his mom in every way is virtually impossible to read without taking a break – it’s too painful, it’s too much of a load. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one in a terminal illness would perhaps find it impossible to even finish the novel. So I would not recommend reading it at all. Others who would reach the end the novel like me would see that through these painful experiences that Koushik went through, the complicated and emotionally difficult times when his dad again married another woman of a completely different type – not out of love or luxury but out of a necessity, through his unique work profile and his ability to survive the harsh humanitarian conditions in the parts of the world where he visited, made him an unique individual. Only Hema could come close to understanding Koushik as they had grown up together with shared experiences. Unfortunately, until the time they confront each other in Italy, those days they spent together in bed, they never really understood how much they really needed each other. Unfortunately, by then life had slipped away from both of them. Hema would be going back to India to marry another man she hardly knew and Koushik would find himself a new job in Japan. Yet those days made a lasting impression on both of them and they finally found the love of their lives. The kind of love that one would cherish secretly all of one’s life never revealing yet existing … the kind of love that would make Hema wish that the life that was growing within her were that of Koushik’s and not her husband’s when she heard the news of Koushik’s death. Unfortunately, by then death had taken away all from either of their lives putting a finality to everything, putting an end to all the uncertainty and the questions and erasing Koushik’s existence altogether from all their lives just like it did with his mom … for Koushik had not left behind anything …. for they were careful in using contraceptives.

Yes, I cried when I finished reading the story. It’s very deep, very emotionally appealing, very thought provoking.

Concluding part: Vancouver snowstorm and Air Canada


Well, I came down to collect my baggage hoping to get done soon. To my frustration, my checked in baggage never arrived! I noticed that YYC too had a section where they kept unclaimed baggages and I looked there desperately in search of my lost baggage. Simultaneously, I could see a long queue in front of the Air Canada baggage counter. “c’mon, not again! gimme a break!”, I told myself. Not able to find my bag, I queued up as well to report the incident. Fortunately for me, I had too much time at hand. I arrived at YYC around 8:30 AM and my next flight was at 1:30 PM. I walked up to the man in the counter and produced the tags that Air Canada had given me while checking in. After a quick look at the computer, I was told, “we don’t know where your baggage is, it’s not here”! I reported my delayed baggage with full description and my temporary address in India and told them to forward it there. I was given a tag wit a baggage tracking number and was told to keep an eye on the baggages that would arrive from YVR with the next flight and report them if I find my baggage. I must also inform Lufthansa of my delayed baggage – thus came the instructions. Hence, I waited for a while till the baggages from the next flight arrived. My baggage never arrived and yet again, I found angry passengers forming a fresh queue in front of the baggage counter.

“The hell with Air Canada”, I told myself. I wasn’t prepared to wait for my baggage any longer. Fortunately for me, I had packed essential pieces of clothing and some spare extra clothes into my hand baggage along with all the valuables. I have learnt with experience (and also thanks to the movie “meet the parents”) to do this every time I travel long distances. I figured that I should be okay even if my baggage does not arrive in 2/3 days. I desperately needed to freshen up. Besides, I felt as if I was smelling from wearing all the stale clothes from the day before. So, I walked up to the nearest washroom, had a shower, changed clothes and made good use of the toiletries I was carrying with me. This worked. Now I was able to think clearly once again.

I took the nearest elevator to go down, walked up to the Lufthansa check in counter. I met two Lufthansa officials near the check-in machines and told them my story about the lost baggage. “You did everything right. I would suggest you to check in now. You can check in your baggage separately later if you find it” was the suggestion. I found the suggestion quite reasonable. Hence, walking up to the first class check in counter, I produced my itinerary and passport. A nice girl greeted me. I requested isle seats for both my flights and she happily obliged. Finding a friendly person to talk to, I told her my story about last night. She was appalled. “I am so sorry to hear this. You are having a terrible day. I am praying for you. I really am. I hope you get your bag in time”. “Thanks”, I said and received both my boarding passes. I was now secure.

I still had a few more hours at hand. I decided to take my breakfast and then explore YYC a little bit more. I knew there were some stores that sell cowboy hats. For a while, I wanted to have one of those. It was my last opportunity to buy stuff from “home” Canada and make use of the CAD I had with me. I had breakfast at Tim Hortons, a fresh cup of coffee – “ah, I am gonna miss this”, I told myself. I bought a felt cowboy hat and some other essential items/medicines for my long trip ahead. I charged my macbook and ipod and was all set for a 9 hour haul to Germany.

We left YYC (and Canada) at the scheduled time.

My 9 hours on board towards Frankfurt was uneventful. The girl sitting next to me was pretty boring and ugly, so I looked around for a better better company to chat with. Those flying long hours alone would realize that spending those hours simply with ipods, movies and books gets painful if you can’t talk to someone. At least it does for me. Across the isle, there was this young woman traveling somewhere in Europe with her husband and two adorable toddlers, a daughter of about 3 years and a son of about 1 year. My time was well spent watching the kids and talking to their mom. Every time her son started crying out loud, she would look at me with a funny face full of embarrassment. I wasn’t disturbed at all and told her that long flights are not only pain for us but also for them, so it’s not a big deal. “I have two more connecting flights after this. It’s going to be a pain ..”, she said with a north american/european accent. “I have one more to go, 8 hours! …” said I, and she looked at me with surprise. “Where are you heading?”, she asked. When I replied “India”, I could see her trying to figure out the geographical location of the country and trying to find a reason why it would take me 8 hours. “It’s okay, I am used to it”, said I. “Besides you don’t have kids traveling with you …. Have a good trip to India” she told me.

