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Kolkata Book Fair brings back Russian Literature to Kolkata this year!

29 January, 2020 05:42:50
Kolkata Book Fair brings back Russian Literature to Kolkata this year!

The minute I heard Russia is the theme country this year at Kolkata International Book Fair, a frightful image of Baba Yaga flashed like a bolt of lightning before me. And I almost laughed at those innumerable bed-time sessions when my mother would relentlessly try to read out Baba Yaga to put me to sleep. Baba Yaga flying around in a mortar, Baba Yaga wielding a pestle in the deep forests, Baba Yaga standing atop a hut with ‘chicken legs,’ --- and so forth they went, tales that would put a child to sleep out of fear!

That image is still fresh 35 years after I was introduced to Russian fairy-tales in Soviet magazines that came every month, dipped in our letter box. For a child of early ’80s growing up in communist Calcutta, Russian magazines complete with children’s tales, poems, cooking recipes and lots of real photographs on the life in Russia were as sought after as was the ‘Puja Barshiki Anandamela.’ And though in school we were fed upon heavy doses of Enid Blyton and English fairy tales, of prince and princesses, I somehow found Russia’s Misha, Olga and Baba Yaga and the animals of Siberian forests more real than English fantasy.

I would often talk to the characters and wondered how they lived in knee-deep snow, trekking paths attired in warm furs. I was so fascinated by the colourful dresses they wore, that I even wanted one and my mother had to take me to New Market to get me a fur coat like the one Olga wore. Or even she had to cook meat-balls, looking up Russian kids’ recipes given in the magazines and I would dream about Pike fishing, though I was regularly fed on a Bengali household dose of Rohu-Katla curry. 

As I drifted from the world of Baba Yaga, I fell into the rich literary world of Russian books with the first Leo Tolstoy Short Story collection, that I received from school for standing first in class. Again, that curiosity quotient triggered me to delve deep into Russian literature that is often ignored in the arena of world literature due to political reasons. Though translated, I could realise a stark contrast between Tolstoy and Oscar Wilde’s style of writing and themes of stories. Russian writers were more ‘real’ with an element of protest and streaks of spiritualism evident in the short stories, quite similar to the sensitivities of Rabindranath Tagore.

From then on, opened up a vista of Russian authors, from Tolstoy to Chekhov to Gorky. Maxim Gorky’s ‘Mother’ was so fascinating that I remember completing the book in one day, literally refusing to have my meals. Unfortunately, Kolkata and probably India’s children lost complete touch with these Soviet children’s and adult literature, from ’90s onwards, thanks to the political upheaval and disintegration of USSR. Magazines stopped coming and we stopped talking about Russian literature or getting a hold on any of these magazines and books. 

Hence the endeavour to bring Russian literature back to Kolkata through the Kolkata Book Fair is very encouraging as we shall get a vignette of our lost childhood back for sure at the Russian stalls. Even five Russian books are being translated into Bengali during the Book Fair, while Bengali books will also be translated into Russian. Noted Russian authors will visit the Book Fair and interact with readers. Who knows, we might again lay a hand on Yuri Gagarin’s autobiography or Galina Demykina’s ‘The Lost Girl and the Scallywag.’

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