November 7, 1917. It was a terrible winter. The four months from October through January is when Russia is cut off from the earth. A frozen-hearted, merciless sheath of ice descends from the sky, and then with its frosted white fingers, it slightly lifts the great nation off the earth. Then Russia is trapped in a wasteland filled with utter silence. Or is it?
Being trapped inside glaciers, it converts its life force into heat and fights the bitter cold. Logs burn to the last remaining kindling. Hopes turn into words to the last remaining syllable. As the snow recedes in late February, the nation is born again, slowly pulling away from the white film of snow from the dark womb, and falling on the glowing new earth, beneath the new sky. Everything is resurrected. Trees, birds, worms. And so are humans. This earth knows the secret to being reborn from total destruction.
But that November was different. Guns roared beneath the gray covering of snow. Beyond the hazy glaciers, the flashes of gunfire kept trembling restrainedly. Even the sound of bullets was muffled by the carpet of snow. Death cries were heard from all directions. They echoed in the frozen brick buildings and multiplied, adapting to the misery of those inert things. The shouts of victory arose, suppressing all those death cries. It was the roar of the screams as millions of people cried out into the dark sky, with their arms stretched, throats hurting, eyes popping out when the pressure of the ecstasy of their hearts became unbearable.
The roar shook and woke the sleeping angels and the saints in the sky and delivered a message: No longer do they have any work on this earth. The poor, who had shed their blood, tears, and sweat for the angels and the saints for thousands and thousands of years, have risen up. Now they are ready to establish their own golden world. The gun had become their new angel.
Through the dark, icy streets of St. Petersburg, workers, disoriented by the ecstasy of victory, ran hither and thither. They danced and sang field songs, harvest songs, and love songs; suddenly fired into the sky; embraced each other; cried uncontrollably as their nerves relaxed. Two American reporters were infiltrating through the crowd. One was John Reid. The other was Rice Williams. They had heard about the great Russian revolution and came to witness it firsthand.
"This is the first time I'm witnessing an entire nation going crazy," said John Reid. "It's a wonder that this frenzy hasn't crushed this city to pieces."
"That might happen as well! The innkeeper said that people entered the hermitage and the winter palace like a huge wave. I doubt if Moscow still exists," said Williams.
"What a frenzy! What ecstasy! I guess this is how the French Revolution would've been!"
A peasant came to them with tattered clothes and a rifle in his hand. He called, "Tovarishch! Tovarishch!" and kissed them. An odor of mouth ulcer typical of a Russian issued from him. He repeatedly called out with flowing emotions, "Tovarishch! Tovarishch!" With outstretched arms and tears rolling down, he chanted the same word over and over again.
"What's he saying?" said Reid.
"It's a funny word. The word roughly means 'comrade' or 'fellow traveler' in English."
"Why does this word make this old man crazy?"
"It's one of the slogans of this revolution. It symbolizes equality, collective action, and unity by blood. Today, you can address anyone using this word. Remember that such a situation doesn't exist in any part of the world today. Not due to ideas, but with only the magic of this singular word, the revolution here has happened."
"Everything is wonderful and unprecedented and fills you with excitement and fear."
"That's how all extraordinary things are."
They reached the first barricade. A young worker with a hot, smoking gun stood up and asked, "Comrade, what is your identity?"
John Reid showed his Identity Card. The young worker bowed.
"Comrade, my name is Trifonov. I'm Komi from Georgia. This is Yanishev, from Neibuth.
"Hello comrades, we'd like to see your leader Lenin."
With a face blushed by the cold, Yanishev laughed. "Leader? There's no leader here. We have a comrade named Lenin. He's our mentor and teacher."
"Yes, we want to see him."
"He might be there beyond this square, in Smolny."
"What is it?"
"It's a military college for the Lord's dynasty. It is now the office of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets."
"We'd like to go there."
"But now there's a fierce fight going on. Thousands of military school students are still there."
At that moment, they heard gunshots. Whistling sounds were heard.
"Sit down, comrades! sit down!"
When they sat down, Trifonov said, "I guess you've never seen a war of this kind, comrade."
"No. How do you know?"
"The whistle you heard just now was the sound of bullets passing by. You've survived by a hair's breadth."
Both of them shuddered. "God! Is the leader of the revolution in such a dangerous place?" said Reid.
They did not respond since they'd resumed fighting. A few moments later, during which gunshots and a couple of shouts echoed and faded out, silence returned.
"Comrades, you are in a very dangerous place," said Reid.
Yes. Death is only a few feet away. No doubt, Death is certain. But what about it? In these ten days, I've enjoyed all the pleasures of my life," said Trifonov, pressing his lips tightly to control his emotions. "Comrade, I'm not dying in a meaningless war waged against some random people. I die for my descendants. I die to create a new world free of exploitation and injustice. What could be a more meaningful end to a man's life?"
