Why I blame socialist Russia for the destruction in Kashmir

Mere mention of Mikhail Gorbachev, perestroika and glasnost causes panic.

 |  4-minute read |   17-06-2016
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Sputnik magazine, an equivalent of Reader's Digest published by the Soviet press agency of the erstwhile USSR, was introduced to me by my geek friend, Vikram Khosa in Class 6 in 1984 (who happens to be a scientist now in one of states of America). It was very common among friends to discuss the Soviet supremacy over United States both in terms technology and in social equality.

My father, a doctor by profession and a practicing devout Hindu, would often tell me about Raj Kapoor movies and how he portrayed social inequality in his movies and that Russians loved him. He would often state that a barber and surgeon were equally paid in communist states of Soviet Russia. The social science text books which reiterated all this would also give a fair idea by citing examples like collective farms and about the state owning all land and other fair practices.

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Rambo III, a 1988 American action film, featuring my all-time favourite hero Sylvester Stallone, depicting fictional events during the Soviet war in Afghanistan changed my perceptions of the Soviet Union.

As a teenager, I saw American superhero as a saviour who was fighting the cruel and tyrannical Russians who had occupied Afghanistan. I found it heart rendering, when Rambo leaves Afghanistan after winning the war single-handedly and hands over his locket without revealing his emotions to the Pakistani kid fighting alongside.

I used to hate the sight of Mikhail Gorbachev. I used to imagine that the birthmark on his head was a tattoo drawn that resembled the Russian map. The TV used to be full of footage of Mikhail Gorbachev, perestroika and glasnost, and common freedom and Islamic slogans in some places like Azherbaijaan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.

In 1989, the reel life of Rambo III in Afghanistan penetrated real life, Kashmir looked more than a war zone; grenade attacks, bomb blasts, Kalashnikovs, AK-47s, cross firing, cold blooded murders, and open threats became a common sight.

gorbachev_061716062313.jpg Mikhail Gorbachev was the last statesman to serve as the general secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Union before its dissolution in 1991.

It must have been mid-January, 1990, when we were caged in our house in Chanpora and avoided venturing out.

My father's uncle who was a commandant in Indian Air force stationed in Kashmir visited us and after looking at our scared faces tried motivating us with words of courage. He asked me and my younger sibling to come along to his place in Rawalpora. We were excited and joined him in his jeep guarded by a couple of gun wielding colleagues.

We prepared meals together and had an early dinner in order to catch our favourite TV programmes. Uncle had a Weston colour TV so it was all the more exciting than home, where we still had a Telrad black and white TV, which needed a good smack before it could show us some programs.

In the middle of the TV programme, we heard some feeble noises outside and in about 10-15 minutes, we heard thousands of people marching on Rawalpora highway, shouting the same freedom and Islamic slogans which we had seen on TV in the footages of Azerbaijan and other Soviet occupied places. The sounds were deafening, hurtful and with every step we could feel the threat to our life.

Uncle switched off the lights, and like any typical soldier, asked my brother and me to run as fast as we could, should the crowd approach us. Those moments were horrifying, the earth started shaking under my legs, I thought it was the last few minutes of my life, there was no point running. I don't seem to have remembered God at that point as my mind and body was absolutely frozen.

In a couple of hours the shouts and slogans died down, however, we couldn't sleep that night.

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When morning arrived, uncle asked us to pack, I could see the eagerness on his face, he wanted us to be with our parents. Within half an hour, he left us at our home without any words of encouragement this time, maybe even he had underestimated what was brewing in Kashmir.

Next day, a news flashed that a militant had killed an unarmed Air Force personnel while boarding the staff bus near Sanat Nagar. We all panicked; there was no way to ascertain the whereabouts of my uncle. It was only after a week that we came to know, that Uncle had not boarded the staff bus and had left a minute before in his jeep.

It's very strange and to some extent funny, whenever I hear Perestroika, Glasnost, and Gorbachev; I feel that somehow whatever happened in Russia was responsible for the destruction in Kashmir.


Arvind Munshi Arvind Munshi @munshiarvind

The writer works as a technology head for one of South Asia's biggest media conglomerates, India Today Group.

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