How Soviet science books became an artifact among physicists and engineers in India
In 2012, a fire broke out in the north-east of Moscow. The old building with wooden floors caught fire, the fire quickly spread to neighboring houses. Fire brigades could not get to the place - all the parking lots around were filled with cars. The fire swept one and a half thousand square meters. It was also not possible to get to the hydrant, so the rescuers used a fire train and even two helicopters. One employee of the Ministry of Emergencies was killed in the fire.
As it turned out later, the fire began in the house of the publishing house Mir.
It is unlikely that this name says anything to most people. Publishing house and publishing house, another ghost from the Soviet era, which for thirty years has not released anything, but for some reason continued to exist. At the end of the 2000s, it was on the verge of bankruptcy, but somehow repaid debts, to whom and whatever it owed. His entire modern history is a couple of lines on Wikipedia about leapfrog between all sorts of state MGUP SHMUP FMUP, which are gathering dust in Rostec’s folders (if you believe Wikipedia, again).
But behind the bureaucratic lines there is not a word about what a huge legacy the “World” left in India and how it influenced the life of several generations.
A few days ago, patientzero dropped a link to a blog, where they lay out digitized Soviet scientific books. I thought someone was turning their nostalgia into a good cause. It turned out to be true, but a couple of details made the blog unusual - the books were in English, and the Indians discussed them in the comments. Everyone wrote how important these books were to them in childhood, shared stories and memories, and said how cool it would be to get them on paper now.
I googled, and each new link surprised me more and more - columns, posts, even documentaries about the importance of Russian literature for the people of India. This was a discovery for me, which I’m ashamed to talk about now - I can’t believe that such a large layer passed by.
It turns out that Soviet scientific literature has become a kind of cult in India. The books of the inglorious publishing house that we have disappeared are still worth its weight in gold on the other side of the world.
“They were very popular because of their quality and price. These books were accessible and in demand even in small settlements - not only in large cities. Many were translated into different Indian languages - Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi, Gujarati and others. This greatly expanded the audience. Although I’m not an expert, but I think one of the reasons for lowering the price was an attempt to replace Western books, which were very expensive then (and now too), ”Damitr, the author of the blog, told me. [ Damitr is an acronym on behalf of the author, which he asked not to disclose. ]
He is a physicist by training and considers himself a bibliophile. Now he is a researcher and teacher of mathematics. Damiter began collecting books in the late 90s. Then they were no longer printed in India. Now he has about 600 Soviet books - some he bought from hand or second-hand books, some gave him. “With these books it was much easier for me to learn, and I want as many people as possible to read them too. That's why I started my blog. ”
How Soviet books came to India
Two years after World War II, India ceased to be a colony of Great Britain. Periods of great change are always the most difficult and hottest. Independent India was full of people of different views, who now got the opportunity to move the foundations, where they consider it necessary. The world around was also ambiguous. The Soviet Union and America tried to reach, it seems, to every corner in order to lure them into their camp.
The Muslim population separated and founded Pakistan. Border territories, as always, became controversial, and there the war began. America supported Pakistan, the Soviet Union - India. In 1955, the Prime Minister of India visited Moscow, Khrushchev paid a return visit that same year. Thus began a long and very close relationship between countries. Even when India was in conflict with China in the 60s, the USSR officially maintained neutrality, but financial assistance for India was higher, which somewhat spoiled relations with China.
Because of friendship with the Union, there was a strongly communist movement in India. And then ships with tons of books went to India, and to us - kilometers of film reels with Indian cinema.
“All books came to us through the Communist Party of India, and sales funds replenished their funds. Of course, among other books, there were the sea and the sea of the volumes of Lenin, Marx and Engels, and many books on philosophy, sociology and history were quite biased. But in mathematics, in the sciences, bias is much less. Although, in one of the books on physics, the author explained dialectical materialism in the context of physical variables. I won’t say whether people were skeptical of Soviet books in those days, but now the majority of collectors of Soviet literature are centrists with a left bias or frankly left. ”
Damitre showed me several texts of the Indian “left-leaning edition” of The Frontline dedicated to the centenary of the October Revolution. In one of them, journalist Vijay Prasad writesthat interest in Russia appeared even earlier, in the 1920s, when the Indians were inspired by the overthrow of the tsarist regime in our country. Then communist manifestos and other political texts were clandestinely translated into Indian. In the late 1920s, books by Soviet Russia by Jawaharlal Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore's Letters from Russia were popular among Indian nationalists.
No wonder the idea of revolution was so pleasing to them. In the position of the British colony, the words "capitalism" and "imperialism" by default had the same negative context that the Soviet government laid in them. But after thirty years, not only political literature became popular in India.
Why are Soviet books so loved in India
For India they translated everything that we read. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Chekhov, Gorky. A sea of children's books, for example, "Deniskins Stories" or "Chuck and Huck." From the outside, it seems to us that India, with its ancient rich history, gravitates to mysterious myths and magical stories, but it was the realism, routine, and simplicity of Soviet books that bribed Indian children.
A documentary called Red Stars Lost in the Fog about Soviet literature was filmed in India last year. The directors paid most of the attention to children's books on which the characters of the film grew. For example, Rugvedita Parah, an oncological pathologist from India, spoke of her attitude as follows: “Russian books are my favorite because they are not trying to teach. They do not indicate the moral of the fable, as in Aesop or in Panchatantra. “I don’t understand why even such good books as the textbook Mother of Shyama should be full of clichés.”
