Sergei is a hard-core patriot. He had studied in the USSR where the teachers, all of whom had to be members of the Communist Party, made him recite the names of soviet heroes. Competitions were held for the student who could look at the blackboard for ten seconds, remember the name of the patriot and write it after the board was erased. Sergei was very proud when he won the contest for the 18-year old girl who was killed by the Nazis – Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya. He used to wonder if the names grew with people, how long her name would have been if she had lived to be 90! Later in life, Sergei was recommended a book for improving his command over the English language. When he saw the name of the author, he ran from the book store and never ventured into the dangerous task of learning the language of that small Island. The book Lydia of the Nativity, for basic English practice, was written by Christorozhestvenskaya Lidia Pavlovna. Apparently, lesson one was to remember the name of the author.
The experience made Sergei realise that you don’t have to be necessarily a patriot to be the subject of a competition; authors are equally eligible. A little later Sergei’s national pride took a big beating when he was told that the longest place name in Russia, Верхненовокутлумбетьево, at mere 23 letters was not even eligible for an international contest where the last year’s winner was the name of just a small hill in New Zealand – Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu. At a whopping 85 letters, it made the Russian champion a mole-hill. It meant “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one”. Sergei, the ever patriot, had written to Gorbachev to change the name of Sergei’s village, that was on a mountain, to something longer than that of the Kiwi hill. Those were hard times and Gorbachev spent most of time listening to the BBC about the anti-revolution revolution in the USSR and Sergei’s letter remained a “Paper Under Consideration.”
Fast forward to 2022 and Sergei’s nation is led by the patriot “Russia, Russia and only Russia” Putin. His great enterprise to make Ukraine rejoin Russia’s extended family became stuck because prejudice made many think that this was an imperialist enterprise in the guise of a family enterprise. Nothing can be farther from the truth; Ukraine was a member of the Union in the USSR and so should be a member of the Russian Federation. Even if truth is on your side, your soldiers get killed and need to be replaced quickly. The announcement of conscription rekindled the old patriotic flame in the heart of Sergei and he could see that joining the army would be very selfish and unpatriotic for him. It will prevent someone else from attaining martyrdom. There was no point in writing to Putin because these were hard times once again and Putin was busy saving the honour of his oligarch friends whose assets and yachts were being seized. The list of names somehow included Alina, showing how ignorant and cold-blooded America is, not knowing the difference between Oligarch friend and girl friend particularly when all of the oligarchs were men and Putin is not gay.
The topic of display of patriotism by avoiding conscription was hot on the internet. One suggestion, duly reported by The Washington Post on September 21 resulted in the tutorial, “How to break an arm at home.” Another suggested that one should get stoned on drugs but the catch was that it may land you in jail and they were already conscripting from the prisons. There was much advice about “How to leave Russia” but flights to most of the destinations were sanctioned, countries were not issuing Visas and the only option was to go to a country that was Visa-free for Russians. Sergei was late on the scene; only 25 percent Russians had passport and he never thought of getting one, like the remaining 75 per cent Russians who were without professional qualifications. So the 25 per cent left and the 75 per cent were left behind and these remaining ones were being advised by the Internet that the “mobilisation” was actually “mogilisation”, mogila being the Russian word for grave, the gravest kind that is dug in the ground.
BBC had reported that two Russians had sailed to an American island off the coast of Alaska bringing that option too under close watch. He decided to pedal his cycle to the nearest border and before he could reach the emigration booth, he was stopped at the “enlistment” booth and was handed over his draft papers, carrying an extra red stamp in recognition of the fact that draftee was so keen to join the army that he cycled to the booth. The enlisters took the responsibility of having his cycle sent to his home, handing him his olive shirt and trousers. He was already wearing sneakers and those were declared combat-worthy. He was discretely advised that if he wants to fight longer, he should buy a flak jacket immediately on arrival at the training centre. Sergei Checked on the Russian news site BFM.RU which said that the price of the bullet-proof vest has increased from 7,000 roubles to 135,000. Won’t you provide one, Sergei asked the recruiter. Are you a patriot, the recruiter countered. Sergei jumped on to the truck to prove that yes, if he was anything, he was a patriot.
He had informed his mother and she reached the training centre almost at the same time as the old truck took Sergei there. She had brought some tampons and sanitary pads for him. Sergei had ceased to be surprised and Googled. BBC had reported on October 7, some of the chats of the mothers. “The women discuss sending sanitary towels to pad the men’s boots and tampons to pack their wounds.” Sergei thanked his mother not only for being so caring but also so net-savvy. There was no time to lose; all important instructions had to be given in the shortest possible time. She grabbed Sergei’s phone and navigated to The Economist of October 6 and thrust the phone before Sergei’s eyes. “Russian soldiers were making appeals for emergency air support via social media.” As Sergei looked bewildered, she explained, “Even if you get one of those Chinese BaoFeng radios, do not use it. The Ukrainians are always listening in. WhatsApp encryption is more secure.” With all the knowledge under his helmet, Sergei will make a soldier who will be deadly for the enemy. In any case, his mother’s last advice was, “When there is rapid retreat with Ukrainians hot on your heels, lie flat and feign dead. Russians officers will shoot those who are likely to become POWs. Ukrainians will ‘revive’ you with Medovukha.” Had Sergei’s mother been planning Putin’s Special Military Operation, Putin would have soon found himself redundant.
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