An elegy that should not have been written

An elegy that should not have been written Loading

Hubert and I are holidaying at a beach resort. It was Hubert’s birthday yesterday, which was a Monday. So we arrived at the resort on Saturday and we plan to check out today.

I woke up this morning with the feeling that my whole world will come crashing down on me. Not just that. That it would be triggered by a small, innocuous, seemingly unrelated incident.

We were having breakfast and I wanted to tell Hubert about it. A couple of times, I tried. But as I opened my mouth to say those words, they sounded silly to me. So I swallowed them along with my hash browns.

We were back in the room and I was packing up. Hubert suddenly said, I don’t know why Maria is calling me so many times.

Maria is our housekeeper. I said, call her back Hubert, maybe she wants to greet you for your birthday.

I went back to packing. I heard Hubert talking to Maria. I heard him ask, but nothing happened to you, right? Then I heard him say, we are leaving in half hour, we will come to your place directly.

Maria met with an accident, he said. She says the scooter is badly damaged and is at the police station. She has sprained her ankle and has some small cuts and bruises, but nothing major. We will have to go to her house before going home.

We met Maria and her family. She was shaken from the accident and I think she was more scared that I will scold her for damaging my scooter. I scolded her but not for the scooter. I scolded her for not wearing the helmet.

We picked her and her husband up and went to the police station. The scooter was registered in Hubert’s company’s name and although it was bought for me, I had hardly used it. And when we moved to a new apartment 5 miles away, I gave the scooter to Maria so she could continue to work for us.

So I sat in the car and logged on to Netflix on my tab. A movie called The boy in striped pajamas caught my eye and I started to watch.

It was a holocaust story. It was the story of a commandant, Ralf, in charge of a concentration camp in Germany during Hitler’s time. He lives with his wife, Elsa, an eight-year old son, Bruno, and a twelve-year old daughter, Gretel. Their home is separated from the concentration camp by a sparsely wooded area which can be accessed through a door in their backyard. At the end of the woods is the concentration camp.

The family has just moved from Berlin, presumably because the Fuhrer was pleased with Ralf’s loyalty and was promoted to head the concentration camp in the countryside. The children are home-tutored but Bruno misses his friends from Berlin, more so because he has no one to play with.

He is told never to open the back door by his mother. That obviously makes him more curious and one day, when his mother is away, he manages to escape into the woods and reaches the barbed wire of the concentration camp. And meets Shmuel, who is also eight years old, but on the other side of the barbed wire.

The movie is about their friendship. Above all, it is about their innocence. This is not the place for me to tell you the plot of the movie. Suffice it to say, Elsa hates the place and she shudders every time she sees smoke coming out of the chimney of the concentration camp. There comes a point in time where she decides to move to Heidelberg with the children.

Bruno hates the idea of moving as he and Shmuel have become best buddies and Bruno has decided to help Shmuel find his father who seems to have got lost somewhere in the camp. So Shmuel brings him a set of striped pajamas which is the uniform in the concentration camp, Bruno manages to dig under the barbed wire and in a chillingly, achingly playful mood, manages to go over to the other side of the barbed wire. In other words, into the concentration camp.

The situation spins out of control from there on. The two boys get caught up in a chaotic swirl of naked human bodies, ushered into a chamber and gassed. Elsa and Gretel rush to the barbed wire, see Bruno’s discarded clothes lying on their side, and the trench under the barbed wire tells them that Bruno has crossed over.

Ralf rushes into the camp just as the gas is blown in and the chamber shut.

And I sat in the car for more than an hour, shattered to bits.

It occurred to me that up until that point in time the only holocaust movie in which I had sobbed my heart out was Life is beautiful. After watching The boy in striped pajamas, I couldn’t even cry. I just sat, devastated.

Hubert came and we drove home. A couple of times he asked me why I was quiet. I stayed quiet.

Around 8 pm, I said, Hubert, have you seen a movie called A boy in striped pajamas?

He said yes, I have.

Around 10 pm, Hubert said, did I ever tell you, my grandfather was the commandant of a concentration camp?

I said, Hubert, just because you’re German, don’t make such horrible claims.

At 11 pm, I said, Hubert, please tell me you were joking?

He was quiet for a few minutes. Then he said, no, I wasn’t joking. I lived with my grandparents in the backyard of a concentration camp till I was ten years old. Then my grandfather retired and we moved to Berlin.

Hubert and I had met on an online matrimonial portal. He is German and I am Indian. It was a December romance. We were both in our fifties. It was the second time for both of us. All I had known about Hubert was that his parents had died in a car accident when he was barely a year old and he had gone to live with his grand parents. He became a surgeon, got married to a fellow doctor, had a daughter, and then became a widower.

That’s how I found him on the portal. We met, spent six months getting to know each other and finally when he popped the question, it was a foregone conclusion that I was heels over head in love with him. We have been married close to 3 years now. Not a day has passed since when I haven’t looked at him and thought, what a fine specimen of a man he is.

Today, at 11 pm, I looked at him and felt bile rising in my gut.

I spent the night at the airport and took the first flight back to my home.

My world had crashed. And it had been triggered by a small, innocuous, seemingly unconnected incident.




Nandini Vaidyanathan is the founder of Carma Connect ( which mentors entrepreneurs, teaches entrepreneurship in ivy league business schools across the world, writes on entrepreneurship (has written two best sellers), climbs and treks. She loves to live life on her terms, using her discretion and not someone else’s.

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