Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Russian Century

For a bunch of kids who grew up in the Madras of the '70s and early '80s, New Century Book House was a place where one could get some excellent books. The only condition was that one should not be too choosy about the author or the characters, for almost all the books at NCBH were translations of Russian works. I should say 'Soviet' works, for those were the days when India's 'non-alignment' meant a special friendship with the USSR: the books from the Soviet lands must have been heavily subsidized, for none of them cost more than Rs.10. Even in those days, it was quite a bargain.

And so there was a huge collection built up. 'Tales from the North Sea', Tolstoy's 'Stories for Children', 'The Fire Bird' - these are some of the books that I can see on my shelf even today, as I write this. There were others, very many that are packed away in cartons because they have become dog-eared over several years of being read by different generations. Names such as Vanya, Kostya, Shurik, Lyka and Nyura became very familiar from all the stories they appeared in. But it was not all 'story-books'; Vygodsky's 'Mathematical Handbook' was a completely different perspective from what the schools taught us. Ya. Perelman's 'Mathematics can be Fun' is still captivating enough for my son to pore over.

USSR has been gone a long time now and the 'special friendship' has moved shores. The NCBH too does not stock those Soviet titles any more. I hope they are doing well, but they have moved across the road from where their rather roomy bookshop used to be, to a slightly hole-in-the-wall location - the only bright thing appears to be their signboard!


Lowell said...

Fascinating post!

chorinchath said...

Might be, as a sort of propaganda,translted books by famed Russsian authors used to be available in our place in exhibition stalls at subsidised prices & many people had the access to good reading. Later book-buying became quite expensive & we had to depend on public libraries

Shantaram said...

@ Jacob: Looking back, it seems to be truly another day, another age!

@ Narayanan: No such subsidies now, more's the pity!