जीवन और तक़दीर' को निरखने, परखने की तो नहीं ही बनती. वसीली ग्रॉसमान क्रांतिकारी नहीं थे, लेकिन अपने लिखे में होने की कोशिश कर रहे थे. तत्कालीन सोवियत सत्ता उनके (लात से ज़्यादा) हाथ नाथने में अपनी काबिलियत समझती थी. बीमारी में धंसे, मौत के करीब खड़े लेखक को हतोत्साहित और प्रताड़ित करने की लम्बी ट्रेनिंग में दीक्षित थी ही. बहुतों को सबक सिखाती रही थी, चार ग्रॉसमान भी सीख लेते. मगर जवान, मौत के इतना करीब, अपनी सहुलियत नहीं, दीवार पर अपनी लेखकीय मेधा के जिरह पटक रहा था; कि समाज को कैसे पहचानें, साहित्य को, और वाजिब सवालों की लड़ी क्या हो.. एक ऑस्ट्रेलियन लेखक ने 2010 में अपने एक निबंध, सोवियत मैन, में उसकी इस आंतरिक लड़ाई को याद किया था, मैं आज, 23 मार्च को याद कर रहा हूं, कि जीवन कैसे जियें, साहित्य में सवाल कैसे पहचानें..
"IN 1962, THE WRITER Vasily Grossman met with Mikhail Suslov, chief ideologue of the USSR’s Politburo. The KGB had confiscated all known manuscripts of Grossman’s epic novel of World War II, Life and Fate.
Once one of the most celebrated Russian war journalists, once an acclaimed novelist, the now disgraced Grossman was dying of stomach cancer. He had come to beg Suslov that the book be published.
Suslov told Grossman that his novel was more damaging to the USSR than Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago. It could not be published, said Suslov, for two hundred years.
Unknown to either Grossman or the KGB, one of Grossman’s friends had made a secret copy. Nearly twenty years after Grossman’s death, it was smuggled out of the USSR. Though it made little impact on publication in Switzerland in 1980, it has in the decades since come to be hailed as a twentieth-century War and Peace, and with this changing fortune, Grossman has secured a reputation as a latter-day Tolstoy.
All praise is a form of misunderstanding, and Grossman is a writer more difficult than most to divine. Unlike the great Soviet writers who were products of pre-Revolutionary Russia—Babel, Bulgakov, Mandelstam, Pasternak, Akhmatova—Grossman was a product of the new order, an insider, a Soviet man.
Everything he had, he wrote in a letter to the NKVD chief Yeshov begging for the release—really, the life—of his arrested wife, ‘I owe to the Soviet government.’
Why this man—a conformist who made his accommodations with the Soviet tyranny, turned his back, averted his eye, held his tongue, signed accusing letters—came to a point where he said No to his masters is perhaps unknowable.
Certainly his experience of the war, his witnessing of the Holocaust, the death of his mother at the hands of the Einsatzgruppen, Stalin’s post-war anti-Semitic campaign, his discovery of love in middle age—a large life, in short, that cannot be detailed here—led Grossman to finally conclude that Fascism was simply a mirror response to the ‘cosmic violence’ of Soviet Communism. But why this then liberated him into writing two masterpieces of the twentieth century remains mysterious.
A few months after his meeting with Suslov, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis on 26 October 1962, the Central Committee heard that Grossman was at work on a new ‘anti-Soviet’ novel. The informer is suspected to be his stepson, who lived with Grossman.
As the world teetered on the abyss, Grossman’s novel was discussed at the highest levels of Soviet leadership. Is it possible to imagine any book be- queathed such strange honour, such fear, today?
That novel was at the time of his death in 1964 unfinished. It was perhaps unfinishable. Yet in the abyss between ambition and failure often lies greatness. So it is with Everything Flows, in its way as remarkable an achievement as Life and Fate.
Yet when first published in English in 1972 as Forever Flowing, translated by Thomas Whitney, the translator of The Gulag Archipelago, the novel failed to garner anything like the attention that Solzhenitsyn had in the West. Grossman’s idea of history was heretical to almost all. He didn’t compare or rank the horrors of the Gulag and collectivisation or the Holocaust. Rather, and most chillingly, he connected them.
His anti-politics, of a type that anticipated the great revolts of the 1980s, rendered his work undivineable for many. The book offered neither succour to the left, in breaking the ultimate taboo of revering Lenin and Leninism, nor to the right, by offering a damning critique of pre-revolutionary Russia.
His humanism, placing kindness and goodness, truth and freedom, at the centre of life, as both the meaning and fullest expression of life, seemed weak, even quaint in the face of the cocaine rush of turbo-capitalism that took all before it in the final decades of the twentieth century with its material wonders and ideological triumph.
This new translation of Grossman’s last novel by Robert Chandler is more poetic, more lyrical than Whitney’s original translation. It is better, but not fundamentally different.
What has changed, perhaps, is us.
Suddenly, this story seems not about another world many years ago, but speaks to our world now and tomorrow.
The novel is ostensibly simple and could hardly be simpler. A man returns to society in 1957, after thirty years as a zek in the Gulag. He visits a friend, meets the man who betrayed him, finds a menial job as a metal worker, boards in a house and falls in love with his landlady, a war widow, who tells him her story of the Ukrainian famine consequent on Stalin’s collectivisation policy, before she dies of lung cancer.
So far, one might think, so very Russian.
Within it, though, is a book constantly breaking boundaries, flooding over, travelling far from the strange anti-socialist realist, social realist Life and Fate; pointing to the great philosophical novels of Kundera, constantly keeping faith with the idea of story as the vehicle of truth.