The unbearable upheaval manifested itself as trembling and tears in John Reid. He just embraced the worker.
The force came to the rescue a few hours later. The barricade was advanced. The reporters were taken to Smolny in an old cart. All along the way, they saw corpses piled up like fallen apples in an orchard. They learned two days later that everyone in the barricade had been killed.
Smolny was an old building. One of the largest dreams of the Tsar's Russia. It had large, cylindrical pillars made of bricks, spacious porches, wide stairs, and a large courtyard for parking coaches. It also had a large porch on its first floor. The porch and the facade were filled with people. All over the yard were human heads, human stench, human clamor. The cart moved forward, floating through the waves of bodies. An inappropriately tight-dressed young man advanced and said, "Are you the American reporters?"
"Come on! Comrade Lenin inquired especially about you."
"Yes. Come on!" They penetrated the jostling crowd. A short man was sitting behind a large table set on the porch of Smolny. After checking their ID cards, he said, "Comrades, Please be seated. Two other German reporters are also with you."
They were attracted by the emotional outpouring of that large crowd. It seemed that the crowd had a single mind. Suddenly a loud wail was heard. People scattered and made their way. In the middle of the square was a massive statue of Tsar Nicholas on a large pedestal. Several workers swarmed on it like insects. As the Tsar's stony eyes froze with the same vehemence, ropes were tied around his neck and arms. Hundreds of hands gripped the ends of the ropes. The statue shook a little. Those who had climbed on it jumped down now. The head of the statue split open and with a thud fell flat on the ground. The people gathered in that area scattered. The statue swayed with its pedestal, then staggered and fell to the ground. A deafening noise arose. Hysterical dances, howls, uncontrollable laughter, and sobs ensued. The workers climbed on the statue and cheered.
"Can humans become such a single superpower, losing their individuality? Is this possible?" said Reid.
"It has been! History is made when the human race has a single mind and a sole ambition," said Williams.
"Tremendous power!" said Reid with awe. "If not controlled properly, this is what will destroy the world."
"That man is a magician. He has complete control over this deluge."
"But that might only be superficial. Didn't you witness what happened to the Tsar? He had ruled the minds of these people for a thousand years."
"But this is a different age."
"Yes. The age of uncontrollable, outrageous, caveman's power. Behold! The age of gold is falling. Now the age of iron begins ..."
"Is this man made of iron?"
"Or this is the beginning of a disaster. These people need an iron man. A man of iron wisdom, iron words, and iron will ..."
"They say this man, Vladimir Ilyich, is a wonderful person," said Williams.
"I can't believe it."
A voice shouted, "Silence! Silence!" Several hundred throats shouted the same. The front of the crowd went quiet. The command seemed to spread through before their very eyes. As if a sea froze into ice, the crowd slowly calmed down.
A man climbed onto a cannon that was towed to the spot.
"On the cannon?" said Reid, unable to control himself.
"History expands itself at will."
"But still ..."
"You said this is the iron age."
The man wore a dark suit. He was a short man with strong shoulders, prominent forehead, frontal baldness, drooping nose, lips, a goatee, glowing narrow eyes, mischievous smile ...
"That's him! He looks like he did in the pictures!" said Williams. His excitement infected Reid as well. "This is going to be one of the greatest moments in history. Maybe the world will be changed forever after this moment. The future of mankind is going to be determined at this moment ... Every scene, every piece of information, every sound, every smell, every single word he utters, and the silence between the words must all fall in my attention. I want them to sink deep into my mind and become part of my consciousness. Then I'd spend the rest of my life as a witness of this moment. This is the moment when the purpose of my birth would be fulfilled." Reid's body was trembling.
Once climbing onto the cannon, the man raised his hands, gesturing greetings. The crowd immediately erupted in cheers. The large building of Smolny seemed to be collapsing. The man waved his hands and signaled for silence. Silence ensued. He looked exhausted. His hair was windblown. His clothes were covered with charcoal and dust. Even his smile was tainted with dust and fatigue. He looked like a great, ancient painting.
The silence was taut. It intensified as the clearing of a throat, the clatter of a gun, and the sound of a moving boot was heard. All minds emerged through the silence. The smell of blood, sweat, gunpowder, decaying sandals everywhere. The massive gathering listened to him closely. He said, "Comrades!" His voice was muffled. No one could hear him. Now he roared aloud, "Comrades! We are about to begin the construction of socialism ..."
This story appears in the novel Pinthodarum Nizhalin Kural, released in 1999.
Translation from Tamil by Jegadeesh Kumar.
Article © B. Jeyamohan. All rights reserved.
Published on 2022-02-07
Image(s) are public domain.