ANAMIKA

'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

To Russia, With Love...

"A certain man lived in the forest by the Blue Mountains. He worked very hard but there was always more work to be done and he had no time to go home for his holidays. Finally, when winter came, he felt so terribly lonely that he wrote to his wife asking her to come and visit him with the boys. He had two boys: Chuk and Gek. They lived with their mother in a great big city far, far away—there was not a finer city in the whole wide world.Day and night red stars sparkled atop the towers of this city.And its name, of course, was Moscow."

Thus began the children's novel 'Chuk and Gek' written by the Soviet writer Arkady Gaidar. I read it long ago, in a Malayalam translation published from Moscow -those were times when the Soviets were 'our' best friends,. Here is an English translation: http://www.vidyaonline.net/arvindgupta/13r.pdf

Chuk and Gek and Mother undertake an eventful train journey - which goes on for "a thousand kilometers, then another thousand" and then travel a hundred kilometers in a sleigh thru the 'taiga' - with bears and wolves lurking around... When they reach the Blue Mountain camp, Father is mysteriously absent....

The book had plenty of lovely monochrome illustrations by one Dubinsky and their subtle shades of grey unravelled, to our Keralan eyes, the bleak wintry beauty of the steppes and the taiga ... (the above online source does not have these).

******

Much later in life, I happened to read this bit by Paul Theroux:

"AFTERWARDS, whenever I thought of the Trans-Siberian Express, I saw
... a clear sight from the window of our green and black steam locomotive. From Skovorodino onward, its eruptions of steamy smoke diffused the sunlight and drifted into the forest so that the birches smoldered and the magpies made for the sky. I saw the gold-tipped pines at sunset and the snow, lying softly around clumps of brown grass, like cream poured over the ground; the yachtlike snowplows at Zima; the ocherous flare of the floodlit factory chimneys at Irkutsk; Marinsk in early morning, black cranes and black buildings and escaping figures casting long shadows on the tracks as they ran toward the lighted station. I thought of the ice chest of frost between the cars....."


For all the rich prose, there probably was not too much *love* lost between Theroux and Russia, for that matter between Theroux and *anything*...

******

And last week, thanks to Vitthal, we watched David Lean's 'Doctor Zhivago'(*) - although not quite a great film, it certainly has been made with a certain affectionate love for detail...

The highlight of the movie is a journey made by the doctor and family from Moscow to the Urals and beyond in an abject cattle train, in the severest winter. And this 10 minute portion has a *density* of beautifully composed shots, the like of which I have hardly ever seen in any other movie; the doctor opening a tiny crack-like window - braving a sharp blast of chilly air - to catch flashy glimpses of the icy landscape appearing through the dense clouds of 'steamy smoke' from the engine, the train clanging over an iron bridge across a frozen river, a sunset on the Taiga ...

Although it was filmed in Spain/Canada/Finland, I am pretty sure the Ruskis would have been much pleased by this visual tribute to their vast country.

******

Well, to reveal the ending of Chuk and Gek's adventures, there is a happy family reunion at the Blue Mountain camp and they celebrate New Year with Father's colleagues.

Here is the conclusion of the novel:

"Now sit down, everybody," said Father, glancing at his watch. "The main part of the programme is about to begin." He switched on the radio.They all sat down and waited in silence.At first it was very quiet. Then they heard a noise, and the sound of motorcars honking their horns. Then there was a sort of scraping and hissing, and from far awaycame a melodious tinkle.Big and little bells were ringing a refrain like this:

Teer-lil-lilli-dong!Teer-lil-lilli-dong! Chuk and Gek looked at each other. They knew what that was. It was the golden Kremlin chimes pealing out beneath the red star of the Spassky Tower in faraway Moscow.And those chimes—on the eve of New Year—were heard by people everywhere—in town and hillside, in steppe and taiga, and on the blue seas.And, of course, the preoccupied commander of the armoured train, the one who waited so vigilantly for Voroshilov's(**) orders—he also heard the chimes. Everybody stood up. All wished one another a Happy New Year. And lots ofhappiness. Each understood the meaning of happiness in his own way. But one and all knew and understood that they must live honourably, work hard, and love and cherish the vast, happy land known as the Soviet Union."


I still remember myself wondering a generation ago: "Why such a hyper-strong dose of patriotism?"

The answer can be pieced together now, thanks to Wikipedia.

Arkady Gaidar, a staunch communist, wrote this story in 1939, when the threat of war hung over the entire world.

