Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hammarskjold returns from where life resounds

Consider: a born aristocrat with family lineage going back to the 17th century; son of a prime minister; an accomplished economist, career diplomat and author; foreign minister at 44; and, of course, the secretary-general of the United Nations at the age of 48. Dag Hammarskjold had everything going for him.

Yet, there was an ineffable sadness in him, borne out of that certain loneliness that refuses to go away. Which was what first attracted me to him when in the coziness of a bookshop in downtown Helsinki while on a holiday from Moscow, with a raging January blizzard outside knocking at the glass panes to be let in some 35 years ago, I thumbed my fingers through the volume of poetry titled “Markings”.

What instinctively struck me was not so much Hammarskjold as that W.H.Auden had edited it and written the Foreward to that Faber edition. And Auden begins recalling what drew him, in turn, to Hammarskjold. If my memory holds good, Auden said something to the effect that in the cocktail circuit in New York (where he lived in exile after leaving Britain) in the late 1950s, he often noticed this enigmatic man holding a glass of whiskey and standing uncertainly in a corner of the hall, all by himself, unable to engage the gregarious guests in small conversation. The tension within him was palpable.

Auden one day walked up to him and introduced himself. An introspective, brooding diplomat is an oxymoron. Yet, I could understand.

Through that afternoon and evening in my Helsinki hotel room I read through ‘Markings’, Hammarskjod’s spiritual diary which was found among his papers and published posthumously — on themes as varied as fear, scourge of war, anarchy, loneliness, alienation, the human condition… What hurt me most was a painfully frank poem where he brooded:

“I am being driven forward / Into an unknown land. / The pass grows steeper, / The air colder and sharper. / A wind from my unknown goal / Stirs the strings / Of expectation. / Still the question: / Shall I ever get there? / There where life resounds, / A clear pure note / In the silence.”

Did he finally get there where life resounds? I think he did. Although a mist quickly surrounded him — the mist of the Cold War. There has always been the lurking suspicion that the western powers who picked him for the job in the UN in the high noon of the Cold War and even had him re-elected for a second term as S-G, felt relieved finally when he died. Shades of Thomas Beckett!

Hammarskjold’s closest relative has now demanded that the file be re-opened and a fresh probe be conducted about the circumstances in which the plane in which Hammarskjold was travelling was brought down and the UN’s top man was killed even as he was pushing the envelope for Africa’s liberation. Big Cold War skeletons may tumble out of the western's ZIOCONNED cupboards if Ban Ki-Moon digs deep for truth about the most infamous White House Murder INC,....