Everyone has their own way to cherish their memories of something favourite from childhood. Some choose their old toys, some others go for tiny dresses they used to wear and there are some people who keep books as token of nostalgia.
Dr. Sajid Abdul Latheef, who is better known by his pen name Maria Rose, is one among them. Considering the wide reach and possibilities of access and sharing, he created a Facebook page for preserving the old books translated from Russian to Malayalam.
For a generation which spends most of the hours of a day online, the love for books may be an alien experience. But for those who were born in the previous millennium, it was a part of their life. Russian books also belong to this category. Many of those in their 30’s and 40’s are more than familiar with the bundle of Russian literary works translated into Malayalam.
It has been years since the publishers in Russia stopped printing those old books. The existing copies started to fade into oblivion, which created deep concern among book lovers, especially fans of Russian books. Thus being a hardcore fan of the Russian books, Maria Rose started a Facebook page titled “Aa Pazhaya Russian Pusthakangal” which means “Those Russian Books of Yester Era” on March 28, 2013.
About the master brain
Dr. Sajid Abdul Latheef, the master brain behind the venture, is working as Assistant Professor of English in MES Mampad College in Malappuram district of Kerala. He takes up the unique mission due to his interest in children’s literature. However, he keeps a taste for gothic fiction, pulp fiction and film adaptations as well.
He has published critical studies in Malayalam about the popular TV series ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ and the movie ‘Sound of Music’. Also he has co-edited a collection of critical essays titled ‘Writing Gothic’. His latest work is a collection of popular horror stories titled ‘13 Horror Stories’. For readers, Dr. Sajid Abdul Latheef is more familiar by his pseudonym ‘Maria Rose’.
All the way from Russia
Russian literature found its way to Kerala during the Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - USSR) era spanning from 1922 to 1991. When Kerala became the first place in the world where a Communist government came into power through election, the attention of the whole world fell on the God’s Own Country.
The communist political background of Kerala attracted Soviet Union which was the largest communist power of the time. They decided to propagate their literature in India by translating them to regional languages like Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil, Bengali etc. The books were typesetted in Moscow and distributed in various places in India through regional publishers.
Prabhath Book House was the distributor of Malayalam translation of Russian books in Kerala. ‘Progress Publishers’ in Russia published the Russian books translated into Malayalam and other regional languages in India.
Among the books, the translations of the children’s books were published under the division ‘Raduga’, which means ‘rainbow’ in Russian. Science based books were published under the division ‘Mir’.
Unlike the usual three step translation – from foreign language to English, and then to regional language – these books were directly translated into Malayalam. The translators even studied Russian to smoothly complete the task.
A Malayali couple, Moscow Gopalakrishnan and Omana, translated many of the books into Malayalam. They even settled in Russia as part of the translation job. Apart from them, Abraham Parakkunnel was another contributor of translated Russian works.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the translation of literature into Indian languages was gradually stopped. Now only the second hand copies of the books are published by Progress, Raduga and Mir Publishers are available in the book stores.
Start of Facebook page
The efforts to digitize the old Russian books started at this point, when the fans found that the books were on the verge of extinction. Maria Rose bought a scanner for the sole purpose of preserving the available copies of Russian books, especially the children’s books, due to his personal interest.
"The children of Kerala at that time were brought upon these books. The books were memories of childhood for them. I started this page with the objective of remembering these books, to create a platform where others can share their nostalgic memories about these books," Maria Rose said.
The scanned version is later converted to PDF format and uploaded to a folder named ‘Soviet Library’ in his Google Drive. The link of the files is shared on the Facebook page with an introductory note for each book. Since scanning of the books takes quite a time, Maria Rose has dedicated his leisure time and even holidays for completing the process.
In the beginning, only the covers of the books were shared with a piece of nostalgic note. When more people responded to the posts, he decided to scan the books. The Facebook page was started with a collection of about 10 scanned versions of old Russian books. After 5 years, the number of scanned books has grown to more than 40.
In the meantime, more people who keep similar interest has joined the venture and have contributed scanned copies of the books they have.
Specialty of Russian books
Unlike the normal paperback books available here, the books printed by Russian publishers had hard cover with high quality pages to avoid possible damage due to careless handling.
Moreover, the highly imaginative illustrations and colourful pictures were key factors which attracted children to Russian stories. The stories had a variety of themes mostly in real life backgrounds. The talking animals, fairies, witches and other classical and mythical tales also had a place in the stories.
However, majority of the stories conveyed the importance of cooperation, dignity of labour, humanity, compassion, hard work and the like. Apart from these, the strong messages of Communism and power of Soviet Union were conveyed through the stories.
The science-based stories were an attempt to eradicate the spores of superstition from the society. That was indeed a different aspect in children’s literature as people are more familiar with instilling supernatural believes in kids.
The readers of the Russian books were familiar with the culture and nature of Russia through the detailed narration in the stories. Even the Russian kids’ names were not alien for them. Creating such a deep attachment to books was success of those old Russian books.
Access to books
'When Daddy was a Little Boy' (Achante Balyam) by Alexander Raskin, 'Visiting Grandpa' (Muthachante Veettil) by Nikolai Nosov, 'A Boy by the Sea' (Kadalorath oru Balan) by N. Dubov, 'Tales of Steppes and Mountains' by Chingiz Aitmatov, 'Garnett Bracelet' by Alexander Kuprin, 'The Golden Goblet' by Kayum Tangrykuliev, and many other books are there in the collection.
The links of the PDF copies of the books are shared in the Facebook page. People who are interested can easily download. Also the community of Russian book lovers grow rapidly due to the wide access and downloading. Even new comers are lured by the charm of the books. The numbers of both the books and the readers are increasing gradually, strengthening the bond.
Preserving the books for the future generation is the major target of the mission. Since the new generation is more leaned towards digital media, the scanned versions can be easily accessed through their personal digital devices. Even if the new editions of the books are not published, they will not die but remain alive for years.
"Soviet Children’s books told the stories of living men, women and children and portrayed the realities of life rather than creating worlds of fantasy. The authors were in love with nature of their native places and described them in detail making the readers love them as well," Maria Rose opined.
The author earns zero profit from the venture. Still he spends his time purely because of passion. Also the enthusiasm of the book lovers inspired some publishers to recreate the old Russian books, a move widely appreciated by the fans.
The nostalgia of the generation who grew up reading those books was rejuvenated with the arrival of the Facebook page. People who dedicate their valuable time for the sake of books itself is a good sign, as far as the internet era is concerned. They also wish to develop a love for reading in children of this generation distracting them from the wonder world of internet.
In this global village, all are connected, so anything is possible. But rare are the people who spend their time for a cause without any aim of profit. Reading and love for letters have become less common these days, so every effort to encourage it does count. Hence Maria Rose and “Aa Pazhaya Russian Pusthakangal” alias “Those Russian Books of Yester Era”.