To Russia, With Love

To Russia.....With Love


It was an Indian childhood immersed  in Russian books ,stories and characters.
Though we lived in plains of Northern India, I dreamt of snow covered lands of Taiga and Tundra. 'Mitushka' was to me as 'Kanha'  was to other kids! and all adventures of Aldar kose, Badi Buddhi wala Chota Ivan and the highly intelligent and beautiful Buddhimati Vasilisa  compete neck to neck with Tenaliraman , Singhasan Battisi and Vikram and Betal ,while the Baba Yagas and cruel Baaay (landlord in russia) gave Mahishasur a run for money..er..print.

The strange charm of birch, Balut, firs and poplars conquered me  hands down while I read them under the shady Neem of our ancestral home.. The castle of The Three Fat Men and life of SU-OK  was a dream .

Su-ok

The Three Fat Men

There was this  pro-Soviet environment in our home. We the Gupta-Mahalwaala family used to receive Soviet books and newsletters at economic  prices via International Post. At that time (and maybe still ) the books were published by Raduga  or Vostok Prakashan. Raduga's icon was a single stemmed gentle tulip like flower bowing shyly in side an ellipse.
The Raduga books were good in paper quality, had sturdy and neat binding and smooth, creamy pages with black letters shining like jewels guiding me to unknown lands...
Their illustrations mostly had Ink Blues and deep violets playing  happily with bright yellows and pure whites.

'The Little Red Cock'- I heard,learnt,sang,
retold to my cousins. Now my kids have
learnt it,enacted it as a play, reinvented it by
changing the wheat grains with chocolates, chips
and coke cans and sending the cat and the bird to
 jobs as a Scientist and a teacher respectively,
instead for wood-cutting!
 As I look  back, I can vividly see my parents talking about the Soviet customs,dresses,festivals and dances. We used to get calendars with picturesque scenes of rural Russia, women dancing ,wearing colourful skirts with scarves on their heads, flowing braids and lots of merriment. The Soviet Sangh magazines with large pages and beautiful pictures were eagerly awaited. 

The Soviet magazine and Osho's newsletters ,both had a similar look but  I could easily differentiate simply by their colour ... Osho's were brown and coffee based while Soviet ones were in shades of blue .

The Russian touch went on with our lives till the demise of my father after which the newsletters and books by post ,ceased to come. So,there was a gap of about 10 years ,duly and successfully  bridged  by other books which Mum's shack and her college library could provide.They were good but let's talk about them in another post :)


Aldaar  kose
When I reached University I came within reach of Meerut bookshops and my search for Russian books restarted and came to a dead end as Messrs Lal and Co. Book Shop didn't keep Soviet Books! Even his estranged (hearsay) brother and business rival The Loyal Book Depot  was bare of those jewels.
Disheartened, I  gorged on Christie, Hardy and Munshi Premchand .

Then chance knocked !
The famous Nauchandi of Merrut came up with a solution in the form of a Blessed tent-shop of Soviet Books!!!
Nauchandi Fair, Meerut
The old Raduga Publication after such a long time!!I touched them and met them as with a long lost friend...
May God Bless that man who put that  tent in the fair. Raised on brown, rain sodden earth ,supported by bamboo sticks with only a black tarpaulin as a cover for books against sudden torrents, it had all the magical and mysterious qualities a soviet book shop must have. From here the Russian journey continued with Maxim Gorky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Boris Polvoi, Ivan Turgnev and many more.....



books at Nai Sarak, Delhi
From then, this love for books had taken me to many places.From Chandni Chowk , Nai sarak and Dariya Ganj of Delhi to Hazrat Ganj of Lucknow, from bylanes of Meerut to Avenue Road  of Bangalore, from Rues of Pondicherry to second hand book shops of Mysore.................. every where for one single purpose-  in search of literary gems..

Its been a long time from when I was a child, carefree and happy..... these books are my memories of that sunny time, of that home cooked food by mum, my father's lap , of long walks in wilderness of Daakpathar (Dehradun) with my parents and  of conversations of Books.....Soviet Union Books.....of Mitushka and Najanu, of birch trees and of lots of lots of snow....

With Love to Russia.


8 comments:

  1. Nice one, Kokila. I think these were my first books too. My aunt's office used to be next to Russian embassy in Chennai. So whenever my grandparents would visit our home, she would buy some and send it along with them for me. I loved those books as a child. But it is now twenty years since I have set eyes on them. Maybe I should look them up again.

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  2. Wise thoughts Karthik. They never let you down with their witticism and simplicity plus being our firsts of childhood that special bond is also there.

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