As Germany marks the 30th Unity Day many thoughts go through my mind. As a person of multiple ethnicities, I tried my best to understand and fit into the populist definition of “nationalism” that exists today among the majority of Germans. It is unique in its own sense and nowhere in the world one finds such an ideological and altruistic national identity. I am half German and half Indian and was always confused about my cultural identity until the Unity Day 30 years ago. My father belongs to the state of West Bengal and my mother’s family is originally from the city of Dresden but after the war they settled down in Düsseldorf. The Germany of the 60’s and 70’s is not the same as today.
In fact, Germany is divided into three types, contrary to what the world knows as East and West Germany. Yes, you read it right! The three parts exists till date, only in a metaphorical sense though. They are East Germany, West Germany, and Unified Germany since 1989. I belong to a generation that had the privilege of experiencing all three types of Germanies in one lifetime. More than me, my mother had the privilege of experiencing four types of Germanies (add wartime Germany to the above three Germanies).
Childhood and History
My mother used to tell me her experiences and wisdom as bedtime stories. She is a lovely woman who is very independent in her outlook towards life. My mother, though born to Christian parents, always respects every religion (alike) and had a particular affinity towards Hinduism. She still has an altar in her home where she has the pictures of famous gods and saints from India. My grandmother is a pious catholic and hard-working woman who had a tough life. She belongs to that generation which has also seen 3 types of Germany (Weimar republic, Nazi Germany, Postwar Germany, or cold war Germany). During school we had to study the infamous world war and the heinous crimes committed by Nazis against humanity during the war. I got to know about my grandfather when I was 13 through my mother and she made sure that I never talked about him in front of my grandmother. My grandfather was enlisted in “Luftwaffe” (German Airforce) and was declared “missing in action” in an African campaign in 1942. Therefore, my grandmother had to raise all children by herself without anyone’s support.
My grandmother never spoke to me about the trauma that she has gone through because of war but she used to scold me whenever I had leftovers on my plate, telling me how hard it was for them to get food, though we never experienced the scarcity of food during my childhood. I was too small and naïve to understand what war can do to a country. I was told later by my mother that her wartime experience has caused hysteria (a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder) about food. That night my mother explained to me why she always behaves the way she behaves.
The bedtime stories
She told me about the hardships that grandmother had to endure during and after the war. “You have to imagine that after the end of the war, the major cities were full of debris and rubble" said my mother.
“Really,” I whispered to my mother, hugging her close on her bed.
"There weren’t enough men to do this heavy work. At the end of the war, the German Reich was missing 15 million men", she continued
“What happened to all of them?”, I asked her curiously.
“They had either fallen or become prisoners of war”, my mother replied.
My mother took an album from the storage next to bed and showed me the pictures of war-torn Germany and her few childhood pictures of her relatives who either got killed in action or exiled in the Soviet Union as POW (prisoners of war). She became very emotional as she showed it.
Source: Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1976-137-06A, Koblenz, Trümmerfrauen
“If everyone was in jail who has built our house how come I hardly see any remains of war or rubble on the street”, I asked my mother.
She replied “shakti”. I was flabbergasted and perplexed at the utterance of the word “Shakti” and was not able to understand what she explained and fell asleep afterwards, totally forgetting the topic the next day.
Many years later at university, I was researching the topic “Trümmerfrauen” (rubble women) for a seminar and the word “shakti” passed through my mind but only vaguely remembered the whole episode of my mother trying to explain what shakti means in my childhood but never bothered to ask her more details about it.
As a part of my comparative theology course, I had once gone through a scripture on Samkhya philosophy, where I read about Prakriti and Shakti and I realized that Prakriti shakti is a Sanskrit term used in yogic philosophy to denote "power/energy/force of creation." By now I joined the dots and vividly recollected what my mother explained. The two words, prakriti and shakti, are sometimes used interchangeably, but when they are put together, they refer to the overall energy that brings nature into being and sustains it. Shakti (Prakriti?) represents the immanent aspect of the Divine, shakti symbolizes the feminine activating power/energy that is involved in the act of creation. I tried to settle the pandemonium in my mind for once and for all regarding this topic.
It occurred to me that the answer given by my mother, “shakti”, is a metaphor. She used it to describe the role of women in building post war Germany. The words Shakti or Prakriti are metaphorical equivalents. Prakriti is composed of three Guans i.e., Rajas, Sattva and Tamas. It is created by the grossification of the five of the Elements in their subtle or fundamental nature. The five basic elements are air, water, fire, earth, space. But to perform the process of grossification Shakti (feminine activity (active?) energy) is required. Shakti is a qualitative term referring to energy/power/force. This is what German women have become in post-war Germany. I was immediately exalted by my “Erfindung” (discovery) and relate well to what my mother explained years ago. This has a significant meaning not just for me but to the whole world.
The enlightenment and emancipation
I felt more connected to Vedanta, which is part of Hinduism, than before. This understanding has solidified my faith in Shakti and cleared my mind in coming to terms with my identity as a woman who was born during the Cold war Germany to a German mother and a Hindu father. This small event marked the beginning of my journey as a Hindu living in Germany, who can embrace her Hindu identity and German identity simultaneously. The wrong notions that I had about the role of women in Hindu society that I picked up and learned from my schoolbooks and church got smashed in one go. My spiritual journey has also begun by now.
Of the four types of Germany only one Germany exists today not only in my mind but also in the minds of my fellow Germans. It is the Germany that is built by Shakti, /or in other words “Trümmerfrau”. It did not just sustain; it also flourished and changed the history of Europe and in turn the world. It openly accepted another type of Germany called east Germany and embraced the new world order through its economic miracle. It aligned itself to play a positive role in the world. Therefore, it is important to note what happens to an individual if he/she worships shakti. The same will hold true for a nation state and the testimony is Germany.
Author: Bhairavi Weber
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