At FRA, as we got off and boarded the bus, we were greeted by -2 deg chilling temperature of the early morning. The day break was still a while away and we silently drove towards terminal 1.

My time at Terminal 1 was spent mostly on getting refreshed again, changing clothes, having shower once more, moving around and looking at duty free shops. I also spent a good amount of time looking at price tags and converting the amount to CAD. “One euro is 1.75 CAD”, I muttered and ultimately refrained from buying pretty much anything. “Yes, Euro is expensive. Ever since the dollar has gone down, we don’t do good business anymore. American travelers are unwilling to buy anything”, a merchant told me. A 13″ Sony VAIO laptop, 4 gig ram, 2.86 Ghz Intel core duo with 200 gig hard drive was priced at 1348/- euros. A 32 gig apple ipod touch was priced at 389/- euros.

I did spend some money browsing and checking the status of my delayed baggage. “Found/waiting for confirmation”, it read.

In due course, I boarded the plane that would take me to my final destination. The final leg of the journey was also uneventful. Finding no one else to talk to (I think south Asians are not, in general great conversationalists), I started conversation with one of the hostesses. I told her that I was meaning to learn German (close friends know already that I have been meaning to learn an european language for a while). I inquired about good German tennis talents of today, told her that I grew up watching Steffi and Baker* and hoped that Germany should produce more tennis stars like them in future.

After little more than 8 hrs, we reached CCU in the dead of the night. I spent the rest of the night at CCU and drove early morning to my former home.

The next 2 days I spent sleeping most of the time, trying to come to terms with jetlag and fatigue from the travel. In between I checked the status of my baggage and it read “received at airport/delivery process initiated”. On the third day (Dec 31st), I called Air Canada central baggage office again. This was a long distance call and I had to wait 20 minutes before being answered. “we think that your baggage is in Calgary but we can’t be sure”. “Do you guys know what flight schedule will be used to deliver my bag?”, I asked. “No sir, we do not have this information”. “Can I call any other office or person who would know this?”. “No sir, this is the only office you should call”, came the answer. I was totally pissed and at this point, for the first time, I lost my temper. I told the guy that I would take this up with Air Canada customer service once I get back and without waiting for a response, hung up.

I had already informed local Lufthansa office at the airport about my delayed baggage. They updated all the information on my file and told me that they would call me as soon as they had any news. On Friday morning (Jan 2nd), I received a call letting me know that there was a bag at FRA bearing my name scheduled to fly to CCU that night. “keep your fingers crossed”, the guy told me. Next day, Saturday Jan 3rd, I received another call letting me know that my bag has arrived and I can pick it up anytime. On the same day, I picked up my much awaited baggage from CCU.

The following are the after thoughts of this experience:

(1) I believe, this experience though painful, made me more educated that I previously was. So a part of me does not regret that I had to go through all this mess.
(2) I am not flying Air Canada again ever, unless I am really broke.
(3) I am probably dumping my travel agent. I don’t think they did a good job even though it was also my fault not to scrutinize the itinerary in the first place. I will be more careful next time.

===
* friends know that even today I am still a die hard fan and supporter of Graf who, according to me, is one of the greatest sports personalities world has ever produced.

Vancouver snowstorm, Air Canada and my travel plans to India


It all started on the day before Christmas, Dec 24th 2008. Unprecedented snow the day before and on the morning of 24th resulted in Air Canada canceling all short and medium haul flights from/to Vancouver. 22nd was the last day I had gone out to work for the year and I did find it extremely difficult to navigate the snow and the windchill outside. Thereafter, I stayed indoors and worked from home the next day and the day after. I did not quite realize how bad the situation was until the evening of 24th when I went out again and only then came to know about the flight cancellations. I also noticed Karen’s (someone I know from my gradschool days) facebook updates about her having to wait almost 6 hours before finally catching a flight to Haliax! I was scheduled to fly on 27th morning, my first flight to Calgary was with Air Canada. I was alarmed and disturbed. What was worse is that I had only an hour and half of stop over time between my connecting flights with Lufthansa and given the conditions, I was pretty sure that my flight from Vancouver would be delayed. You might ask why I chose not to fly earlier to Calgary when I booked my tickets? Well, it was my stupidity. When my travel agent gave me the itinerary, I did not quite go through it meticulously and sort of trusted their judgment. Besides, I had made my travel plans long back, during the summer of the same year in the middle of a busy period. I did not quite anticipate this unprecedented snowfall and severe weather conditions back then. The bottom line is, I was now screwed and desperately wanted to reschedule my flight and get a reservation to an earlier flight to Calgary.