Here is another sample from the book. Gek has a nightmare:

"an ogre mean Stood spitting spit that burned and seared
And swung an iron fist and sneered.
Past raging fires, o'er trampled snow!
The soldiers goose-stepped row on row.
They dragged along the vilest dross
A Fascist flag with a crooked Cross"


This demonizing of Naziism was a bit of an anachronism. In 1939, the year when Gaidar wrote the book, Nazi Germany, though not a friend, signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviets (and Stalin collaborated with Hitler in a very cruel conquest and partition of Poland); and 'Barbarossa', the invasion of Russia did not happen for another two years. Maybe this terrifying vision was inserted into a later edition of the novel ...

**********

And when Hitler did invade Russia in 1941, Gaidar, though he was probably medically unfit for military service (he had been injured during an earlier operation against the 'whites' in the Russin Civil War), joined a group of partisans and fought as a machine gunner - and died in action in October 1941, just 3 months into what would develop into the most horrible military campaign in history, the only happy thing about it being the final defeat of Naziism.

....

And a couple of generations down the line, his grandson Yegor Gaidar would complete an ideological loop by joining the (post-Communist) Yeltsin regime and later founding 'The Union of Right Forces', "considered ... to be one of Russia's parties that support western-style capitalism ... socio-politically conservative..."

*******

'Chuk and Gek' is part of the most cherished childhood memories for a whole generation of folks, especially in Malluland. Here is another bit from blogosphere written by another Mallu:

"I could almost smell the fir trees, feel the deep snow under my feet, glimpse the bears and wolves far off and see the long stream of steam trailing behind the train as it snaked thru the crystal clear Taiga morning."

The source: http://ramgvallath.blogspot.com/2008/09/chuck-and-geck-down-memory-lane-again.html

-----------------------
(*) - Talking about Zhivago, I sensed a certain resemblance (not a very strong one but ...) between the face of actor Omar Sharif and that of Roger Federer. Folks I asked about it did not really agree. Perhaps I am imagining things and my face-matching is a bit screwed up. Indeed for quite some time I have felt that Ricky Ponting resembles George Bush II; I did not find anyone who agreed with me until someone wrote on 'cricinfo' last year: "Ponting was not only looking like George Bush but acting like him!"

(**) A rather unflattering portrait of Marshal Voroshilov can be read at Wikipedia. And yes, the Mallu translation does not mention him at all and simply says: "...commander of the armoured train, the one who waited so vigilantly for orders"

23 Comments:

  • At 5:49 AM, Blogger Ramgopal Vallath said…

    wow. Nice to see my Blog having been read by a fellow mallu- another admirer of Siviet literature.
    By the way, i believe Arkady's dad was executed as a deserter by the Russian Governement just before the revelution. And he joined the Bolshevik movement following his father's footsteps. Sort of explains the strong patriotism.

     
  • At 1:41 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks ramgopal for visiting.

    yes, all those colorful volumes from progress publishers are now sadly missed.

    and must say, arkady gaidar's staunch 'communist patriotism' is not as much of a surprise as his grandson becoming an out and out capitalist (+patriot?) !

     
  • At 4:54 AM, Blogger Nishanth said…

    Chuk and Gek is still my all time favourite. I still have this book with me (malayalam). It is sad that nobody is now promoting old SOVIET stories.

     
  • At 11:04 PM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks nishanth.
    regarding soviet literature and other contributions, guess WE are doing our bit...

     
  • At 9:12 AM, Blogger raneesh chitootharayil said…

    hi friends
    i too own a copy of the book, malayalam version, my father gifted me in my childhood when i started reading and writing,it was in 1982 or 1983,since then the book is with me, its a part of my heart, because its an innocent story of two kids in mosco,

     
  • At 12:10 AM, Blogger Vivek said…

    I too owned a copy of Chuk & Gek in Hindi in my childhood & yes it was the most favorite book of mine and my brother as well. My daughters were delighted when i narrated the tale to them especially of gek's naughty activities.

     
  • At 10:15 PM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks for visiting,
    raneesh and vivek, and for sharing your affection for those two naughty little commie boys.

     
  • At 3:33 PM, Blogger Nishanth said…

    Hello everyone please check this link. I got the english version of Chuk and Gek from here. Under Russian book translated 2. http://home.freeuk.com/russica2/index.html

     
  • At 8:28 AM, Blogger sayuri6002 said…

    I had the fortune of reading Chuk & Geck translation (to my native language) when I was little girl. I have imagined the scenes from the book growing up... imagined the beauty of the snow covered forests and beautiful winter days. When I felt sad, I'd re-read the book all over again to cheer me up. Thus, the attachment to this book was huge :)

    Recently (after about 20 yrs) I thought about the book and had the strong desire to read it again. Sadly, I no longer have the book. Today is my lucky day!!! I came across your blog and the link. Thank you so very much!

