While hunting for a quick snack in the kitchen earlier today, I came across some overripe bananas overlooked in the haste of the last week. Their particular aroma brought memories of things I thought I had forgotten. When I was growing up bananas used to be rare (note: I grew up during communism not WWII to avoid confusion ) – supplied to the shops occassionally and obtained by queueing for a long time unless you knew someone from the shop who would put some aside for you. This was buying under the counter, as we used to call the widespread practice of getting hold of both staples and luxury items, a rather dubious and fluid distinction due the vagaries of socialist economics (and economies).
The best time of year for bananas and other ‘exotic’ fruit was before Christmas and as children we would get a bunch of them on St Nicolas day. This holiday would not be known to the Anglosphere crowd – it is based on a Catholic saint St Nicolas and a particular tradition attaches to it. On the night of December 5 to 6 children put a boot on the window sill in their bedroom, which gets filled with gifts. We used to get chocolates, nuts and bananas, all of which rather precious and not to be eaten all at once. The trick was to make them last as close to Christmas as possible when the next batch of goodies was due. This can get rather tricky with bananas, as you can imagine. As a result, the smell of overripe bananas has strong association with something to be treasured and savoured. Strange, but true.
All this I have forgotten, or thought I had. I have spend the last decade or so trying to get away from it all, not by forgetting the limited and unfree world I was born into, but by building a better one of my own. The tiny joys found in the previous life, despite its twisted nature, were never enough to outweigh the damage done to people’s lives. And this should never be forgotten.
One of the reasons I find so hard visiting my native country is that I resent the fact that people back there carry on as if nothing happened. I bear a grudge against the easy forgiveness (or forgetfullness?), with which those who lived there in the past 50 years seem to treat the past.
I am not saying that I am right to feel this way only that it is how I feel. Intellectually I understand the need to move on, build a new life with opportunities that the changed world offers. What I cannot come to terms with is how those who suffered a death of thousand daily betrayals can go on living and working with the same people who spied and reported on them to their communist masters.
What must never be forgotten is that oppression does not come from the Big Brother alone, with his secret police, tortuous interrogations, human rights abuses, prisons and newsworthy front-page evil deeds. It is sustained, day by day, by the Little Brother with his neighbourly gossip, petty jealousies and revenges, frustrated ambitions or simple narrow-mindedness and prejudice. All these feed the beast of authoritarianism, which in the end devours its own.
So what’s with the bananas? They made me realise how far I have come in cutting myself off from the past whilst keeping the anger about it alive and close to the skin (pun not intended). There are many more stories to be told, not just by me but by others too. Understanding of the past comes from the everyday and mundane, the stories and memories. They form a more solid basis for historical patterns and trends that a purely analytical perspective cannot give. I speak as someone who studied international relations at a Western university and had to deal with the revisionist and ‘progressive’ theories. It was good to be forced to translate the suffering and evil I knew into the fuel for arguments against the various breeds of socialism, communism and Marxism that still permeate the Western academia. And I barely scratched the surface. For those who want research and sources there is always the Black Book of Communism, which is amazingly accurate and erudite.
In the meantime, I shall deal with my own
bananas demons from the past, one by one.