I called Air Canada reservations on 24th evening and after the regular “severe weather conditions in certain parts of the country has caused flight disruptions. If your travel plan is imminent hold on else call later …” crap and being put on hold for more than one hour, no one responded to my call. All of the Christmas morning, I continued trying to call them but without any success. This was my second mistake. Instead of calling them, I should have directly gone to YVR and talked to the Air Canada reservation counter. On Christmas evening, the weather became slightly worse and even though by now I was determined to go and talk to Air Canada in person, I could not go out.

On the Boxing day morning I was pretty much determined not to wait any more no matter what. I went straight to Air Canada desk at YVR. After standing in the long queue for about half an hour, Air Canada told me that I should really talk to Lufthansa since my original ticket number was a Lufthansa number. Well, I headed straight to the Lufthansa desk at the International terminal. After understanding my problem and after a little effort, they were able to book me for a flight to Calgary on the same day, 26th evening. I also got a boarding pass right away. I was delighted and decided either to spend the whole night in the Calgary airport or call my friend who lives in Calgary and if it’s not a problem for him, spend the night at his place.

I came home at once. The flight was only few hours away. This was when I realized that me not procrastinating and doing some planning beforehand was intelligent thing to do and so immensely useful. I had virtually done everything that I wanted to do before I left. I had even competed 90% of my packing before 26th. Had I not done so, it would have been a mess. All I had to do now was some last minute things like getting rid of the garbage, doing some laundry, finalize the packing etc and I was ready to go.

On the evening of the boxing day, I left for YVR, fortunately I got a cab right away just in front of my apartment (there were 12 inch of snow all around). Taking this as a good omen, I headed towards YVR. I did not know what was still left in store for me on that day.

On reaching YVR, I checked in directly and headed straight to the designated departure gate.

I was waiting at the departure gate with no schedule information around and no flight updates available on the large display screens. As the scheduled departure time passed away, I became anxious. With no announcements, I decided to check the flight status online (YVR fortunately has free wifi). To my agony, I discovered that the flight had been canceled. What pissed me off was that there were no announcements whatsoever and no instructions on how to rebook alternate flights and collect our checked in baggages. Other co-passengers met with similar fate and one of them, traveling with entire family including small kids, broke into anger at an Air Canada official right there and then. With no announcements regarding where to collect our checked in baggage from, I became worried. I came back to the baggage collection area. I noticed large areas in the corner with lots of luggage simply dumped and left aside. I was told by a security officer that those were the baggages from the passengers of the canceled flights that remained unclaimed and I must find my baggage there. What a chaos and mismanagement! There were others too in similar shoes as I was and they too were looking for their own baggages. I must have spent more than an hour looking for my baggage and not finding it there when suddenly there was this announcement that fresh baggages from canceled flights from the evening were coming in on a certain belt #. It was about 9 PM by then! 2 hours has passed since the departure time of my scheduled flight! I immediately rushed for the belt and after waiting for another 20 minutes or so got back both my baggages! What a relief!

The next task at hand was to rebook my tickets. I went down and walked towards the Air Canada booking counters. To my expectation, I found a huge queue before the counter. Others, who had learnt a hard lesson trying to call Air Canada’s toll free number for a rebooking didn’t want to take any chances this time. At this time, for the first time in the evening, I felt a little better. I looked around and found so many passengers just stranded at YVR late on the boxing day. There were passengers who did not even live here and were looking for a hotel/INN nearby. The snow had yielded to rain by now and it was chilling cold. Lots of passengers decided to spend the night at YVR. Most of them were probably hoping to meet their family and loved ones on the Christmas day and were left stranded at the airport instead. I WAS NOT ALONE! After standing at the rebooking queue for an hour, I did finally manage to talk to an Air Canada rep. I explained to her that I was traveling internationally and I must make my connecting flight at Calgary. She managed to give me a wait listed ticket to Calgary in the 6 AM flight! She told me that even though it was wait listed, I would still probably get a seat. She also told me which queue to stand in the morning for checking in my baggage. It was almost 11 PM by then and I realized that my ordeal for the day was over. I couldn’t do anything more – I had done what I could and all I could do next was to wait patiently for my flight next day morning.

I wanted to have light dinner – so found a Tim Horton’s around that was still open. I finally got something to eat. I wanted to rest a little bit. After all, if I can make it, I will have a rather long journey ahead of me the next day. I know YVR pretty well. I realized that I would not get any comfortable sleeping areas in the domestic section. So I promptly walked to the International terminal. There too I found passengers wanting to travel to United States stranded and left to spend their nights at YVR. Fortunately, in spite of many sleeping passengers, I managed to find a place. I finally stretched myself and tried to relax.

Right now, as I recall the incidents, I am not sure how those hours passed. I did not want to read and stress myself. I was unable to sleep either. I spent some time chatting and browsing. For a while, I talked to others in similar shoes. I never had an opportunity previously to watch YVR during late nights. I found janitors cleaning the floors, people just falling flat on the ground trying to get some rest, stupid commercials continuously running on the TV screens and keeping us company, passengers with canceled or delayed flights or flights pretty early in the morning arriving late at night, the huge screen in front showing flight schedules for US bound flights on 27th …

I was trying to assess whether I should blame anyone for all this chaos and mess?! So many like me not able to be with their loved ones back home. So many spending sleepless nights at YVR. Who should take the blame for not letting us meet our loved ones? Is it going to be the city of Vancouver for collecting taxes from us and not remaining prepared enough for the snow? I had heard a few flying in from the east discussing how unprepared and inefficient Vancouver was as opposed to Toronto/Ottawa etc with regards to snow. They even went on to say that they were not looking forward to visiting the city again. Should I blame Air Canada for being grossly inefficient, incompetent and not being prepared to handle the weather and the rush during holiday season? Should we blame ourselves for not anticipating this and taking corrective measures? I don’t know. I am pretty sure there would be angry discussions on the cbc.ca regarding this but I had no energy left for the day to do any digging. Finally I felt asleep.

