Dreams of Gulsat Akhinoma

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Ms. Gulsat Akhinoma was one among the fourteen members of our group that set out from Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, to explore the Caucasus Mountains recently. Gulsat was born in the city of Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan. She is a university graduate working in Bishkek. Since she was born in the erstwhile Soviet Union, grew up there and seen its downfall, I had a lot of questions for her and she had answers for all of them. For me, whatever she had shared seemed to be thought-provoking not only for those who support the ideology that the Soviet Union had practiced but for its haters also. This is an attempt to share it here in her own words.

“I was fourteen years old when the Soviet Union was dissolved. I still remember the day. There was a collective-farm building in our village. On its roof, there was the red Soviet flag, with the hammer and sickle imprinted on it, fluttering in the air. There was also a portrait of Vladimir Lenin on its wall. A few youngsters arrived there on horseback shouting loudly – God blessed us, the Russian army left our land, we are a free nation now. They pulled down the Soviet flag and tried to wipe off the image of Lenin from the wall…

There was a students’ organization in the name of Lenin at our school. I was its leader. We were committed to keep our society a classless one that depended on science for human progress. As you see, now there are limited opportunities for education and once you complete your studies, there is hardly any job opportunity. Under the Soviet regime, there were universities in every city with highly qualified teachers. There was nothing that limited our scope in terms of finding better avenues for education. Those excelled in the local universities were sent to Moscow for higher studies. The government provided for free boarding and lodging for such students. Once you complete your studies, it was the responsibility of the university to find a suitable job for you which could be anywhere in the Union.

During those times, our people used to work for everyone, for the state. Now everyone works for themselves. Still our needs are unmet. There are anxieties and uncertainties about tomorrow. You can find cut-throat competition everywhere. The youngsters were more energetic during the Soviet times. The farmers sowed and reaped together. The nation respected them. As the agricultural production increased, living standards of the people improved. Though there was a crisis in the agricultural sector during the Second World War, the Soviet Union managed to send food grains to countries that were reeling under acute food shortage, including India.

Individual freedom did not mean a situation where the citizens were free to do anything s/he wanted. But, they were free to do what was essential and in the best interest of his/her fellow beings. For us, getting equal treatment and opportunities in the society was freedom. In all such aspects, the Soviet Union was far ahead of any other country in the world ever. But, of course, there were certain controls which were absolutely necessary to keep the Union together.

What one needs to understand is that the collapse of the Union is not something that happened due to the policies of Joseph Stalin. It was largely due to the ‘De-Stalinisation’ process adopted by Nikita Khrushchev and his successors. They brought capitalism, religion and class differences back to the Society which ultimately resulted in conflicts in every realm of life and eventually led to the downfall of the Union. No country which was part of the Soviet Union progressed after its dissolution. There is extreme poverty everywhere. Women from these countries are being sold in the flesh markets in cities like Hong Kong, Bangkok and Dubai. All those youngsters who criticize the Union never lived there. You talk to our elders, they will tell you about a political party and their government that respected humanity, knowledge, science and agriculture. Our country is under Neo-slavery today. Our lives, nature and resources are being exploited. We can’t think about tomorrow without fear.

Religions have made a strong come back into our society. The Soviet Union had kept them at bay. There were just a few churches. Religious education was banned. Religious leaders had nothing to do with politics and governance. Today churches have mushroomed in almost every village with foreign aid. Religious leaders exert so much of pressure in governance.

The silver lining is that gradually people are realizing that everything is not going in the right direction. Despite all the sense of loss, we are hopeful that the Soviet Union will emerge again. Eventually, there will be a realisation that nothing other than a Communist establishment can treat everyone equally and provide for food, health, opportunities and peace. They will take up the red flag they had thrown away once. There may not be another country or political establishment that was loved and admired by people like the Soviet Union. My dream is to be able to live in the Soviet Union again.”

(This is a translation of the original post in Malayalam done by my friend Nissar Adoor. He is getting it translated into Russian)

HIV and Depression: Let’s talk

 

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Deepak (name changed) found out about his HIV infection at a blood donation camp. It devastated him! Not yet out of his post graduate college, he did not have the courage to share the news with his parents, skipped lecturers at college and locked himself at home. He fell hopeless, and was in a state of an emotional upheaval. With much persuasion from his mother, Deepak finally opened up to her. Though it took her some time to accept reality, she never blamed her son, and instead, gave him the assurance that the entire family would support him, and never forsake him. The family got him enrolled for ART, and subsequently he became a part of Vihaan Care and Support (CSC) programme. The CSC provided him with peer support to cope better with his new circumstances. He realized that HIV was no longer a life threatening health issue, but a manageable one. Today, he sees life with much more optimism and fortitude. He has resumed his studies as well, and is closer to his family. He completed his study and is confidently managing a CSC working as a Project Coordinator.

