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Monday, January 09, 2017

Romance with Russia

In the seventies I was studying in Santhome High School opposite Santhome Cathedral near Santhome beach in Madras , todays Chennai .
We used to live in Myla pore near the school then and I used to cycle to school .
It took me just ten minutes to reach home pedaling the cycle  and I would go into the house  gulp the tea and snacks my mother would have made hop into my cycle and be off just with enough time to change from my uniform ,my mother would be calling me back ,but I would be long off !

No , I had no bad habits , nor was I going for any sports  !
 I was going to my libraries and the house of Soviet culture .

This was located in Kasturi Ranga Iyengar Road near Edward Elliots Road and near Stella Maris college,
those days India was very close to the Soviet union and was an old friend ( the USSR was a formidable force then and was one of the two powers of the cold war era )
The center had a spacious library with lot of English books magazines periodicals etc and I was a member so I could borrow the books ,
I was also able to see Soviet films in the very comfortable modern theatre attached and I would know by the monthly programme schedule the movie playing on the day ,so after browsing for some time in the library I would sink into the plush seats in the theatre and lose myself in battleships of  Potemkin's
or the Tolstoy legend War and Peace ,many are the evenings I spent over these and I became a sort of Russian expert with a smattering of a few words of Russian ,knowing all about the second world war and Russia's efforts to liberate Germany ,the Stalingrad siege etc .

I would return by 9 pm hungry and tuck in after dinner and a berating from my mother who would tell me this cannot go on , this addiction to Russia every day .

During weekends I would be there by the morning and the librarian a tall lean senior person would even nod at me carrying heavy tomes home
I would go on the weekends  to the American library situated at the American embassy
 those days one could use the library and security was minimal ,I being a member would walk in  and browse the books magazines which were definitely more colorful than the
Russian ones ,even videos of space exploration were available and I would get lost in an mission to the moon for hours ,I would then cycle to the Mount road district library and later  the British council library which really had books that appealed to my senses.
I was a card carrying member of ISCUS or Indo soviet Cultural Society and attended most meetings by the time I was in ninth standard I could give a talk on communism and capitalism to the chagrin of my classmates who never went beyond cricket and that was one thing I wasn't interested at all

I also got some prizes in competitions held in the soviet center for oratorical and essay contests and I got a nice medal of Comrade Lenin pinned to my shirt which I proudly showed around to my school mates ,
the principal Brother Stephen tall and lanky and balding  called me to his room felt the medal and told me don't go the soviet center much , they corrupt young minds to communism ,
USA is better I will give you some books to read etc .

Though I used to like the tenets of communism and its equality I wasn't naïve as I also read about Stalins atrocities and how people escaped communist countries in Readers digest book choices and so never thought communism as a practical success it was good in theory and I still hold that view .

looking at the sorry communists in India after more than four decades of my romance with Russia I think I was correct long back !!

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