Teer-lil-lilli-dong: Chuck and Geck and Other Books by Arkady Gaidar


Who remembers Arkady Gaidar? At some point in my childhood, when the sky was full of stars, I happened to read the adventures of Chuck and Geck,  their long journey on the Trans-Siberian railway and on a sledge across the hoary taiga in search of their adventuring father.

It was probably the best children's book from the Soviet era: it found a readership across continents, and touched the hearts of many eight-year-old kids who lived in cramped Indian cities. Alongside heroes and villains of Indian and British-American persuasions, their good friends were the brave Chuck and Geck, Vasilisa the beautiful, Ivan the dragon-slayer, and Makar the unlucky Yakut. They dreamed endlessly as they stared across muddy roads and dusty alleys that they knew led to exotic lands filled with adventures: they talked to their friends in their dreams. It was such a good book written in wonderful prose, and beautifully illustrated in black and white.

Now that's all far, far away, and the eight-year-old children have all grown up. For those of them who are still alive, the Soviet Union has become a dull and disturbing subject filling many history books while the publishers of these wonderful books (Mir, Vostok, Raduga) have ceased to exist. Most of these children live like old people now: their adult selves uneasy with the horrors perpetrated in the name of communism; uneasier still, witnessing the way commodities nastily distort the dreams of the children they see around them.

But in the middle of the night, in the strangest moments of reminiscing childhood, those older children--the readers of Arkady Gaidar-- have curious dreams.

They dream of a thousand lives, they dream of lonely death. From the darkened hovels where they live in, from the smoggiest zones of some Indian city lit with a thousand neon signs, they dream of  strange loud bells ringing in faraway Moscow on a Christmas night. On a hot sweaty summer night, they smell the snow falling on the fir trees of the endless Taiga, and breathe at ease. They see the bear and the wold leap across their windows: they are not afraid. But as they drift off to sleep, they wonder: what do children read now?

For those like me still searching for the works of Arkady Gaider in the ether, here are the download links to three pdf files: three books from the forgotten master. It's still a great pleasure to read them, but ah, the pictures and wonderful illustrations, the dog-eared pages of a book thumbed breathlessly a thousand times, and the eight-year-old mind are badly missed:
Chuck and Geck
Timur and his Squad
The School

What exactly are you supporting?

'We can go back in time and look at people cheerleading the Iranian revolution or the Zimbabwean anti-colonial struggle or the ANC in South Africa or the Sandinistas or whatever political fight.  In all cases there is an understandable urge to side with the underdog.  But what was the outcome?  Why are radicals so quick to patriotically cheer on the latest thing, when we should be saying: '"Brothers and sisters in Yemen and Egypt and Algeria and Tunisia, watch out for the states in waiting, watch out for the 'popular resistance hero'.  Remember Mugabe.  Remember Khomeini.  The difference between a dictator and a democrat is only at the ballot box - the factory and the slum will not change.  The 'imprisoned opposition leaders' of today will be the jailers of tomorrow.  Stay strong.  You will need miracles, and G-d is not watching.  All the proposed solutions are lies!'"

 Perhaps it is too soon to say this (Mubarak may hold on), but the real enemy of those revolting in Northern Africa is the political opposition that is preparing to take power.  And when I say 'take power', I mean that in the most general way.

If/when a revolt appears where 'we' are, 'we' cannot fall prey to the indecency of waving flags and banners in support of whatever is happening.  Our task is to pee on the parade.  To say "No!  Push further!  The old world is not behind you yet!"  To point out the policeman with red and black flags.  To maintain our principles and avoid urgency, even when the situation appears to be moving quickly.

Remember every international revolt you've been excited about in your life.  Look at what happened after each of them.  What happened May, 1969?  What happened to your enthusiasm?  All of the doors that appeared to be open lead nowhere or were, in retrospect, closed.  The freedom fighters joined or became the government.  The political situation was turned upside down, the old leaders jailed, the elections became free (at least for one election!), and yet... wage labor, value production, the unending circulation of commodities and money, the reproduction of classes, all of this carried on without pause.  Why?
Does anyone believe the situation in North Africa is a revolt against capitalism?  If you do, do you think this revolt could lead to communism (or 'anarchy' or whatever you want to say)?  If you say no to either question, what exactly are you supporting?'

-- From the Letters Journal 

"Made in USA" tear gas cannister used by the Egyptian police on protestors. January, 2011.
Image source: crisisofcivilization

Blue pill, red pill

"[Y]ou are a slave... born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back.

You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more."

Good and bad. Evil and lesser evil. Blue pill and red pill? Damn them all.
They aren't real choices. Cut out the hyperboles and the symbolisms: it isn't, and never will be, a choice when you've to decide between two, only two. It's a choice when you've the option to choose out of the many, and then decide you won't be having a pill. There are a multitude of truths, and they come in more colours than in a rainbow, and are more complex than a pharmaceutical choice.