I woke up just before 4 AM on the morning of 27th. It was time for me to get ready. I freshened up and walked towards the check-in queues. To my surprise I found sleeping passengers occupying the floor and forming a queue at the same time. Passengers flying all over Canada could be seen here. I felt sad at the predicament of all these hapless people. We waited there until counters started to open just before 5 AM. To the surprise of many, Air Canada started calling for passengers flying at 6 AM. Obviously, those who were towards the front of the queue and had waited night long had no priority. Where as I moved forward, I could see angry passengers arguing with a certain Air Canada lady. I did not have time to think. If I were not to make the flight, I would be stranded in Calgary and also possibly at Frankfurt as well.

When I handed in my wait-listed ticket, the asian lady doing the check-ins looked at me with wrinkles as if I was in the wrong queue. I explained to her my predicament, that I must make this flight, otherwise I would be stranded elsewhere, outside Canada. I told her that I was instructed by an Air Canada official to stand in this queue the day before when the ticket was issued. She discussed it with a coworker, grudged that the flight was already full and then agreed to check-in my luggage with lot of disgust. When I told her that I had only one bag to check in, she was dissatisfied. “Only one bag? “, as if having more bags would be even bigger grounds for disqualification from boarding the flight as I was only a standby and confirmed ticket holders had priority. She gave me a wait-listed boarding pass with yellow tag and somehow (not sure how/why) checked in my baggage which was 2 kilos over weight. “good luck” she said and I murmured “I wouldn’t need your wishes to make this journey!”

I headed straight through the security checks, to the departure gate. I handed my boarding pass (the second person among the stand-by passengers) to the official there who would have the final numbers, explained to her my situation. She assured me that she would issue me a final boarding pass as soon as she had definite numbers about available seats. I met another funny interesting guy there who was traveling to meet his family in Saskatchewan (through Calgary). He was stranded for 2 days. He had spent the entire night before at YVR, just like me and also had a wait listed boarding pass just like me. We waited in patience.

Eventually, after clearing wait listed passengers with kids*, both of us got a confirmed boarding pass (with a seat #). We celebrated with joy. This guy called his dad to inform him that he was finally making his way to Calgary and that he should be home soon. What a final relief to be able to leave Vancouver! Our flight took off at 6:30 AM. We watched a beautiful day break from the window as we headed towards our immediate destination. “all my bad luck is now over with this flight”, I told to myself. I did not know what more was waiting for me at YYC. At YYC, I parted ways with this other guy – we had become good buddies by then and headed towards the luggage collection area.

(… to be concluded) …

* passengers with confirmed reservations were cleared first

Memoirs of Traudl Junge – Addendum


I believe my write-up on Traudl Junge would be incomplete without mentioning one more fact. I wrote in my note that non-Jewish population in Germany during the early days of the War were oblivious to Holocaust.  They were in fact living an increasingly comfortable life and for them Hitler had brought hope for the future and the belief that they could win the War. Of course, people like Hans Junge knew that something was wrong and one has to go beyond the shadows of Hitler in order to know the truth.  But aside these individual cases, there were largely two separate groups of people who felt the real truth. One group was that of those who witnessed the bloodshed themselves, with their own eyes. For example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_who_assisted_Jews_during_the_Holocaust lists most of these well known persons and the reason for them being recognized as the “Righteous among the nations”. We have seen one such case in the movie Schindler’s List. There are plenty more. There was one another group that also came to realize the truth and what was really going on. This group, lead by a young University of Munich professor, called themselves as the White Rose ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Rose). They distributed leaflets in the University … they could only distribute six of them during the period from June 1942 to February 1943. In one of these leaflets for example, the group writes:

Since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way … The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals … Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!
 — From the second leaflet of the White Rose.
Of course the Gestapo eventually caught up with all the members of the group and six core members were executed. Today, of course, we honor these brave young men and women who spoke against hitler in those days, knowing very well what awaited in their fate. One of the member of this group was a 21 year old girl named Sophie Scholl (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophie_Scholl)* As she was being questioned by the judge she is known to have said 
You know as well as we do that the war is lost. Why are you so cowardly that you won’t admit it?”
Scholl was born an year after Traudl Junge and died in the same year Junge started working for Hitler. Later, when Junge came to know about her from the memorials, she realized that it was not enough an excuse to be young …
Quoting Junge:
Of course, the terrible things I heard from the Nuremberg Trials, about the six million Jews and the people from other races who were killed, were facts that shocked me deeply. But I wasn’t able to see the connection with my own past. I was satisfied that I wasn’t personally to blame and that I hadn’t known about those things. I wasn’t aware of the extent. But one day I went past the memorial plaque which had been put up for Sophie Scholl in Franz Josef Strasse, and I saw that she was born the same year as me, and she was executed the same year I started working for Hitler. And at that moment I actually sensed that it was no excuse to be young, and that it would have been possible to find things out.
The movie Downfall ends with Junge speaking the above words …
=====

