By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Eras Of Comrade Babov And Comrade Gabov

I have such a large collection of what I think are my best pieces of writing that I find it extremely difficult to short-list them.  But I have no hesitation at all in saying that no matter how short that list gets to be, it must include the following article I wrote 40 years ago:    



(In same order as in text) 

Churchgate Terminal  --  Long before the middle of the 20th century, Bombay already had a couple of excellent, fully electrified broad-gauge suburban railway lines:  one of them starting from a modern terminal building in the city's most fashionable locality called Churchgate, and the other from a magnificent Gothic building called Victoria Terminus, not far away, resembling London's St. Pancras station.  (By the way, I lived and worked in the Churchgate area during 1967-69, and invariably turned up there whenever visiting or passing through Bombay, both before and after that spell).

 Bandra, Andheri, Borivli, Virar, Goregaon  --  Major suburban localities of Greater Bombay, with railway stations bearing the same names.

 Vladiwestok  --  The Churchgate line is operated by the Western Railway, hence 'Vladiwestok'.  Of course, Vladivastok in Russia is at the East-coast end of the Trans-Siberian Railway, 'Vostok' meaning 'East' in Russian. 

 Baikullov  --  Echoing Byculla, another major suburb, with important station on the Central Railway line starting from Victoria Terminus. 

 Skyscrapers project  --  By 1970, Bombay's skyline was getting awfully skewed by concrete jungles of very tall buildings, causing severe civic problems.

 Mahimsk  --  derived from Mahim, another major Bombay suburb, and the famous Russian towns Omsk and Tomsk.


Shankar's Weekly
15 April 1973
A Tale Of  Two Comrades


ENTERING  the Churchgate terminal on my first visit to Bombay, I noticed that above each platform there was a prominent overhead sign which said:  BABOV

I asked a friend about it, and he said it stood for Bandra, Andheri, Borivli and Virar.  He was right obviously, for only the concerned letter was illuminated, depending on the destination of the next train.

I was, however, never able to ignore the mysterious overtones of the sign.  Every time I passed through Bombay I thought of Babov, and wondered who he might have been.

 Stepping off a local train at Churchgate several years later, I saw that the BABOV signs had disappeared;  but in their place there were other equally intriguing ones which said:   B.GABOV.

 A railway official at the gate told me that the G stood for Goregaon, but I wasn't convinced.  I was no longer inclined to accept such down-to-earth explanations.  Comrade Boris Gabov, it seemed to me, was too real and forceful a person to be written off the history books by a mere railway official.

 Wasn't he the one, I asked myself, who succeeded the great Babov as the Leader of the Party?  But let me begin from the beginning!


COMRADE Yuri Bandrovitch Babov was the son of a humble office worker in Vladiwestok.  His father, Ivan Bandrov, lived in a tenement in the outskirts of the city, and he spent four hours every day commuting between his home and his place of work.  Young Yuri grew up without seeing much of his father's face, and he deeply resented the fact. 

 Ivan Bandrov became ill on account of the bad working conditions in his office, and he died two years before the Revolution.  Yuri was 24 years old at the time, and had become a booking clerk in the Vladiwestok railway terminal. 

During the Revolution Yuri Babov joined the Party, and in due course he rose to the highest office.  The provision of proper working and living conditions for the workers and the improvement of public transport facilities were the two main themes of all his campaigns.

As soon as he became the Leader, Comrade Babov initiated a great expansion of the suburban railways, which he completely electrified.  It not only helped the commuters, but brought quick promotions to thousands of railwaymen.  

The Leader discouraged personality cult, and had forbidden the display of his portrait or name in public places.  But he couldn't prevent the proud and gratified staff of the Vladiwestok railway station from displaying huge illuminated signs above the platforms commemorating their great ex-colleague's name.


MEANWHILE, a former parcel-office clerk of the same station had also emerged  as a powerful national figure.  He was Comrade Boris Goregovitch Gabov, the son of an engine-driver called Gregori Goregov.

Goregov had died a heart-broken man because he didn't have a living wage, and his son was determined to improve the lot of the rail workers.

Boris Gabov was a prominent trade-union leader at the time of the Revolution, and he rose to be the Deputy Leader of the Party.  He not only increased the salaries of the railwaymen, but secured for them as many travel concessions as in any other country.

When Comrade Babov had improved the public transport facilities, he turned his attention to the other main item in his manifesto.  Relying heavily on the advice of People's Architect Bykullov, he launched an ambitious project of building skyscrapers to provide spacious offices and residential apartments for the workers.

For a while it looked as if the project was going to be a great success;  but soon certain unforeseen difficulties cropped up.  The terrific congestion and traffic bottlenecks which arose in the urban centers became unmanageable, in spite of the improved public transport system.

 The upshot of it all was that Comrade Babov confessed failure, and the Central Comiittee relieved him of his high office and posted him as an assistant station master in Mahimsk.  Comrade Gabov emerged as the new Leader.

 The employees of the Vladiwestok railway station removed the BABOV signs, and in their place they put up new ones commemorating their other great ex-colleague's name:  B.GABOV. 

 Even at this distant date, visitors to Vladiwestok can see these relics of history at the terminal.  They are being preserved by the authorities as tourist attractions, although Comrade Gabov too couldn't cope with the skyscraper problem and had followed his predecessor into oblivion.



PostScript, 2013
Gazing into the crystal ball


 Obviously, I couldn't have written the above article in 1973 with such authentic undertones if I didn't have a sensitive insight into the political set-up and national ethos of the Soviet Union.  Just compare my description of the two leaders and their backgrounds with the following paragraph from Wikipedia, the Cyberian phenomenon which materialized three decades later:

"Gorbachev was born [1931] in Stavropol Krai into a peasant Ukrainian-Russian family, and in his teens operated combine harvesters on collective farms. He graduated from Moscow State University in 1955 with a degree in law. While he was at the university, he joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and soon became very active within it.... He was appointed ....  First Secretary to the Supreme Soviet in 1974,.... a Member of the Politburo in 1979.......[and] was elected General Secretary by the Politburo in 1985."

That's rather interesting, of course;  but what's truly mysterious about this whole context is how close I actually came to inventing the name of Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachov!   And mind you, I am not just talking about Boris Goregovitch Gabov, which sounds pretty close.  If you add Bombay's down-town terminus Churchgate to the list of its major suburban railway stations  --  Bandra, Goregaon, Andheri, Borivli and Virar (which are all real names, and not imaginary ones)  --  and shuffle them around a little, what do you have?   Yes, Gorbachbov!  Which isn't a far cry from Gorbachov, is it?

 Do you need any more convincing evidence that I was really gazing into a crystal ball when I wrote this amazing story?

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting indeed! Thanks for sharing the link, sir...

    Chitravina Ravikiran