Motivations to read

May 17, 2010


Filed under: Uncategorized — shirishag75 @ 2:30 pm
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This post will try to share the joy and the pain of reading a historical fiction book named ‘Russka’ by Edward Rutherford largely and loosely based on Russia. A part of it would also be about the parallels and differences which seem to emerge between Russia and India after reading 95% of the book.

Russka At the very outset, I have to confess that I loved and hated this book at the same time. The book is named ‘Russka’ is authored by Edward Rutherford and published in 1992. I hated as well as loved it for the sheer length . Its pretty big ending at a hefty 900+ pages. What one has to appreciate is the author’s ambition of commenting or wrapping a story about a continent/state as vast as Russia. For somebody like me who had for a long long time been quite a bit curious about Russia it is a delight. The book starts at A.D. 180 and ends at 1990’s . While I came to know about ethnic races like Tatars or the place and race called Mormor or advent of both Christianity and Islam as well as Catherine the Great. One problem that does come through is that for somebody who has no idea or historical reference of these races or characters one is still left clueless.

Throughout the 800 odd pages that I have read so far, I was very much drawn into making the parallels as well as the differences between India and Russia (both the countries do share the love-hate relationship) . The differences between the two countries starts to stem from the fact that while we (India as a whole) was subjected/ruled by outsiders (Mughals, Portuguese and the British) for over few centuries, the Russians proved to be more resilient. Whether it was the combination of harsh land, weather and nature of people or something else its hard to conclude. That difference does also clues-in to the fact that why India is more culturally diverse and relatively more open to other religious views while Russians just like the Chinese to embrace/lean towards singular points as far as practising religion is concerned. It also explains (to me) to a large extent why India went on to become a socialist democracy and more recently a more capitalist-socialist-economy while Russia placed more their bets to being a socialist communist state (the community and the State at the centre of everything) and more recently their trials with being a fledgling democracy. What is remarkable to the fact that both the countries opened up to the world culturally and financially to the rest of the world in the early 1990s with such divergent outcomes (understandingly given the historical,religious and social contexts).

The parallels are also interesting though. Both the countries has experienced slavery/bonded labor in similar forms. While in Russia it was the nobility, here it was the invaders + the nobility of the land. Some part of the story does resemble very loosely though on ‘Braveheart‘ the movie as well .

In conclusion I would have to say that the author succeeded in getting me to be with him throughout the journey of the book. There is a melange of characters who portray all the shades of human emotions selfless, courageous, honest, small thinkers, ambitious, adulters, murderers and alike. One of the niggling points though is the uneven jumps taken between times and the somewhat over the top complex relationships drawn between some of the characters which makes it difficult to grasp the story sometimes (very much unlike Indian authors and Indian relationships).

While I still have to go through another 100 odd pages (still) it seems to me its there but still not there .

Update 25/05/10 :- In some ways the book is so relevant to our times. While in the book Russia implemented freeing the serfs in early to late 18th century (at least in name) it seems its still to be implemented in India.

Shekhar Gupta: Is that the kind of thing that state governments ought to be doing now?

E.N. Rammohan: I don’t think the answer to that problem is in a military solution. The basic problem here is that the adivasis are the people who have been pushed into the forests. Two issues are there. One is land, the other is forest produce. For instance, in Andhra Pradesh, the upper castes do not let the lower castes take any land. The Land Ceiling Legislation was passed in the ’50s but it’s yet to be enforced in Andhra Pradesh and many other states in India. The only states to have enforced it are Kashmir and Kerala. In Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah did it because most of the landlords were Hindus and the serfs were Muslims. In Kerala, the land holdings are not very large because there is very little flat land available. But by and large the owners were upper caste. After a legislation was passed in 1957 in the state, stating that after 12 years, the ownership of the land passes to the tenant farmer, at one shot all the upper castes lost their land. There is no cause there now for insurgency. So, when the Naxals tried to spread to Kerala, they did not succeed.

Excerpt taken from Indian Express Walk the Talk interview

What is interesting is there is such a left-leaning Act which was passed. While we may argue while that’s right or not or even how Mr. Rammohan portrays the situation, existence and ideation of such an Act does speak of an ideology of Communism. It also speaks volumes of the movies done in 70’s by Smita Patil on same/similar subjects.

Update 18/06/10 :- Finished it last week. I cried when I finished it. The last 200 odd pages gives a sad account of people who thought they would get a democratic socialist state and didn’t . The last conversation in the book although meant to end on a happy note where a Russian-American emigre and a Russian have a conversation about American capitalism and the idea that Russia would get to American way of doing business in say 10 years.

If I had read that book in circa 1992 I might have had better feelings, but now 10 years have passed, Russia is still autocratic .

While I gave an example above of the left-leaning politics, lemme give one again this time around. Look for ‘bataidari’ and ‘Bihar’. The idea there being sharecroppers should get land-holding from powerful rich landowners, many of them upper-caste. Few news stories on that front.

Personally speaking, after reading that book while before I had the idea that maybe communism had something to offer, the implementation of it both by China and Russia leads me to believe that our imperfect democracy is still far better than the left-leaning communist socialist dreams that many people have. The most distressing part is to know that Russian-Ukrainian women are being trafficked all over the world. In fact there was a cover story on women from CIS countries prostituting in India. All in all a sorry state of affairs.

Would having democracy at any point in time have saved Russia from where it finds itself now ? Are we as India doing the right thing working with Russia when we know that the common person is no better today than before 😦 ? Sadly, I don’t know the answers to the above and while I’m no Russian my heart does go out to the common man/woman Russia. I salute them for what they have gone through centuries and still cling on and yet I fear they won’t see democracy in my life-time. I do hope though that my fears are unfounded. One of the best things I did come to know is about the Trans-siberian Railway. I do wish they would have paid more attention to also the growth of Russian Railways as they cover more area than the Indian Railways . They are at about 85k km. while we are about at 63k km.

All in all a very readable book if one wants to know about the history of Russia. While I was reading the book I was constantly being reminded from a line from a hollywood movie where the teacher dissects history into ‘his or her story’ . This book is part of that.

All out for now.


1 Comment »

  1. […] History and Geography as subjects which I had to bear but which became alive when I read books like Russka and books like that. One of the more interesting examples of this was validated in the book […]

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