memento mori

 I just finished reading Stolen Lives by Malika Oufkir. I came to know about her book quite inadvertently as I was sharing some memories of Morocco with a friend. I actually was talking about the baby elephant that my father, then Ambassador of India, had shipped for the King's daughter Lalla Amina. This friend told me that this incident was part of the book written by Malika Oufkir. The name rung a bell as she was one of the playmates of the Princess and as did spend many week ends at her palace, Malika was one of the little girls I too played with.

It took me some time to get a copy of the book but I eventually did. The first pages were very much part of my life and brought memories rushing, memories I had. It was also sad to know that the baby elephant had to be shot as he did not get used to the local keeper and attacked him. But it was the rest of the book that was a real shock. When we left Rabat I must have been 8 and Malika 7. For some years our lives seemed on track but when she was 19 everything changed for her. Her father was involved in a plot and assassinated and she and her mother and siblings were locked away for almost 20 years in the most inhuman conditions. She and her family survived because of the indomitable grit of this 19 year old. She fought all odds and mounted a daring escape that eventually brought their plight to the world and the first step to freedom.

Reading her story was not easy and that for more reasons than one. First and foremost there was an immense sense of guilt at having had a privileged life while someone I shared happy and merry moments with had to go through pure hell. I know there was nothing I could have done but still it made me sad. Then I also felt a sense of betrayal as my parents and I had fond memories of the royal family and knowing that one of them could put children through such hurt - Malika's little brother was just 3 when they were put away. I also felt tremendous respect for this woman who had been robbed of her best years and still had the courage to share her story and reclaim her life back. My life suddenly paled compared to hers and my admiration for someone I had known just as a shadow to a princess. I somehow wished I had known more of her.

I tried to find a picture from those days but could not find one with her. I am sure that if I rummage through the umpteen packets filled with sepia memories I will find some. However I did find one of Rabat and stared at the little girl I was. Strangely just looking at the picture brought so many more memories, some worth sharing. That is when the words memento mori came to my mind. These are the words a Roman general asked a slave to repeat to him as he walked during a victory parade. I guess the best translation would be remember you too will die and the best explanation that nothing lasts forever. There is a lot of wisdom in this and a lot to learn. But to me, at this instant they took another connotation: remember you will die, and with you will die all your memories unless I wrote them down. And I do not mean just happy memories or the ones that make you look good. If I have to be honest then even the darker ones have to be written.

This blog is not the right place to do so so I will write about the anou before pwhy in a blog I have decided to call memento mori.