Memoirs of Traudl Junge


Now that I have let go my story, I can let go my life”  
– Traudl (born Gertraud) Junge (née Humps), Feb 10 2002
These were the last words before death from the woman who otherwise lead an ordinary and secluded life, except for one thing  – she was the youngest and the last secretary to the man whom the world knows as Adolf Hitler (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitler) . She was not only his last secretary but also was among the few people who were with the Führer until the very end and left Hitler’s bunker below the Reich Chancellery on the night of April 30th, 1945, the day Hitler killed himself. She also took down Hitler’s Last Will (http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/My_Private_Will_and_Testament) and the political testament (http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/My_Political_Testament). Therefore, as a person, she was immensely valuable to history. 
I came to know about her accidentally, just while browsing the pages of wikipedia  – something that I do as a means to unwind myself. I love and value history and her life interested me. After all, she managed to survive a complete and total collapse of a nation and begin anew. The last time I had read a personal account written during the time of the War was that of the Anne Frank’s diary (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Frank) . That was eons back, during my high school days. At that time, the holocaust (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust) became a hot topic of discussion and reading following the release of Spielberg’s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Spielberg) Academy Award Winning movie, Schindler’s List (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108052/). Unfortunately, the real truth of the holocaust, including the movie itself was censored from being read/viewed by young adults like us in India. So, honestly, much as I had loved to read Frank’s account and her juvenile thoughts and experiences, I failed to understand the bigger truth about the War itself. In years to come, I did began to realize the true events but I was too busy with my career and events of my personal life that I could not explore it in any depth. Now I have some time of my own to devote to reading and learning.  So, out of interest, I started reading her memoirs which was published a few years back, in German (and later translated to English) just before her death. 
Immediately after the War (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II), through her then lover Heinz Bald, Junge met a prosperous entrepreneur who was Bald’s patron. This person was fascinated about her past and insisted that she should write down her memories of her time with the Führer. Over the next few months, she wrote about 170 pages of manuscript in her leisure time, at evenings and weekends. She loved to write and this would also serve as a document in case and official asked about Hitler and the circumstances of his death as a part of the War investigation. However, in the climax just after the War when everybody as trying desperately to move forward and forget the past, her story never got published. For a long long time to come thereafter, her account remained unnoticed and unpublished. Over the years she started feeling an extreme guilt of having served the person who she termed as the ‘greatest criminal ever lived’ and doesn’t feel any urge to publish her writing. 
In around the year 2000, she met an Austrian journalist, historian and author, Melissa Muller (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melissa_Muller). Her first meeting lead to many many more and Melissa encouraged her to publish her work.  Over the course of next two years, Junge discussed her life, thoughts and her account of her days with Hitler. Finally, with her help, the world comes to read her account for the first time, in 2001 in her book “Until the final hour”, in German. Two years later, her book was made into an Academy Award nominated movie, “Downfall” in German (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Der_Untergang) . The movie currently ranks #73 in the IMDB’s list of all time top #250 movies. 
In the following paragraphs, I will give my own thoughts about the book, some quotes that I found interesting and some of my thoughts about the movie Downfall. 
One of the things I felt as I read through the book is that the book is very complete. It’s not just Junge’s memories of her days with Hitler but it is also about her complete life. The first section of the book deals with her family, her upbringing and her youth. Its a very interesting read. It’s as if the girl Getraud Humps, her life and her character is slowly unfolding before our eyes. This tale is written not by Junge, but by Melissa and describes how, through a series of coincidences and events, Junge got an offer to work as Adolf’s secretary.  It’s a fascinating read. The chapter concludes at a time when Junge has already started working for Hitler, at the Wolf’s Liar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfsschanze). It is from here that Traudl Junge’s own account begins, the account that was written way back in 1947.
The book is complete from other respects too. For example, the notes at the end of her account gives a brief but important facts of the lives of all the different persons Junge mentions in her book. For instance, the note about Heinrich Hoffmann says: 
b Fürth 12 September 1885, d Munich 16 December 1957; works in his father’s photography business; 1908 sets up independently in Munich; 1920 joins NSDAP, membership number 425; 1933 becomes member of the German Reichstag; 1938 given the title of Professor by Hitler; 1945 interned by the US army, released May 1950.
From these accounts, you  can track down the fate of any person who finds a special mention in Junge’s account and with whom she has worked and interacted with. This also includes numerous persons, including her husband, Hans Junge (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Hermann_Junge) who was an orderly working for Hitler when Traudl came aboard. 
In the last section of the book, Melissa chips in again to fill in the gaps. She describes Junge’s life after the war. In the writing, she describes what had happened to her after she escaped from Hitler’s bunker. This is also extremely interesting reading. Through a series of good and bad lucks, she finally finds her life back together again, together with her mom and her sister. Melissa also quotes some of the letters Junge writes to her mom after the war when she begins to find her life back again. They are so emotionally rich and very satisfying to read. Melissa’s writing continues to describe Junge’s later life and events; some of which are good and some bad; her relationship with Heinz, the breakup, the new relationships etc etc etc. 
As you can see, the book in itself is a complete record of a person’s life and experiences. This is one of the most important criteria for which the book is a satisfying read. The reader gradually realizes how a young naïve girl, who started out aspiring to be a ballerina (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballerina), ended up working for Hitler, accompanied him until the very end, as a entire nation came to a  complete collapse and then again through a series of interesting experiences, managed to survive the destruction and gather her life back again.* 
In the second half of this writing, I will put some interesting quotes from the book, put my views about the movie Downfall and then finally conclude.
                   … To be concluded
———-
* Although it is my personal opinion that Junge made some critical mistakes in judgment throughout her life that ended up in her leading a more or less melancholy existence, her involvement with Hitler and her constant sense of guilt.

