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     Volume 8 Issue 68 | May 8, 2009 |

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Roman Column

Notes from Last Month

Neeman Sobhan

Although the phrase 'In like a lion, out like a lamb' is said about the month of March, which normally storms in with gusty winds and torrential rain and then makes way for a gentle, smiling spring; this year it has been more true of April.

On the 6th of last month, April arrived, quite literally for some, with a roar. Many inhabitants of the hilly towns of L'Aquila and Onna up in the Abruzzo mountains south of Rome, recalling the day the earthquake hit their homes, described the sound to the roar of a lion.

A month later, crowding in their makeshift tent-homes, they still feel mauled by the beast that sprang from the bowels of the earth and lay waste their lives. Today, they hang between hope and frustration, between Berlusconi's lofty promises and the Camorra Mafia's petty siphoning of funds, to return to some semblance of their former homes.

'Tendopoli' or the city of tents in the Abruzzo, though very well organized with hot showers and soup kitchens and even a makeshift school for children, is hardly the 'camping weekend' Berlusconi airily called it. No one is sure if the government will be able to build the new city they promised to by the end of summer. And what a summer this is proving to be, with rains and many aftershocks from a restless lion that is still burping and belching away underground.

Those of us in Rome who have wonderful memories of summering in the lovely medieval town of L'Aquila and the other villages of the Abruzzo, not only felt the shockwaves from the earthquake physically but also in our hearts. L'Aquila in Italian means 'the Eagle' and I pray that this magnificent bird will soon lift its wounded wings and fly again, gracing the skyline with its rugged beauty.


It is wonderful to share ones culture with outsiders; and so, when a group of us Bengali ladies who form the Bangladesh International Club of Rome collaborated with the Bangladesh embassy to produce a cultural show for an international audience to celebrate Pohela Boishakh, the experience was fulfilling at many levels. The entire month of April passed in organizing the show. But the best part, for me, was training a group of my Italian students from my Bengali class at the University of Rome, La Sapienza. Learning to do Bengali dances with us was for them like an immersion course, because every practice session was filled with Bengali food, Bengali chatter and Bengali chaos!

The final show, for a two hundred strong audience was a great success; and for me, it spelt a moment of cultural uniqueness and of unity drawn from disparity, when at the end my students came and took a bow dressed in Bengali clothes along with the other participants and said 'Shubho Nobo Borsho!' I still don't have the pictures from the show but have some from a dress rehearsal.


This has been a month also of some birthdays. One was of a friend of mine who suffers from Lupus and has lost use of her legs. I wrote about her in one of my columns called 'Magic Feet' and I don't hesitate to reiterate how much I admire Gita for her courage and spirit. She was a swimmer, tennis player and a very active person, but even now, nothing dampens her enthusiasm for life. I threw a lunch party for her and her many well wishers. The day before had been one of drenching rain, but as we sat out in the unexpectedly sunny terrace she said, "I feel sorry for those who are suffering from some illness. But look at us, how lucky we are to be here together, good friends in good health enjoying this wonderful weather…."

I learn so much from my friends. I am an optimist myself, and I admire women who take on life with positivism and courage. But when talking about the bravery of the spirit, I think in my books, the place of honour is reserved for my other good friend Tazim, who I salute for being the bravest most extraordinary woman I have ever known. Overcoming a physical infirmity, however debilitating, is physical and can leave at least some part of ones mind and heart, perhaps less affected. But my wonderful friend Tazim, who lost her 18 year old son some years ago in a car accident, is a monument to courage of the most difficult kind---emotional, spiritual, maternal. A private person, she has lived and battled with her loss quietly, and with unbelievable courage and spiritual strength has shown a face to the world which has never seen her without a smile. Unselfish, undemanding, generous, loving, forgiving and modest, she would be embarrassed to be told this to her face, but I think she is a walking angel and an inspiration to other women in the divine art of acceptance and uncomplaining fortitude.

I am lucky to have such strong spirited and admirable friends. But among the birthday girls this month is a normally bubbly, gorgeous looking one who for the first time was depressed with her birthday this year. To her I say, it is normal to encounter the lows along with the highs, but as long as we share these moments with our trusted friends and allow them to see us through them, we could learn from these down-times. I know the next birthday will be better, Angela!
But, the most remarkable birthday girl this April is the famous Italian Nobel laureate in medicine, Rita Levi-Montalcino who just celebrated her 100th birthday on the 22nd. Still elegant and vibrant, in an interview she remarked that her mind is sharper now than it was in her twenties! Reading her biography one can see that it is her love of a simple and healthy life, her concern for others rather than herself, her willingness to think new thoughts, and ultimately her strong will that has seen her through a fulfilled life.
Hers is a blessed life and may we all know the satisfaction of living such a full and happy life in service to others. I end my scribbling with prayers for those who are homeless, devastated, ill or suffering (both in body and soul) and I wish that this new month that has come, thankfully, not roaring may stay meek and gentle as a lamb. Yes, may May be whatever we wish it to be.


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