“.. during all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but, also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared this would become known.” – Solzhenitsyn

When I quit work to pursue writing, part of me just wanted to get published. There were even weak moments of wanting to write something easily palatable, just like the bite-sized forgettable fictions that readers can ingest in a gulp. After two years of both actively and passively pursuing my ambitions, I read Tolstoy and it changed things. His understanding of human character gave me a glimpse of what the original Anna Karenina would have been like and how I, without any knowledge of Russian, would never experience it. An idea, masked in disappointment, was born that day.

Pursuing writing is a scary thing, specially due to its unpredictability and subjective nature. When people think of a writer, they imagine a dreamy artist lost in pen and paper. However, how would you feel if I were to tell you about a certain author who mentally wrote a 12,000 line autobiographical poem without pen and paper, amidst terrible tortures of a labour camp over a course of five years? Or, what about a writer who risked horrifying fate just to write his book, a manuscript whose safety was the last thing he ensured when he rose from his deathbed one final time?

It sounds unbelievable to the most of us, sitting comfortably in our so-called safe homes, to picture writers of some of the best literature in history who just wanted to write, without any desire to be published or even get known. Yet, this is exactly how it happened in Soviet Russia.

The opening quote of this piece is by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and who was indeed the aforementioned author who mentally wrote works in a labour camp. The latter events are from the life of Mikhail Bulgakov, the writer of The Master and Margarita, as told by his widow who published his manuscript 26 years after his death, when the ruling regime changed.

Living in the 21st century, our generation gets much stronger shoulders of history to stand on than any other time in the past. Counterintuitively enough, the instant gratification culture of today disallows us to view the world from the unique vantage point these shoulders offer us. Popular art has become ‘art that sells’, popular literature has become ‘stories easily read’ and popular entertainment is what the Autoplay feature of our video-on-demand websites feeds us.

Popular art has become ‘art that sells’, popular literature has become ‘stories easily read’ and popular entertainment is what the Autoplay feature of our video-on-demand websites feeds us.

My first instinct after reading about these authors was to write about them. Soon enough, it felt like a conveniently empty gesture that would in no way honour their memories. One of the greatest joys of a writer is the feeling of being read and the solution presented itself soon enough.

I will read their works in their original form. It’s rather simple if you think about it. There is no way to honour a writer than to read their works as they intended them to be read. Translations are a tricky thing, done more often wrong than right, and I don’t want to read second-hand versions of the tales these minds risked their lives to tell. Learning Russian is my first step towards this goal and that’s what this post is about.

We run around everyday to do things for specific purposes. As a consequence, we quit doing things that don’t serve one. This mindset needs to change. I have decided on a duration of 45 minutes each day to learn Russian to pursue my goal. No more, no less. You can breathe life into your passions with similar daily efforts. Just as I am about to start with my goal, I encourage you all to begin with yours. I don’t really know how long it will take me to make it to my goal, but I will be content with the fact that I am closer to my destination with every passing day.

See you all next Sunday as I post about my progress. I would be happy to entertain all queries via comments and email 🙂


Copyright © Neha Sharma