Memoirs of Traudl Junge – concluding part


This is the continuation of my write-up on the memoirs of Traudl Junge …


From the very beginning of the writing, it becomes apparent that Hitler had become a fatherly like figure for Junge. This feeling of her’s was intensified by the fact that Junge had seen very little of her own father during her childhood (her mom and her dad were divorced when she was still very young). From early on and even later throughout the entire writing, you can see that this young little girl was so absorbed, thrilled and caught up by the fact that she was working for the head of the state that when Hitler asked her whether she would like to work with him, she could not say “no”. This was in spite of Hitler’s warning that “she was still very young, there were so many men … and soldiers feel particularly strongly attracted to the Eternally Female .. in short I (Junge) must be a little careful and not too forth-coming“. Junge started officially working for Hitler on January 30th 1943.

Traudl Junge does an excellent job of describing her initial experiences at the Wolf’s Lair. She describes meticulously the total environment, persons she started interacting with, the orderlies, the SS men, her co-workers – the rest of the other secretaries and even Blondi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blondi). Soon, in March 1943, she moves, along with Hitler and rest of pretty much everybody else to Berghof (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berghof_(Hitler)). I can’t remember reading another crisp and crystal clear description of a big mansion before. Unfortunately, the Berghof was completely ruined by the Allied bombings during the War and whatever left was destroyed and set to fire by the SS fleeing from the place. Finally the nail was struck in the coffin when the Bavarian govt destroyed the shell fearing neo-Nazi movement in 1953. All that now remains is the description from these pages 😦

Junge describes cleanly Hitler’s daily schedule, his military meeting in the morning, his grand lunch with his guests and the ladies in the afternoon, the little walk to the tea house in the evening and the final dinner late at night. It was here, during the tea house or after the dinner that Eva Braun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eva_Braun) shot some of her mute videos and photos that later survived the War. More recently, a lip-reading software was able to decipher some of the conversations in those videos. Fascinating! However, Traudl Junge describes snippets of those conversations in her writing. I can’t help wondering, reading those conversations that the Nazis were able, to surprising abilities, with all their propaganda and amazing oratory skills, hide the true nature of the War from the non Jewish German population as well as those in the Führer bunker. Its no wonder that person like Junge believed what they were made to believe, like rest of the other German population. To the members of the Führer bunker, Hitler seemed to be that charismatic almost heavenly figure who would protect everybody at all times and eventually give Germany the victory that would finally end all the suffering and pains. Its amazing to think that even when it became apparent to the German military forces that on victory were now possible, people still held on to Hitler and assumed that he still had some magic trick, some reserved strength left under his sleeves that would prevent a total collapse. It is only towards the final days, when Germany faced total and complete destruction all around that reality could no longer be hidden and eventually people started understanding what had really happened.  But I will come back to this point a little later.

Among those that Junge discusses repeatedly is Eva Braun. About Eva Braun Junge writes 
” … She was very well dressed and groomed, and I noticed her natural unaffected manner. She wasn’t kind of ideal German girl you saw on recruiting posters for the BDM or in women’s magazines. Her carefully done hair was bleached, and her pretty face was made up – quite heavily but in very good taste. Eva Braun wasn’t tall but she had a very pretty figure and a distinguished appearance. She knew just how to dress in a style that suited her and never looked as if she had overdone it- she always seemed appropriately and tastefully dressed, although she wore valuable jewelry. …” And again “… Eva wasn’t allowed to change her hair style. Once she appeared with her hair tinned slightly darker and on one occasion she piled it up on the top of her head. Hitler was horrified “you look totally strange,quite changed. You are an entirely different woman!” … and Eva Braun made haste to revert to the way she looked before. …” * 

About the relationship between Eva Braun and Hitler, she writes 
” … Apparently he (Hitler) could not understand that a woman’s beauty alone is not enough of a foundation for a good marriage. Yet on the other hand, it wasn’t just Eva Braun’s beauty that attracted him. He often took his chance to talk to us about Eva.  He phones her every day and if there were reports of an air raid on Munich, he would pace up and down restlessly like a caged lion, waiting to get in touch …  So it was mainly her human qualities that bound Hitler to Eva Braun….“. When asked why he had not married Braun, Hitler said “I would not make a good father and I think it would be irresponsible to start a family when I can’t devote enough time to my wife. And in anyway, I don’t want children of my own. I think the offspring of men of genius usually have very hard time of it“. Traudl goes on to say ” ... it did disturb me a lot to find someone describing himself as a genius…“.