There is an almost unbearably sad chapter—unrelated to anything else in the book, yet wholly integral to the novel—of a woman zek who dies after hearing dance music coming from a gaoler’s cottage and who realises that her husband has been shot, that she will never see her daughter again, and that there is no hope.
Then there is the story of the cannibal mother who eats her two children, is tried and shot. ‘We are all cannibals,’ observes Grossman. About a loving couple, two Ukrainian collective farm workers and their child who starve to death and whose ‘skeletons spent the winter together . . . smiling whitely, not separated even by death’.
And perhaps most extraordinary, a sympathetic portrait of the monstrous Jewish commissar Lev Mekler, from the shtetl of Fastov, the man who becomes the Commissar of Justice for the entire Ukraine, a romantic, even saintly figure in his torn leather jacket and Budyonny helmet with a red star ‘that had faded as if from loss of blood’, who brings suffering and death everywhere.
Mekler is faithful to the Revolution even after the Revolution ‘had put him in a cell in the Lubyanka and knocked out eight of his teeth’. ‘His faith did not waver when he lay on the floor and saw the polished toe of a box-calf boot beside his blood-filled mouth.’
Grossman compares Mekler’s fate to that of a loyal dog whose owner hates it for its love.
‘This is what is so terrifying: that there is so much good in them, so much good in their human essence,’ writes Grossman. ‘Whom then should we judge? Human nature?’
The book contains multitudes, and not only of people. Its moods range from the near mystical, in its depiction of women, particularly mothers; to hard political, in its study of Lenin; to epic and elegiac. Grossman somehow penetrates to the essence of the USSR in a way few ever did—alive to the psychology and the humanity of its revolutionaries, cannibals, zeks, commissars and secret policemen. Its pitiless descriptions of the horrors of the Ukraine famine make one shudder today; I suspect they will have the same effect in centuries to come.
‘All the living are guilty,’ he writes, a judgement he did not exclude himself from. He had signed the letters, he had refused to help, and he bore especial guilt about his mother, whom he felt he should have saved from the Holocaust.
The dying Grossman is a novelist now going for broke. Like the dying Bulgakov writing The Master and Margarita, he was liberated from fame, success, even the possibility of publication, to finally be able to write what he meant.
Near its end, Everything Flows breaks its banks again and again, chapters grow shorter, more concentrated, reducing history, thought, human nature, to a dazzling and dizzying poetry.
Grossman makes a chilling historical argument replete with the ultimate Soviet blasphemy, the essence of which is still shocking to come to terms with. That it was written half a century ago makes it even more extraordinary.
Grossman argues that the great nineteenth-century Russian prophets, from Gogol to Dostoevsky, those prophets of the unique Russian soul, believed that this soul, once fully realised, would lead the world to spiritual evolution.
The fatal flaw, according to Grossman, was that ‘all failed to see that this soul had been enslaved for a thousand years’.
For Grossman, Russian history was a chronicle of slavery. He traces the growing enslavement of the Russian people through the Middle Ages, and argues that the great progressive achievements of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great were linked to a corresponding increase in the growth of what he calls ‘non-freedom’.
In Russia, Grossman sees progress and slavery as inextricably linked, while in the West it is progress and the growth of freedom.
And here is the heart of Grossman’s terrifying vision: the true consequences of Lenin’s revolution were to take this uniquely Russian slavery to the world. This for Grossman is the Russian spectacle that enchants the world: ‘of modernisation through non-freedom’.
For Grossman, Stalin is but a consequence, and an inevitable one at that, of Lenin. And not just Stalin, but Fascism. Writing this in the early 1960s in Russia was more than merely blasphemous. It was an historical insight of extraordinary perception.
‘Did Russia’s prophets ever imagine,’ Grossman wrote in the final months of his life, ‘that their prophecies about the coming universal triumph of the Russian soul would find their grating fulfilment in the unity of the barbed wire stretched around Auschwitz and the labour camps of Siberia?’
Grossman’s hero, Ivan Grigoryevich, senses the spirit of the Gulag all around him. ‘Barbed wire, it seemed, was no longer necessary; life outside the barbed wire had become in its essence no different from that of the barracks.’
How terrifying this insight is: an idea has escaped the Gulag and might take the world.
The great irony, according to Grossman, was that Lenin, through his violence and terror, not just destroyed any possibility of liberation from what he terms ‘the satanic force of Russia’s serf past’, but hugely advanced its domain. ‘Through the will, passion and genius of Lenin, Russia’s thousand-year law of development became a worldwide law.’
And who looking at China can read this without trembling? Who can contemplate the USA’s present stumblings and the rise of the Tea Party movement without wondering?
‘A Putin–Palin ticket,’ suggested Gary Shteyngart—another Russian–Jewish writer whose contemporary satires focus on turbo-capitalism’s closeness to old-style totalitarianism—‘can really cement the liberties Russia has achieved over the last two hundred years.’
Yet as he journeys through hell, somehow Grossman divines meaning in all this, and is finally hopeful. He concludes that freedom can never be destroyed. For Grossman this is ‘a sacred law of life: human freedom stands above everything. There is no end in this world for the sake of which it is permissible to sacrifice human freedom.’
When he died, two letters were found in Grossman’s shirt pocket. One was the last letter his mother sent him from north Ukraine before the invading Germans murdered her, along with 30,000 other Jews of Berdichev in 1941. The other letter is his reply to his mother’s letter, written in 1951. In a sense he never stopped writing that letter.
Chekhov, the grandson of a serf, wrote what could well serve as Grossman’s epitaph:
Write about this man who, drop by drop, squeezes the slave’s blood out of himself until he wakes one day to find the blood of a real human being—not a slave’s—coursing through his veins.
Grossman, one senses, died a free man."
('व्हाट डू यू डू मिस्टर गैबल' से साभार)