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‘When You’ll Leave Me’ :Paradigm of Patience and Poetic Protest

Ratan Bhattacharjee

Penelope the wife of Ulysses patiently waited for her husband for nineteen years to return home to Ithaca from the Trojan War. Winnie Mandela gained nearly mythic quality by her long wait for husband Nelson Mandela’s release . But Liu Xia who waited for her husband knew that he would never be released and the last eleven years had been days of isolations and anguish .‘I know sooner or later the day will come / When you’ll leave me/ And alone down the road of darkness’- wrote Liu Xia about her dear husband Liu Xiabo ,the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate of China who breathed his last after eleven years of being behind bars  with dreams of human freedom .

These were lines from one of  Lu Xia’s  poems to be published in her forthcoming book in which she wrote about the constant police watch and her pain of loneliness caused by  her own house arrest by the Chinese government. Her agonized voice was louder in the poems where she wrote about the sufferings of  her husband Liu Xiabo, China’s most prominent human rights advocate, who was suffering from liver cancer and not released even for medical treatment  during his long imprisonment for protesting in the Tiananmen Square.

These words are not just those of a wife but of all those who uphold human rights and whose hearts bleed for human sufferings. She led the solitary life of an intellectual simply for being the spouse of an imprisoned activist. The last lines her husband wrote for her as a tribute  just before his demise which showed his great love for his wife reflecting his own  isolation and anguish  will be in the introduction of the book  :”Love as intense as ice, love as remote as blackness”. In another poem Liu Xia wrote :“I don’t know where you are /But nowhere you are / You are always the air/ And for this reason I don’t care”. Lu Xia’s love for freedom and her anguish reminds us of Winnie Mandela whose bitter –sweet relations with her imprisoned husband led her to write poems although unfortunately there was a divorce appeal. But the emotional relationship was no less warm for the Mandela couple. When Mandela was in prison, she was the spokesperson for Mandela as Liu Xia too had been all her life for  Liu Xiabo. The world could connect to her husband only through her .

In violation of human rights, China has no parallel. The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 were student –led demonstrations in Beijing. But it gradually took the shape of popular movement against the evil effects of market economy which reached a small section of elites. Common grievances at the time included inflation, , restrictions on political participation  and freedom of the press. Liu Xiabo was the key organizer of this protest. The Chinese government drew widespread condemnation for its suppression of human rights activists and became nearly a pariah country and was increasingly isolated on the global platform in spite of its participation in free trade . China was known to the world as a repressive regime although it tried to show itself as a global economic and military partner. But the  way Chinese government ill-treated the democratic activist Liu Xiabo who always staunchly supported non-violence astonished the world. He was a blood cancer patient and even on that ground he was not released.

Liu Xiabo said : ‘I have no enemies’ but China proved that its government regarded him as their worst enemy. Liu Xiabo once said “Free expression is the base of human rights, the root of human nature, and the mother of truth. To kill free speech is to kill human rights to stifle  human nature and to suppress truth.”  China is constantly doing that by keeping human rights activists under strict police watch. Westernisation is not the only salvation of China. So by protesting against it Xiabo only tried to focus on indigenous culture and tradition of China. Liu Xiabo was not just a politician . He was a writer , a professor  and a key leader during the Tiananmen Square protests and led a life of fearless activism. He started a poetry group ‘The Innocent Hearts ‘ and gained fame as a quarrelsome literary critic for his outspoken voice against China’s suppressive regime.

After his demise in the prison democratic voice is really numbed and the human activists are ‘alone down the road of darkness’ as his wife  Liu Xia wrote in her poem. His only crime was that he could not bear the pain when he saw over ten thousand people arrested for protesting against the violation of human rights in China. He was at that time working in Columbia University in the US. But he left the job and returned home only to protest against the crackdown. He was arrested on charges of ‘state -subversion’ which was nothing but a justification of Chinese suppression of the democratic voice in the name of national security. His wife Liu may now be treated the same way and her voice too may be similarly muffled. World leaders are all appealing to allow his wife to leave China for living the last days of her life in mental peace. Her agonies are unbearable. But it is still uncertain if China will at all respond to the appeal. Her husband was imprisoned on Christmas Day in 2009 and the Nobel Peace Prize came to him in 2010 which China regarded as ‘blasphemy’. So there is no hope for the release of  his widowed wife. She will have to live a painful life as the icon of patience and poetic protest  by remembering the days of separation with her beloved husband She was alone on the dark roads  and the darkness will prevail . Only how long she does not know as do all others who love democracy in China. Liu Xiabo died but he will remain the loud voice of  non-violent struggle for fundamental rights in China. The responsibility is probably left to his poet wife Liu Xia to whom he rightly gave the tribute, “Love as intense as ice , love as remote as blackness”. This is a story of human love, conjugal love and love for humanity and freedom.

Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee, Associate Professor and Head , Post Graduate Dept of English Dum Dum Motijheel College is a columnist and poet.  He can be reached at [email protected]

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