Anything is possible-ness.

Bratashova's Door

Wed, 10/09/2013 - 14:45 -- Vijay

*cue time warp music* Think 1970s or 1980s (latest 84’) country life…men wearing roundish thick-framed glasses that have a brownish opaqueness to them that make the eyes look much smaller than the actual lens....1970s cadillacs, and much older Soviet cars called ‘Ladas’ and even older Soviet cars called ‘Moshkvas’ in which you are cramped inside and the dashboard is full of strange Russian letters. The houses look the same- and are of the gingerbread variety…with intricate dots and dashes and curly cues around the edges, and story-book shutters on either side of the windows.

Such is the scene in the villages of the northern shore of Lake Issyk-kul in Kyrgyzstan. The lake itself is a giant mirror that appears as an ocean upon closer approach. It has been said an ancient kingdom lies buried in the depths of the lake. Pieces of gold, and remnants of pottery were found along the shore in 1997. To this day, no one knows how the vast quantity of water in the lake drains- as there is no outlet to be found, and this is Central Asia…the land of endless land in all directions. Perhaps the ancient kingdom is plugging up the outlet ;) so the theory goes..

The Soviets planted neatly arranged rows of white poplar trees along a large part of the northern coast- and the wild horses of the region tend to roam in and out of them- creating a fairy tale aura. Oddly enough, the area is one of the tourist hotspots of Central Asia, with the famous Soviet sanitoriums (health resorts) spread out along the coast of the lake. Though in early October, it is practically deserted save for a few Kazakh and Russian sunbathers.

After spending a day of organizing the collective ‘ashar’ activities that are the basis of my research here…I spend the evenings in a large apple orchard behind the house in which I’m staying. I sit under the trees, get inspired by the ecological economics articles I read and sometimes wait for that Newtonian moment about anything really…and eat lots and lots of apples. Especially the smallish red ones that taste like strawberries!

The time between 4 and 6 pm is what I like to call the ‘golden hour’- when the sun dips in an out of the trees- casting shadows dancing across the grass, as the horses amble through the light on their way to shelter for the night. I often walk beyond the orchard towards the impressionable Ala-Too mountains that separate nearby Kazakhstan from Kyrgyzstan. There lies another dramatic plain of rolling knolls and a few scattered rocks that inclines slightly towards the mountains. Heading back towards the house, the vast Lake Issyk-kul beckons below (ish) and beyond that, when the air is not dusty, lies a subsection of the towering Tian-Shan mountains. A huge wall of dark rock rising skywards.

The people of the villages stop for a curious smile and approach me with tales of Hindi movie stars from eons ago (Raj kapoor and his 1956 film…Chori Chori- which I’ve never heard of). I guess the Soviets thought sappy Bollywood love stories would be suitable entertainment for the population who decided to never watch another Bollywood film again! Most of the population is ethnic Kyrgyz, though in one village called Grigorievka, Russians can be found.

One particular Russian couple in the town has me captivated. The head of the water users federation which I collaborate with is a very large woman with a triple chin and a few skin polyps and warts. I shall call her Bratashova. She is known in the village to be stern and direct and even at times to be feared for her uncompromising attitude and downright surly behaviour. Her reactions towards me have always left me somewhat confused. She once threw back her head in exasperation after she found my assistant and I skulking around her gingerbread house of a house to clarify some work we were organizing (for her sake). At other times, she would glare at us in her office as she licked her pudgy fingers to flip the pages of her miniscule (practically keychain variety) weekly planner to organise her schedule. Then there were times when she’d pat me on my back and ask me in Russian whether I was eating enough vegetables (…it is a running gag around here that I am vegetarian) and almost hint at a smile towards me.

Her husband is skinny and tired looking, wears bellbottom leather trousers and constantly makes jokes that aren’t funny to anyone else or are not understood (…by me primarily). Bratashova tells him to shut up and he becomes silent for a few moments before he starts again with another quip. I’ve been told that he frequently gets himself into easily avoidable accidents. Most recently he poured a pot of hot honey on his face (??) and had to be driven to the city of Bishkek for quick treatment. He’s not always around when we meet Bratashova…but his presence always seems to lighten the otherwise tense atmosphere of her office- where only the sound of heavy breathing and dozens of houseflies buzzing against the window can be heard in the pauses.

So I stand in front of her office door- which protrudes out onto the dusty street of Grigorievka, recalling how it felt to be in school with a mean teacher…not knowing whether she’d be nice today or not.


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