Archive for August, 2012

Russian Books and our childhood.

During our childhood, the smell of Soviet Union was there in the air and water of Kerala. India had USSR as the greatest Comrade till that great nation dissolved on 25.12.1991. Pictures of Marx, Engels, Lenin & Stalin were very common in the walls of houses in our area. Soviet Union Magazine used to be the single English magazine available in our villages. My father also had subscribed it. I still keep a few copies of the same as one of my most beloved treasures. Every children loved it because of the attention it can fetch if you use the pages of the Magazine to cover school Note Books! A calendar of Moskovskie Novosti (Moscow News) also is there with me. Though a few of my friends had ‘Misha’ with them, I was not fortunate to possess it.

Our libraries had Malayalam Translations of a lot of Russian Novels. Though I’m not a good reader, the Malayalam translations of ‘Anna Karenina’ of Tolstoy, collection of short novels of Chinghiz Aitmatov titled ‘Tales of the Mountains and Steppes’ and English version of stories written by Alexy Tolstoy can still be recollected easily from those books I read during my childhood. The same was only due to the love and admiration generally everyone in our society had towards USSR. About Pushkin and Mayakovsky…, at least we children and the vast majority of non academics were unaware. Really I feel proud to tell that a lot of effort was put in during that time to read the Malayalam translation of ‘Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism’ written by Lenin, though I could hardly understand. When I was a student of Bachelors in Science in Physics during 2001, I was amazed to discover that a 1984 Soviet Union Magazine had published a better article about Superconductivity than what I studied in my College. 

Chinghiz Aitmatov– Image Courtesy:

Among the Russian books I read during childhood, the one which influenced me unfathomably is the ‘Tales of the Mountains and Steppes’ by Chinghiz Aitmatov (This book was the winner of Lenin Prize for Literature in 1963), specifically the long story “Duishen (First Teacher)”. The pen picture created by Chinghiz of Kirgizstan Area is re-produced below [I pray Chinghiz (expired on 10.6.08) to pardon me for not taking his permission to post his wordings here. I felt this is inevitable, and it has the powers to fill everybody’s mind with a blossom of imaginations]:

Our Kurkureu village lies on a broad plateau at the foot of the mountains, with noisy little streams rushing down to it from the many gorges. Below the village spread the Yellow Valley, a huge Kazakh steppe, hinged with the spurs of the Black Mountains and the dark line of the railway running away to the horizon, to the west, across the plain. 
And on the hill behind the village there are two great poplars. I remember them since I remember myself. From whatever side you approach our Kurkureu, the first thing you see are the two poplars, standing on that hill like beacons for all to see. I can’t clearly explain my feeling.. perhaps it’s because the memories of childhood are particularly precious, or maybe it has something to do with my being a professional artist.. but anyway, every time I leave the train and start driving homeward across the plain, I stare my eyes out while still a long way off to see if my dear poplars are there safe and sound. Tall though they are, I could hardly expect to see them from that distance, but to me they are always visible and tangible.
Next morning, when we girls went to fetch water from the stream, we saw Duishen wading across to the other side…..
One day, carrying bagfuls of dry cow dung for fuel, which we usually gathered at the foot of the mountain behind the village, we decided to go and see what the teacher was doing in the old stable. This mud building had once belonged to the bey. He kept his mares there, which had foaled in the winter. Then Soviet power was established, the bey went away, abandoning his property. Nobody even went there and the place was overgrown with burdock…

We dropped our bags on the ground to rest a bit, and at that moment Duishen came out. He was spattered all over with clay and looked startled at first, but then he smiled at us.
“Where do you come from girls?” he asked, wiping the sweat off his face….
Those bags are bigger than yourselves,” he said. I’m very glad you came because, after all, it’s your school, you know. It’s almost ready for you. I’ve just finished building a stove of sorts, and there’s the chimney, see? Ah I have to do now is get in a supply of fuel for the winter, but that’ll be easy, there’s plenty of thistles growing all around. We’ll put lots of straw on the floor to sit on and start lessons. Do you think you’ll like going to school?”…

My beloved Altynai:
Soviet Union Magazine
1987 July Coverpage

I was older than the others, and so I felt it was up to me to answer.“I’ll go if my aunt lets me.” 

“Why shouldn’t she, of course she’ll let you, why not? What’s your name?” 

“Its a good name. And you’re a good girl. I’m sure, eh?” He smiled so pleasantly it warmed your heart.