     
  • At 9:16 AM, Blogger Raneesh Chitootharayil said…

    PLEASE EMAIL ME UR ID, I WILL SEND YOU THE BOOK IN DOC FORMAT ENGLISH VERSION

     
  • At 10:38 PM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks for visiting, sayoori.

    and thanks once more, ramesh and nishant.

     
  • At 4:41 AM, Blogger swapna said…

    plz i neeed a copy of its malayalam traslation ready to pay any reasonable amount. plz anybody willing mail me in to swapnahari13@gmail.com

     
  • At 8:42 PM, Blogger Raneesh Chitootharayil said…

    hi swapna
    the book was published by progress publishers moscow in 1978, and translated copies are also by progress, i did a hell a lot of search for the publishers (on internet), but my attempt was in vain, later i contacted russian centre in trivandrum, they also did not given a feed back. why? there is no more soviet union exists,

     
  • At 8:46 PM, Blogger Raneesh Chitootharayil said…

    hi nandakumar/ nishanth
    do you have any idea from where we can get a copy of the book, not soft copy,
    any book shop still holds a copy

     
  • At 3:32 AM, Blogger Varmaji said…

    I was caught a bit too nostalgic after reading my friends's post here: http://peruvazhiyampalam.blogspot.com/2009/10/blog-post.html

    and was searching for Chuk and Gek when I stumbled on this post of yours. Nice one. And I guess I cannot agree more on this statement of yours: "'Chuk and Gek' is part of the most cherished childhood memories for a whole generation of folks, especially in Malluland".

    Any idea who the publisher of the malayalam book was and whether there is a way we can get a malayalam copy(though I dont keep my hopes high on that)?

    Anyways, nice post here :)

     
  • At 3:31 AM, Blogger abhisheek said…

    gek iz my namezin

     
  • At 3:32 AM, Blogger abhisheek said…

    gek iz my name

     
  • At 2:37 PM, Blogger Divya Anil said…

    Hello everybody,
    After searching alot on the internet finally i got into this blog.

    My grandfather gifted me some books, when i was a child,
    1) chuk and Gek (Chukkum gekkum- malayalam)
    2)Russian Nadodikathakal

    I was keeping those books as a treasure in my cupboard, but 2 3 years ago, my brother given those books for one of his friend, and he forgot to collect it back.
    Now he even does not know where his friend is.....

    I was so sad to realize the fact that,I lost those books.

    I read in this blog, some people have malayalam versions of chuk and gek,

    Is anybody aware of the book "russian nodikathakal" ?
    it has around 1000 amazing short stories...

    Please if anybody have these books.....please can u contact me.... I am ready to pay a reasonable amount.... (either soft copy / hard copy (photostat)

    Please plaese please contact me ...if youhave any of these books...
    My id is divea.anil@gmail.com

    Thank you soo much...
    -Divya

     
  • At 2:37 PM, Blogger Divya Anil said…

    Hello everybody,
    After searching alot on the internet finally i got into this blog.

    My grandfather gifted me some books, when i was a child,
    1) chuk and Gek (Chukkum gekkum- malayalam)
    2)Russian Nadodikathakal

    I was keeping those books as a treasure in my cupboard, but 2 3 years ago, my brother given those books for one of his friend, and he forgot to collect it back.
    Now he even does not know where his friend is.....

    I was so sad to realize the fact that,I lost those books.

    I read in this blog, some people have malayalam versions of chuk and gek,

    Is anybody aware of the book "russian nodikathakal" ?
    it has around 1000 amazing short stories...

    Please if anybody have these books.....please can u contact me.... I am ready to pay a reasonable amount.... (either soft copy / hard copy (photostat)

    Please plaese please contact me ...if youhave any of these books...
    My id is divea.anil@gmail.com

    Thank you soo much...
    -Divya

     
  • At 8:28 AM, Blogger Nishanth said…

    Find/Buy Chuk and Gek, Vishwothara Russian Balakadhakal and Russian Nadodikadhakal from the below website.

    http://buy.mathrubhumi.com/books/bookdetails.php?id=374&cat_id=13

    Cheers,
    Nishuchandran@gmail.com

     
  • At 4:44 AM, Blogger Bespectacled Spirit said…

    Hey Nishanth,

    Thank you for that link to Russian Nadodikathakal on Mathrubhumi... I was also searching for this book... have ordered it straight away :)

    Regards,

     
  • At 3:50 AM, Blogger Rajaram Vasudevan said…

    Please Join

    http://www.booksofsovietunion.blogspot.in/

    Regards,
    Rajaram

     
  • At 5:58 AM, Blogger Neeraj Gupta said…

    Does anyone posses the Hindi translation of the book Chuk and Gek. I would like to read it again. If any one has the book, please scan it and send to me at guptaneeraj@yahoo.com

    Or if you know from where I can buy it please let me know.

     

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