“They were distinguished by the fact that they never tried to be frivolous or down to the personality of the child. They do not offend their intellect, ”said psychologist Sulbha Subramaniyam.
From the beginning of the 60s, the Publishing House of Foreign Literature was engaged in the release of books. Later it was divided into several separate. "Progress" and "Rainbow" produced children's and fiction, political non-fiction (as they would call it now). Leningrad "Aurora" published books about art. The Pravda publishing house published the children's magazine Misha, where, for example, there were fairy tales, crosswords for learning the Russian language, and even addresses for correspondence with children from the Soviet Union.
Finally, the Mir Publishing House issued scientific and technical literature.
“Scientific books, of course, were popular, but mainly among people who were especially interested in science, and there are always a minority of them. Perhaps the popularity of Russian classics in the Indian language (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky) also helped them. Books were so cheap and widespread that they were perceived as almost one-time. For example, in school lessons, pictures were cut from these books, ”says Damitre.
Deepa Bhashti writes in his column for The Calvert Journal that when reading scientific books, people did not know anything and could not find out about their authors. Unlike the classics, often these were ordinary employees of research institutes:
“Now the Internet has told me [where these books came from], without a single hint of authors, of their personal stories. The Internet still has not told me the names of Babkov, Smirnov, Glushkov, Maron and other scientists and engineers of state institutes who wrote textbooks about things like airport construction, heat transfer and mass transfer, radio measurements and much more.
My desire to become an astrophysicist (until he was recaptured by a physicist in high school) came about because of a small blue book called “Space at Your Home” by F. Rabiza. I tried to find out who Rabiza was, but there was nothing about him on any fan site of Soviet literature. Apparently, I should have enough initials after the last name. The biographies of the authors may not have been interesting to the homeland they served. ”
“My favorites were the books of Lev Tarasov,” says Damiter, “His level of immersion in the subject, of her understanding, was unbelievable. The first book I read, he wrote with his wife Albina Tarasova. It was called "Questions and Answers in School Physics." There, in the form of dialogue, many misconceptions from the school curriculum are explained. This book has clarified a lot to me. The second book I read from him is “Fundamentals of Quantum Mechanics”. In it, quantum mechanics is considered with all mathematical rigor. There is also a dialogue between the classical physicist, author and reader. I also read his "This amazing symmetrical world", "Discussions on the refraction of light", "A world built on probability." Each book is a pearl, and I was lucky to be able to pass them on to others. ”
How to save books after the collapse of the USSR
By the 80s, there were an incredible amount of Soviet books in India. Since they were translated into many local languages, Indian children literally learned to read native words from Russian books. But with the collapse of the Union, everything abruptly stopped. By that time, India was already in a deep economic crisis, and the Russian Foreign Ministry said it was not interested in a special relationship with New Delhi. From this point on, they stopped subsidizing the translation and publishing of books in India. By the 2000s, Soviet books completely disappeared from the shelves.
Just a few years was enough for Soviet literature to be almost forgotten, but with the massive spread of the Internet, its new popularity began. Enthusiasts gathered in communities on Facebook, corresponded on separate blogs, searched for all the books that can be found, and began to digitize them.
In the film “Red Stars Lost in the Fog,” they also told how modern publishers took up the idea of not just collecting and digitizing, but officially re-publishing old books. At first they tried to find the copyright holders, but could not, so they just started collecting the surviving copies, again translating what was lost, and putting it into print.
Shot from the film "Red Stars Lost in the Fog."
But if fiction could be forgotten without support, fiction remained in demand. According to Damitra, she is still in use in academic circles:
“Many professors and teachers at universities, recognized physicists, recommended me Soviet books. Most of the engineers who still work in our time, studied at them.
Today's popularity is due to the highly sophisticated IIT-JEE exam for engineering specialties. Many students and tutors simply pray for the books of Herodov, Zubov, Shalnov and Volkenstein. I’m not sure if Soviet fiction and children's books are popular with the modern generation, but Herod’s “Solving the Basic Problems of Physics” is still recognized as the gold standard. ”
The workplace of Damitra, where he digitizes books.
Nevertheless, the preservation and popularization - even of scientific books - is the work of few enthusiasts: “As far as I know, just a couple of people collect Soviet books besides me, this is not a very common task. Every year, there are fewer hardcover books, yet the last of them were printed more than thirty years ago. Fewer and fewer places where Soviet books can be found. Many times, it seemed to me that the book I found was the last existing copy.
In addition, book collecting itself is a dying hobby. “I know very few people (despite the fact that I live in academia) who have more than a dozen books at home.”
Lev Tarasov’s books are still being republished in various Russian publishing houses. He continued to write after the collapse of the Union, when they were no longer taken to India. But I do not remember that his name was widely popular with us. Even the search engines on the front pages give out completely different Tarasov Lions. I wonder what Damiter would think about this?
Or what publishers would think if they knew that Mir, Progress and Rainbow, whose books they want to print, still exist, but it seems, only in the registries of legal entities. And when the Mir publishing house was on fire, his book legacy was the last issue that was later discussed.
Now everyone treats the USSR. I myself have many contradictions about him. But for some reason, to write and admit to Damitra that I did not know anything about this - it was somehow embarrassing and sad.