Death and the Pigeon

Death and the Penguin is a Russian novel set in 90s Ukraine by Andrey Kurkov. It is a dark, satirical, and strangely surreal look at the adventures of a down on his luck every-man, living in Kyiv, with his pet penguin. The bond shared by the man and his penguin is deeply emotional and has been written beautifully. It captures the effect of the turbulent political situation and financial ruin faced by people in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse.

The unpredictability of everyday life where the economy had collapsed and the state had been taken over by rival mafia gangs pervades the pages of the book. This book, more than any work of non-fiction, gave me a glimpse of how it must've felt for people to live though those times when the rigid certainties of the Soviet era were suddenly replaced by anarchy and uncertainty within a few years or even months. Developing an understanding of this period of history helped me appreciate how politics in Russia and Ukraine in the Putin era are shaped by people's dread of the chaos of the early 90s. It also gave me an idea why middle aged Russians today support Putin's policies advocating security and stability of the state at all costs. I would highly recommend the book to anyone interested in this period of history.

The bird that prompted me to write this post was not a penguin, but a more commonplace member of the avian family. A couple of days ago, a pigeon crashed into my room's glass window and died. I usually draw my curtains in the morning because the summer sun in Delhi can get really hot. I forgot to draw them the entire way that day and the pigeon mistook a section of glass window, not covered by  curtains, as a portal to shade in my room in the afternoon heat. Unfortunately, the way to that shade was blocked by two inch thick glass- an inch (two) far. The coronavirus lockdown in India has been hard on the poor and other people on the margins, especially migrants who eke out a precarious living in the best of times. Even animals like dogs, cows and pigeons who, in a way, also live on the margins of human society, have been affected by the lockdown. 

The incident with the pigeon brought home, quite literally, the uncertainty and chaos being faced by a large section of our population to my comfortable middle-class existence. News reports about people walking hundreds of kilometers in the summer heat to their homes, not getting enough food and being mistreated seem more corporeal. A friend had recently shared an article talking about how these people who face so much uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic and the consequent lockdown have been forgotten by not just the government, but also us- their more privileged fellow citizens. 


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