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Sunday, October 21, 2001
Article

Paper chains and violent men
Rooma Mehra

The collage, Paper Chains, by the writer
The collage, Paper Chains, by the writer

WHEN in late 1991, I received a chain letter for nuclear disarmament in the world, my pen friend, Mimouni Benaouda in Algeria was one of the first people who came to my mind as the next link in the chain. I included his name without hesitation in the list of ten friends who I felt were concerned enough to make the effort to keep the chain going.. and the thought of peace alive in a growing chain of human minds. I had not written to Ben for over two years and, surprisingly, neither had he. Surprising, because in the four years of our pen-friendship till 1989, his letters had arrived with unwavering regularity.

A few days later, I found a letter from Algeria waiting for me when I reached home from office. But the handwriting was unfamiliar. With an intuitive sense of foreboding, I opened the letter. It was in French.

Two years before, while I was still corresponding with Ben, I would have had no trouble in understanding the letter.. as his English and my French had improved considerably in the seven long years of our communication. That day in December 1991, however, I did. I could understand nothing. Or maybe I just did not want to believe.

 


Next day, I took the letter to one of my French speaking colleagues for translation. The letter was from Benís sister Kheira. The contents, conveyed to me in the shockingly impassive tone of a disembodied mechanical translator, the news of Benís death. Kheira was surprised I had never replied to her letter, written in November 89, telling me about Benís brutal murder. But yes, she would continue the chain of letters for nuclear disarmament, not only because the thought had always been so close to her brotherís heart, but because she believed in it herself. She would first get the letter translated in French.

It was in 1985 while I was studying French at the Alliance Francaise that I had come across an unusual advertisement in a French magazine. "Can I hope to find one person in this world so full of hatred and violence who believes in peace and friendship? I am looking for a sincere friend."

Ihad responded immediately, trying, as I best could, with my extremely limited knowledge of French that there were still many sincere and peace-loving people in this voilence-infested world. I had posted the letter, thinking if not my sincerity, my French would definitely let me down.

Benís reply came promptly. All his letters began with a small prayer in Arabic to Allah. The rest was in simple French and some broken English. Carefully pressed between the sheets, invariably, was a pressed flower.

My chain of thoughts was wrenched asunder by the onslaught of a sudden huge guffaw from the adjoining room occupied by my insensitive translator friend. The same way, I thought cynically, as our paper chain for nuclear disarmament would be broken by the next explosion. Then I cursed myself for getting unreasonable annoyed by someoneís happiness. Havenít we long lost the sensitivity to feel remorse at the murders of strangers?

And as for poetic severing of nuclear disarmament chains.. what is the strength of paper chains in a world of constantly exploding bombs, dying people and power-hungry minds anyway?

The sad answer stands reaffirmed today.

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