Memories of Misha

Disclaimer: Proceed with caution. Intense nostalgia ahead.

Many many years ago, before the shiny global village descended in our backyard, our only connection to the rest of the world was via the country that was most sympathetic to us in the global political arena – the USSR or Soviet Union. We called ourselves a democracy but were semi socialist in approach. So quite a bit of my childhood was spent reading Russian books in English. Today, we can hardly see any of them around.

I only have about two books left from those days. A book of fairy tales, which was a gift to my brother but I appropriated it. And a young adult novel called “Summer Holidays” by Sergei Grebennikov. I love the watercolor illustrations on and inside this book. The author was unknown but that didn’t stop me from buying it. I remember I was in the third standard and the book exhibition was at school. I had a princely sum of 10 rupees in my hand with which was – as luck would have it – exactly the price of the book. The reason I still remember it was because I was very scared that I had spent the entire money mom gave me on one book. I didn’t know how she would react. But I was very surprised when she just nodded her head when I told her!

The other Russian books were the masters like Chekhov, Dostoevsky, and Pushkin. They don’t count because I read them when I was older and they are still available today. Of course, nothing could replace Raduga publishers from Moscow who published some of the most innocent, beautiful, and timeless children’s books.

Raduga did one thing which have placed them firmly in young Indian minds of the 80’s. They brought out an illustrated children’s magazine called Misha. My first brush with Misha was when my Dad brought a bunch of them for me. I was utterly fascinated. You must remember that at that time, there weren’t any Indian publishers bringing out illustrated magazines, which focused on non-Indian mythological stories for children. So Misha was a novelty both in terms of content and presentation.

It was also such a revelation! That there was a world out there which was strange and familiar at the same time. That women wore scarves on their head and flouncy skirts, and the men loved to dance the cossack dance. That there was firebirds as well as fairies in these far away cold lands. The magic of storytelling was the same but the grammar, different.

Misha, the English version, was priced at rupee 1. And I managed to collect quite a few. But I feel so sad that I don’t even one of them anymore. (I must start haunting second hand book stores soon.)

When the shiny global village did descend in our backyard, the time was the 90’s and the USSR began to be referred to as the erst-while Soviet Union. The man with the scar on his pate started an era with two words – glasnost and perestroika. The words meant nothing to me. All I knew was that Misha wasn’t available anymore. Many publishing houses – like Mir and Raduga – perished in the transition. Thankfully, my memories of those colorful childhood days didn’t.

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15 thoughts on “Memories of Misha

  1. Ahhh.. Misha.. R’ber “You just wait” or was it some other comic with the fox/wolf and some other little animal (a hare perhaps)? They were all my cousin’s and I think he threw them out whilst growing up.

    I had a book of fairy tales too.. It might still be lying somewhere in my parents’ home.

  2. Hey, your post actually gave me goosebumps! With the glasnost and whatnot. 🙂 I must raid my dad’s old comic book collection for any forgotten Mishas that may be in there. Will let you know if I find any!

  3. Progress, Mir, Malysh… New Century Book House – that’s the place you’d get the books from these publishers… their outlet on Mount Road doesn’t exist any longer, but I happened to see a store with the same name in Tiruvanmiyur, on the ECR – didn’t want to go in, just in case it was only a myth!

  4. Hello, thanks for dropping by!

    @Bijesh: Sadly, I have a very vague memory of specific stories in the covers of Misha. I do remember that they were hugely entertaining! I think you should search for that book of fairy tales. Collectors price these out of print books quite highly. 🙂

    @M: Good to see you here! Remember I was asking you about these Russian children’s magazines? But why does glasnost give you the goosebumps? Were you thinking of The Lives of Others? And let’s hound Moore market, which I am sure might have some copies of Misha! And thanks, if you do find any Mishas in your backyard.

    @Shantaram: Thank you so much! You have given me a lead! I will definitely try and see if Misha is available there. 🙂

  5. Hi AFJ,

    You moved to WordPress! Visited your blogger page after quite sometime and found out. The page looks great!

    Coming to the post, Misha it was. Even I subscribed to it. But to my great disappointement I did not receive them after the first few copies! I remember reading a book on Russian folktales translated into Bengali called ‘Roush Desher Upokatha’. I think that was the first book of Russian stories I read. 🙂

  6. Heyy RRita!

    Yeah I moved! And you know why! This blog will take some time to get going but I am enjoying my writing now. And because so few people visit it, I am not pushed to writing an entry a day.

    Oh wow, you read Russian stories in Bangla! That is superb! You are probably the only one who I know who did that!

    1. Thank you Somnath! However, I have a confession to make. I cannot read Bengali fluently. Would you know any English translations of Soviet books?

  7. Hi ! I found a copy of “Summer Holidays” at an old book shop in Mumbai today and stumbled upon your blog while trying to Google for the book. 🙂

    Some friends and I have started scanning and uploading (and where books are available on internet, just uploading) some Soviet books. We started focusing on books translated in Marathi, but now have some English books as well.

    Check out https://docs.google.com/folderview?pli=1&id=0B6QdKq6q5WvFYldoNVFoakRSS0k

    Happy reading.

    1. Hello Devadatta! Nice of you to drop in! What a coincidence! You are so lucky to have found Russian books. Did you spot any issues of Misha? Wow! This is a treasure trove. And very high quality scans too. Thanks again!

    2. Hi Devadutta! I checked out your collection in the link you gave, and it really is great. Could you also upload the scanned copy of Summer Holidays? I have been searching for it everywhere – both online and in bookshops, but can’t find it.

  8. Hi Moushumi! Let me begin by saying that I loved reading your post. In particular, I can share the nostalgia you have with Sergei Grebennikov’s “Summer Holidays” – I remember reading it countless times from the Gariahat library, and have been looking for it for a long time.

    Actually, could you tell me where I can buy a copy of it? I can’t seem to find it on Amazon or anywhere else online – perhaps you’d know someplace?

    Thanks in advance,
    Arinjoy

    1. Hello Arinjoy! Welcome to my blog! Thanks a lot for your compliments! How lovely to meet another reader who has read this exact same elusive book from my childhood!

      Ohhh, to be honest I haven’t come across this book in bookshops either in the past or present. It’s sad, I know. But perhaps second hand bookshops should be the answer. I know someone who found a bunch of Soviet era books in second hand bookshops in Bombay. Now I don’t live there nor do I travel there so that route is closed to me. Calcutta is slow to forget so you might have better luck in College Street. Did you try there?

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