HIV is still considered a jarring enough diagnosis to plunge a patient into depression. The Healthline News in 2014, highlighted, “When depression is paired with HIV, the two diseases can feed off of one another. A 2001 meta-analysis of studies on HIV and depression underscored the severity of the problem. It showed that people with HIV run twice the risk of depression as those who are at-risk for HIV but remain uninfected.”

I talk about this story today, as the central theme of this year’s World Health Day is ‘Depression’. Every day, across India, 360 care and support centres and 32 Help Desks teams consisting of counsellors, peer counsellors and outreach workers from the Vihaan programme, reach out to thousands of individuals living with HIV, many of themselves living with HIV. They encourage and support them to accept life with courage, actively access and retain themselves in care, support and treatment services, and have a positive outlook towards their lives. At Vihaan, we believe mental health is a crucial factor in ensuring the wellbeing of PLHIV. This World Health Day, we pledge to renew our commitment to continue to support PLHIV to improve the quality of their lives by helping them in enhancing their mental health and wellbeing.

http://www.allianceindia.org/world-health-day-depression-lets-talk/

Early birds catch the train!

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I witnessed this scene at the South Railway Station in Ernakulam last week. The Kozhikode – Trivandrum Shatabdi started moving from the station. Suddenly, a young girl with a shoulder bag rushed down through the stairs of the footbridge and started running along the platform trying to get into the train which had already gained speed. Passengers on the platform yelled at her to stop the adventure. Still, she was not willing to give up. Somehow she managed to catch hold of the handrail of the door but slipped from the step and was about to fall in between the moving train and platform. There was a great panic among those who were watching it. Suddenly, there came a hand from inside and pulled her in. All those who were witnessing the scene sighed in relief. For the rest of her life, I am sure, the girl will refer to that hand as the ‘Hand of God’.

Please start early and reach on time for your flight, train bus etc. Sometimes, circumstances beyond your control might prevent you from doing so. Still, don’t resort to such adventures. Just give up because reaching late for everything everywhere is an accepted practice in India. So don’t worry. After all, what is more important in life than being alive?

Does it really mean the end of everything?

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I met her in the early 2000s during a three-day a journalism workshop in our city. We were in the same group for all activities and became great friends by the time the workshop got over. We realized that, between us, there are a lot of common interests as well – books, movies, music, travel etc. At that time, both of us had completed our high school and about to enter the Pre-University Programme. I was seriously thinking about journalism as my future career, inspired by some movies I had watched. She was not quite sure about what next. She said she had no option but to listen to her parents.

Anyway, after returning from the workshop, we started writing letters to each other about life in general, the movies we watched, the books we read and so on. It was, of course, before the advent of mobile phones. We were not having a landline at home. Though she had one, I never tried to ring her up. The letter writing went on for almost two years till I packed my bag and left home to live the life of a gypsy which I think I continue to live even today.

After a few years, she found me when Orkut became the order of the day. She was pursuing final year of MBBS in a prestigious medical college at that time. After a few months, I happened to be in the city where she studied. We met again after so long and, sitting in the railway station, talked to each other for hours about the developments in our lives during that period without any communication. After that, there was hardly any communication between us though both of us possessed mobile phones by that time.  When Orkut died its natural death, she added me as a friend in Facebook. We have always been connected without any communication ever since we met for the second time in the railway station.

Today, my work brought me to the same railway station again which, of course, took me down memory lane. It was a shocking realisation for me that I had not seen any FB update from her for quite a long period of time. I searched for her in the list of my friends. The account is still there but I could not find any update after mid-2015. And, unfortunately, the intro section in her timeline which earlier talked in detail about her background, academics, career etc. has now been reduced to just one line – ‘Married to Mr. X’

(The photograph is of the railway station. It has nothing much to do with the story)

Service with a smile

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Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) could probably be the best among state-owned surface public transport systems in India. You hardly find any private buses plying in the state. KSRTC has such a great network covering the interior areas of the state as well. You may not find so many different types of buses, from ordinary to luxury, in the fleet of other states. The ownership and commitment displayed by their staff is also exemplary. You can find them standing outside the bus at terminals inviting passengers. A few months back, we were travelling from Bangalore airport to Mysore. There were some tensions in Mandya (on the way) due to the Kaveri water dispute between Karnataka and Tamilnadu. We were a bit apprehensive but the driver assured that he would take us safe to Mysore, may be through some interior roads, though he was not sure how much time it would take to reach the destination. Such an attitude makes a lot of difference! He kept his promise though an otherwise three-hour journey took six hours that day. And, I hear that it’s a profit making entity too unlike the state transport corporations of other state. Kudos to the Corporation and its team!