Among the very few people who could question Hitler’s decision and oppose him openly other than Eva Braun was Albert Speer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Speer). Known also as ‘the good Nazi’ or ‘the Nazi who said sorry’, he died only a few years back, in the 80’s. Speer was an architect and in those days when Allied and Russian bombings were destroying much of Berlin, Hitler would discuss how we planned to rebuild the city and give it a new shape, using the architectural plans designed by Speer. Unfortunately, today, none of his architectural works remain. About Speer, Junge writes: 
” He (Hitler) had special fondness for Albert Speer. ‘He’s an artist, and a kindred spirit,’. he said. ‘I have the warmest human feelings for him because I understand him so well. He is an architect like me, intelligent, modest, not stubborn military hothead. I never thought he would master his great task so well. ….Speer was certainly very pleasant, likable character: not by any means a party functionary, not an upstart but someone of real ability who did not lower himself to be a mere yes-man. Remarkably, he seemed to be one of the few people from whom Hitler would take contradiction. He (Hitler) himself once said, ‘When I work a plan out with Speer and ask him to do something, he thinks it over and after a while says, “Yes my Führer, I think that can be done”, Or perhaps he may say, “No, it can’t be done, not like that” and then he gives me convincing arguments why not’ … Speer did wear uniform for he held an official position and what is an official position without a uniform? However, his uniform was always slightly incorrect, and he never looked military in it … I never saw him intoxicated and he did not join in any of the parties thrown by people who knew Hitler …

The movie Downfall correctly portrays some of this. In the final War days, Speer visits Hitler one last time before permanently  leaving Berlin as the Red Army and the Allies close in. Speer tells Hitler “My Führer, I must tell you one thing … there are documents that can prove that at times I have not only ignored your orders but also acted contrary to those”**.  Hitler looks at him with disappointment but with great helplessness, does not utter a word. 

Like I was saying before, most people remained mesmerized by Hitler’s charismatic presence and totally oblivious to what was happening to the outside world and even to themselves. Junge was no different as is clear from her writing 
 … No rumors reached us, we heard no broadcasts from the enemy transmitters, we knew of no other attitudes, no opposition. We heard only one opinion and one belief ruled here … It was not until I had gone through with it to the bitter end and returned to ordinary life that I could see it clearly as that. At the time, I suffered a vague feeling of dissatisfaction, an uneasiness for which I could not find a name …If only I had been as mature and experienced as I am now I wouldn’t let myself just be carried away, or have absorbed Hitler’s ideas so easily and uncritically. Then I would have been bound to wonder about the dangers present in the power of a man whose gift for oratory and power of suggestion could hold people spellbound, simply suppressing their own will and convictions … it took and entire and total collapse, a really bitter and many deep disappointments, before I could see clearly and with any certainty … “. 

But then there were few, who understood what were happening to them. For example, about her then fiancé and later er husband, Hans Junge, Traudl writes: 
” … He was one of the few people to realize that in the long run, Hitler’s ideas would have such an effect on you that in the end you would not know what you had thought of yourself, and what was due to outside influence. Junge wanted his sense of objectivity back. He had applied several times to go to the front, which was the only way he could give up his job with Hitler. …” *
  
When Hitler insists her to get married with Hans, Traudl writes: 
… Now I was at a fix! For a moment I looked at him dumb-funded because I’d had absolutely no intention of committing myself so firmly to the relationship when Hans and I had known each other for such a short time. I tried desperately to find some good argument against the idea … I was wondering why the Führer should take any interest in my marriage. Love isn’t an affair of state, this was my own private business and I was quite annoyed to have such a VIP meddling with it. All the same I was surprised to hear Hitler say, ‘But you two are in love, so its best to get married at once! …’ How I could explain to him that love in its own isn’t always reason enough to get married straight away? …”. Nevertheless, the two get married pretty soon and their “married bliss lasted four weeks, while we went on honeymoon to Lake Constance, and then my husband joined the army and I moved back to headquarters.
 
Traudl Junge’s work took her from Berghof to Wolf’s Liar, to Hitler private apartment in Berlin to the Reich Chancellery. There are numerous small and significant incidents that are exciting, thrilling and even sad and painful to read. I won’t bore the readers with these details. Besides you really ought to read the book in order to have fun from these experiences. I will also not describe the detailed facts about how things came to a complete collapse eventually. You can read them in any history book.  If you want to take a short cut and decide to watch the movie Downfall, bear in mind though that the movie only faithfully reproduces Junge’s experiences in the last 10 days of Hitler’s life (from April 20th 1945, Hitler’s birthday to April 30th, 1945, the day he committed suicide). When I say faithfully, I mean ‘to the extent possible while dramatizing Junge’s written memoirs and filling the gaps where necessary’. There are several historical incidents that happened in those days of chaos and war that can never be proven or known for certainty. Historians have debated these facts for ages and they have often taken two or more different positions. Of course, while dramatizing, one has to choose between these different beliefs and perhaps use the one that is the most popular. Downfall does the same. But aside these facts, I think the movie is as authentic and true to history as it can possibly be. Here’s an excellent link in Russian that shows the real life pictures of the real characters against the actors in Downfall playing the same characters: 


In the movie, young and charming Romanian actress Alexandra Maria Lara (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandra_Maria_Lara) plays young Traudl Junge and she plays her part to absolute perfection. Bruno Ganz plays Adolf Hitler and you can see the amazing similarity between his makeup and the real Hitler in the picture below. All these little little things makes Downfall rank #73 in the IBDB’s to #250 list. 