The moment this Altynai name appeared, the child in me felt her as my dream girl, the girl in Soviet Union Magazine’s 1987 July Coverpage… and this Kirgistan is Puthanvelikkara (refer my previous Blog in this Series titled ‘Background-The picture of my village’), where, in the place of two Poplars we can find the two Coconut Trunks welcoming you to the village. The theme of the story is Education; the magician Aitmatov not only spoke about the brave and determinant Duishen, but also took me to the School with Altynai. Most importantly, at this age, when I started dreaming more and more about the still intangible concept of ‘Spirituality in Management’, my definition of bliss unknowingly got attached inseparably to the mental picture of long steppes and water dripping from the leaves of two Poplar trees…  


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 -The picture of my village


Those ex-kids like me (read a socioeconomically average Indian child) who belong to the group of children born in 1980s were blessed by this nature with the most beautiful childhood, which could be enjoyed in its fullest. Yes, ‘childhood’ was there for children who were born prior to ’80s and after 80s as well… but the period of their childhood is not marked by exponential growth of Science and Technology while still having the country sides almost in the non-extensively exploited and non-contaminated condition. More over intensity of poverty was comparatively less and at least bare minimum education/ health/ transport facilities, cloth and food were available. 
End of ’70s was like renaissance in Kerala. Paradigm shift had taken place by that time in the social system; land reforms was implemented by the 1stEMS ministry and feudalism had almost been wiped off. Art, Literature and even general thinking of people were progressive. College students passed out with an imbibed passion for changing the world in one go…
However, during that time, most of the people around us wouldn’t have dared to imagine India one day becoming on par with developed nations
The village named Puthanvelikkara where my childhood memories converge into (my maternal home is situated here) is almost like a micro island, which stretches from the bank of one river and to the bank of another river. Country boat service only was available to cross the rivers and go to the Town (Aluva, Ernakulam or Parur). Nature created this place in the canvas of 2 colours- green and blue, further turquoise also by combining these two. Paddy fields, Narrow tar roads, a few petty shops, 2 schools, a Govt. Hospital, a Primary Health Centre, a few temples and churches, a Ration shop a Toddy shop and a small market were added features. Though a Police station also was there, we could hardly see them  during those days. Everyone was known to the other. We could go nowhere without talking to at least ten persons.
The other side of one of the rivers had the stories of a small Jew settlement there. We still have a Jew synagogue (but all the Jews have shifted to Israel or other places long back), Hindu Temple, a church and a mosque situated in close vicinity. These Gods are living in harmony now also amidst the general communalist compartmentalisation of this world.
A large rock is standing in the middle of the river; we call ‘him’ Manavalan Paara (bridegroom rock); He bends the time dimension towards him like how a black hole captures whatever matter goes near to it.
Subsequently, a Junkar Service was started to ferry people and vehicles from one side of the river to the other. The poor man’s Kadavu became a boat jetty. Now two big coconut logs used for tying the Junkar (a boat with a platform on one side which can carry vehicles) marked our entry point welcoming the people to our village. Our poor villagers were contented with the unpaved roads.. there were no TVs and Telephones, even no electricity in many households. The village moved in tandem with the pace of bicycle tyres. Motorcycles and scooters belonged to the upper middleclass and Cars, that too only ambassadors and Contessa on our roads, belonged to the then super rich. The movement of rural life was set as per the timings of local buses, which were available once in 4 or 5 hours. All women travelled in the pillion seat behind their husbands in motorcycles, were invariably beautiful. I also wanted secretly to own a Motorcycle when I grow up due to this single reason.
We had a lot of trees and flowers everywhere, we stole guava, mangoes and cashew fruits wherever we came across those things on our way to School. Cone Ice creams and Ice sticks costed around 10-20 cashew nuts, which some of us could manage.
River, flood, bushes of bamboos, fruits, secretly purchased 5 paise candies, country boats mossy but tranquil school/ temple/ church exteriors, thousand faces smiling around…richly filled the canvas of our childhood so as to provide the best context in the nature-nurture duo of personality formation.
We had the real friends, all older children in the area used to assume the role of elder brothers, taking care of the younger ones. Our Knickers sometimes did not have a proper zip or button, at times not serving the purpose knickers is intended for, at times revealing our ‘boyhood’ through the ‘void’ of the knickers,… these revealings often accompanied by shoutings of old ladies in that area. 
… we have enjoyed flood by sailing through the flood waters on a platform made of the trunk of Banana plant, …we have enjoyed the stigma of not being allowed to talk to girls, …we have enjoyed playing with the drooping breasts of very old grannies, whithout really knowing about sex…
No computers and internet, no crowd, no cut-throat competitition starting from the primary schools… blissful days… Today’s youngsters may not realise the significance of such a life… But I cannot define the process of life with anything lesser than this.
(to be continued..)

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