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Janaki Krishnan




This story is about a bust of Lenin, passed on to the narrator by his grandmother, Janaki. She and her husband were doctors and communists in India and influenced the narrator as he grew up. Today, the bust has political and nostalgic significance for the narrator.




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My digital story is about a unique object. It is a metal bust of Vladimir Lenin that my late paternal grandmother, Janaki, brought back from the USSR in 1984. The bust has a very unique smell that takes me back to India and the years I lived there and invokes memories of my paternal grandparents. The Lenin statue, or bust, stands about 10 inches tall and depicts Lenin in a graceful pose, standing and giving a lecture.

My grandmother, Janaki, in her forties, decided that she wanted to learn Russian, and in subsequent trips to the USSR in the 1970s and 80s, became fluent in the language, so much so that she became a very well-renowned and in-demand Russian teacher in India. Not only that, but thousands of Russian students and students from the former Soviet Union who would come to India to learn traditional Indian music, dance, and languages would become her students.

Now, I am the first person in my family born in the United States to doctor-parents who emigrated in the 1970s. This bust of Lenin means a great deal because it is a material reminder of the connection between my grandparents and I. It's not "just" a statue; it represents the Communist ideology that my "paati" and "thatha" had embraced decades before I was born, and yet still found a way to percolate into my dad's childhood in terms of his dislike or lack of interest in religion, and his pull towards science. My paternal grandfather, Krishnan, was a doctor and considered himself a rationalist, so Communism had an obvious appeal, especially in the decades that he really came of age (the 1930s and 1940s). I don't know if my grandmother became a Communist due to my grandfather (so, after marriage) or if her leanings were due to her father (whom I never met, but heard fond stories of from my dad and his brothers)

I honestly don't remember when exactly the statue came into my possession. I know I always wanted it because I had seen it at my grandparents' original house and then later in their "flats" (or apartments). I had it in my office in Georgia, when I started working there in 2008, but my dad recently sent me a scanned copy of a letter I sent my grandmother after PK died in 2001. In that letter, I claim to already have the Lenin bust, so I may have asked for it in 1997 before I moved to the U.S. for college.

I suppose the great irony in all of this is that I do not identify as a Communist and probably never will. But there is no question that my latent interest in politics is related to PK and Jani and the intellectual level of discourse and conversation that was common in their home and with their guest. Can you imagine, being a teenager, and going to see your grandparents, and they are drinking tea with some friends and everyone is calling each other comrade? "Well, Comrade Krishnan, what do you think this?ā€ ā€œIā€™m not sure, Comrade Janaki, what do you think?ā€

Now, as a professor of American Politics, the idea of having the bust is appealing even more so because it represents an ideology that is particularly hated in the U.S., so I guess in my own subversive way, I am trolling those who presume I am a Communist without even getting to know me first.

PK thatha died in September 2001 and while I miss him, I was able to direct my energies to Jani paati. I am blessed to have loved her for another 17 years; she died on January 19th of this year (2018). So, PK has been elevated to some supernatural status, but Jani is something else. She was a deeply flawed woman, but I know she loved me unconditionally so I am happy to have had her in my life - first grandson and all of that. Now that she is dead - which I have to say, is still hard to even write or say - this bust of Lenin has an even greater place in my life. Now it is more than just an object ... it is something that my grandparents owned that I now do, and one day, I will get to pass it on to someone else. I hope that person is in the family, but if they are not, then perhaps I should give it to someone who will treasure it and know that in this cast iron object is the love of a set of grandparents who were happy to know that at least one of their grandchildren took their love of politics and made it into a career.