The Russian connection

Her voice over the phone was stilted and unfamiliar. All that she said was “Sharada? Tanya.” It was bizarre as I hadn’t seen or spoken to Tanya in over forty years! Then, she was a young Russian bride married to an Assamese geologist working in the same department as my father. Besides Russian, she knew no other language. Painstakingly, she picked up a smattering of Assamese to converse with her in-laws and a few words of English from me. 

Often when her husband had to go to a well-site, I’d keep her company. To me, she was a mysterious stranger from the other side of the Iron Curtain. I’d try to glean information about Russia – the food they ate, the fashion trends and the kind of women they considered pretty. She’d ruminate over the questions and answer carefully. When words failed, Tanya would show me pictures from old Russian magazines. Haltingly, she spoke about her childhood, the impact of the II World War on her family and how she met her husband while at the university. When she spoke about their courtship, her eyes would sparkle and there would be a gush of Russian words, while I looked on uncomprehendingly. 

Soon, they were blessed with a bonny baby girl and their world seemed complete. However, small and big issues began troubling her and she’d often seem disturbed. Times were different then and rules and embargoes were rigid. Foreigners needed permission and escorts to go to NEFA (Northeast Frontier Association – now known as Arunachal Pradesh). Although the Oil India setup was more egalitarian, having a Russian spouse seemed to create some security issues and a highly-qualified Tanya was not allowed to seek employment. 

Even the Russian government said that if she works in India, her qualifications will be de-recognised and she will not be allowed freely into Russia. Marriages may be made in heaven, but politics and people come in between. Tanya began to feel that she belonged nowhere – unwanted in her country and a misfit here. She began missing all that was familiar to her – her country, her parents and siblings – and longed to go back.    

When exactly the adjustment process became a struggle for her, I don’t really know. Tanya took some tough decisions and went back to Russia with her daughter, but sans husband. News filtered that she had got a good job and her daughter was faring well academically. Tanya’s husband remarried with her consent and had his own little family. Both families maintained cordial relationships and even visited each other. They had resolved life’s problems in a way acceptable to all. Still, I used to wonder how Tanya was coping. 

And now she was on the other side of the phone. I told her that it was heartbreaking when she left and now it was heartwarming to hear her voice. She mentioned that she’d met her ex-husband and added, “He’s an old man now. I’m doing fine. Come to Moscow.” That one statement made me realise that although life may be complicated, friendship is simple and straightforward. 

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