One of the few things I remember reading as a child is Mayakovsky’s poem What is Good and What is Bad in Hindi. I had a beautifully illustrated copy published by Raduga Publications from Moscow, U.S.S.R.
There used to be mobile vans all around Jaipur selling books published By Raduga. The prices used to be quite low. We never quite got to know what happened to Raduga after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I grew up listening about this dissolution from my parents who never talk about it without a hint of nostalgia and betrayal. My mother takes the name of the Union like one takes the name of a former lover who is still loved but who left abruptly, without even leaving a note on the door.
Written in the form of a dialogue, the poem told us about the good and the bad things: one should brush their teeth twice a day, take a bath everyday (I remember a big bathtub right in the centre of the book), one shouldn’t play in the mud etc. I don’t remember everything but I clearly remember the illustration of a child playing in the mud, clearly happy.
When it used to rain, my mother, at times, used to put me in a puddle in the garden to play in the mud. She used to tell me that Mayakovsky actually intended to show, in the poem, how all the so called bad things were fun and the good things were boring. I don’t quite know if it is true but even now my mother and I often talk about it and laugh as if it is the truth, a secret revealed only to us. Only we understood Mayakovsky.
The Raduga books eventually disappeared. Termite. Moving houses. Moving cities etc. So did the vans from the streets of Jaipur.
Years later, walking around in Connaught Place in Delhi with C. I came across People’s Publishing House. We entered and asked if they have those out-of-print Russian books. “They’re all upstairs. Nobody buys them anymore”, the woman said.
We entered a dusty attic filled with books I once used to read. Mayakovsky. Chekhov. Dostoevsky. Tolstoy. Pushkin. Akhmatova…
We were alone. I pulled C. closer and kissed him. I didn’t know what else to do.