I will end this write up by quoting Junge’s reaction to the 20th July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_20_Plot)  and her experiences in the final days of her life in the Hitler bunker.

About the 20th July plot: 
“... The assassination attempt of July 20th was the greatest possible misfortune for Germany and Europe. Not because it was made but because it failed. Hitler saw all the unfortunate coincidences that foiled the plot as his personal success. His confidence, his certainty of victory and his sense of security, his consciousness of power and his megalomania now really passed beyond all the bounds of reason. … They (SS men) were acting as if they had won a hard battle and a great danger had now passed. They congratulated the Führer on his miraculous survival and we stood there and let their mood infect us, we went on believing in him (Hitler), never realizing that the die had already been cast to decide our fate that day. … He (Hitler) made a short speech intended to show the German nation that he was uninjured. He thanked providence for averting a great misfortune from the German people … We listened, isolated and dazed by the frenzied aura of superior confidence radiating from these heroes of 20th July, and it never occurred to us that thousands of listeners out there were groaning in disappointment, burying their hopes and cursing the fate to which Hitler was so grateful. I still thought we had to win the war because otherwise all the terrible things Hitler had mentioned would happen, and they meant the end. …

The writing continues and the War continues as well, getting grimmer and grimmer every day. Finally another 20th April arrives. 20th April, 1945: Allied and Red Army stood just outside Berlin. In the bunker people have gathered to celebrate Hitler’s 56th birthday. 
In the evening, we cramped together in the little study. Hitler was silent … We asked him if he wouldn’t leave Berlin. ‘No, I can’t,’ he replied. … We said nothing and the champagne we were drinking on his health tasted insipid. For Hitler had now said out loud what we had long seen, with terror, with certainty.: he himself no longer believed in victory. He retired early and the party broke up. but Eva Braun came back once she had lead Hitler to his room. A restless fire burned in her eyes. She had on a new dress made of silvery blue brocade; it was meant to be worn to a party at the side of man she loved. Hitler hadn’t noticed it. And he hadn’t noticed that there were four young women at his table who wanted to live, who had believed in him, who had hoped for victory from him. …” 

Junge told us later that her hatred for Hitler began from this point onwards. This is for the first time she started to realize the emptiness in Hitler’s words and how volatile and precarious their situation was. There was no one to depend on, no one to trust. No escape for the terrible destiny that awaits them.

“... Eva Braun wanted to numb the fear that had awoken in her heart. She wanted to celebrate once again, even when there was nothing left to celebrate, she wanted to dance, drink, to forget … I was only too willing to be infected by the last strings of lust of life and get out of the bunker where the heavy ceiling suddenly weighed down so palpably on our spirits … Eva Braun wanted to dance! Never mind who with .. we drank champagne, there was shrill laughter and I laughed too because I didn’t want to cry. … This was a party given by ghosts …

You really ought to see the movie Downfall in order to feel the above lines. It was recreated to perfection. 

22 April 1945: Feverish restless in the bunker. All hell is let loose outside. Hitler stands motionless in the little anteroom outside his study. … ‘A plane is leaving in an hour and will take you south. All is lost, hopelessly lost.’. … I don’t want to say it  but it comes out of its own accord; I don’t want to stay here and I don’t want to die; but I can’t help it. ‘I’m staying too’, I say.

From here on and in the rest of the pages, the writing continues to get more and more morose and grimmer until the final day 30th April arrives. When everything comes to a final ending, life almost stops in the bunker. On the night of that day, Junge along with a few other people decide to break through the Red Army barricade and escape. From then on, a new life, a life of uncertainty,  struggle, unspeakable pain and hardship and fear begins …

If Junge were alive, I would have told her two things. First, she does not owe any apology to anyone. There is no reason to feel guilty and sorry for her past. And secondly, I respect her and all those who chose life to death that day. We need to remember and respect and draw example from those who showed tremendous courage and determination to survive and see through those days of misery; having lost everything; having to face fear, death and extreme misery every day.  My deep respect goes to all of them. She was a very courageous woman indeed.


To conclude, I will touch upon one final quote from Traudl Junge:

“We should listen to the voice of conscience. It does not take nearly as much courage as one might think to admit to our mistakes and learn from them. Human beings are in this world to learn and to change themselves in learning.”

– Traudl Junge (16 March 1920 – 10 February 2002) 

===========
* These quotations were added to Wikipedia as a part of enriching it’s historical content. More quotations will be added in due course. 
** These words were actually taken from Albert Speer’s memoirs which he wrote in jail while he was serving his sentence. To quote wikipedia: “In the published edition of Inside the Third Reich, Speer relates that he confessed to Hitler that he had defied the Nero Decree, but then assured Hitler of his personal loyalty, bringing tears to the dictator’s eyes”