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Window Seat: Dostoyevsky@ 200

14/11/2021 at 7:26 AM

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky, one of the finest novelists who ever lived turned 200 last Thursday.

Born on 11 November in 1821 in Moscow, Russia Dostoyevsky’s most well-known novels include Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Possessed (also and more accurately known as The Demons and The Devils), and The Brothers Karamazov.

His psychological penetration into the darkest recesses of the human heart, together with his unsurpassed moments of illumination, had an immense influence on 20th-century fiction.

In his time he was also known for his activity as a journalist. He plunged into journalism when he returned from imprisonment around 1860. Earlier he wrote some essays (four, precisely) for Petersburg News around 1847. In March 1861 he published a magazine in Russian titled Vremya, which means Time. It was suppressed after three years. Then he started another magazine Epoch, which failed.

Vremya (Time) was published under the editorship of his brother Mikhail Dostoevsky as Fyodor was unable to be the official editor due to his status as a former convict. It was a literary and political magazine. Dostoevsky’s novel The House of the Dead was first published in Vremya. The monthly installments of The House of the Dead brought considerable popularity and financial success to the magazine. Several of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s other works were published in Vremya.

Three of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, The Tell-Take Heart, The Black Cat, and The Devil in the Belfry were first published in Russian language in this magazine. It also carried essays critiquing several political ideologies.

The magazine was banned by the government in May 1863 because of an article by Nikolay Strakhov concerning Russian/Polish problems.

After the closure of Vremya (Time) magazine, the Dostoevsky brothers tried to continue publishing. By January 1864, Mikhail Dostoevsky received permission to publish a new journal under a different name. Officially, Fyodor Dostoevsky could not appear either as an editor or as a publisher, so Mikhail Dostoevsky became the publisher and editor. The new magazine,  also a monthly literary and political one was titled Epoch. It was published in 1864 and continued till 1865. Circulation was about 1300.

The first two issues for January and February 1864 were published simultaneously – in March. They published the first chapters of the novel Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Contrary to the expectations of Dostoevsky, Epoch did not receive a warm reception- even by the subscribers of Vremya. There were other personal and financial problems as well. The last issue of the Epoch was released in February 1865. “Notes from the Underground” occupied the first four issues of the journal. Dostoevsky ‘s story Crocodile was published in its February 1865 issue, which also was the last issue of the Epoch.

Helen Muchnic in her review of ‘Dostoevsky’s Occasional Writings’, which containsrepresentative selection of his journalistic work besides other works published in The New York Review Dec.12 1963 issue was critical about the journalistic writings of Dostoevsky. She wrote, “His journalistic pieces are shallow and discursive by comparison with his novels: they are emphatic rather than eloquent, strident rather than passionate. Yet they are concerned with the same questions that occupy him in his fiction. And it is this that lends them their special fascination.”

Dostoevsky died on February 9, 1881 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Press Freedom

16 November is observed as National Press Day in India. The first Press Council established to function like a moral watch dog to ensure that not only did the press maintain the high standards expected from this powerful medium but also that it was not fettered by the influence or threats of any extraneous factors- started functioning on this day in 1966. Though there are several Press or Media Councils world over, the Press Council of India is a unique entity in as-much-as this is the only body to exercise an authority even over the instruments of the state in its duty to safeguard the independence of the press.

Unfortunately, India is placed at the lower half in the list of countries in press freedom index. The 2021 World Press Freedom Index produced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a French NGO, has placed India at 142nd rank out of 180 countries. Last year India was placed at the same place. In 2016, India’s rank was 133 which steadily came down to 142 in 2020.

The RSF report says India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their job properly. They are exposed to every kind of attack, including police violence against reporters, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials.

Doubts have been raised about the authenticity of the report. Methodology of ranking has been questioned.

However, the fact remains that we need to take a hard look at the freedom of the press- for without freedom press will not be able to remain what is supposed to be: watchdog of the society.  

Khel Khel Mein

A Pakistani Film titled Khel Khel Mein starring Sajal Aly and Bilal Abbas Khan and featuring veteran actor Marina Khan as well as Sheheryar Munawar, Javed Sheikh and Manzar Sehbai is scheduled to release on 19 November 2021, less than a month before the 50th anniversary of liberation of Bangladesh. Produced and directed by Nabeel Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza the film is about the division of Pakistan and creation of an independent country. The teaser of the film has been released by end October. As per the directors of the film, it is mainly meant to convey a message of peace and harmony between the people of Pakistan and Bangladesh to “move forward” together. However, considering the track record of Pakistan, one needs to be careful. Of late there have been attempts by Pakistan to be friendly to Bangladesh through regular diplomatic activities. Around the same time Islamist militancy is raising its head in the officially secular country. And then comes this film which attempts a re-look at the incidents preceding the two week war and the birth of Bangladesh, with the directors seeking another line of narrative.

Khel, can mean innocuous game for fun and relaxation. It can also mean a sinister plan for intrigue.

Tailpiece: Who is poor?

A wealthy woman goes to a saree store and tells the boy at the counter “Bhaiya show some cheap sarees. It is my son’s marriage and I have to give to my maid.”

After sometime, the maid comes to the saree shop and tells the boy at the counter “Bhaiya show some expensive sarees. I want to gift my Malkin on her son’s marriage”

(Courtesy: An anonymous Email forward)

About the Author:

Journalist turned media academician Mrinal Chatterjee lives in Dhenkanal, Odisha. He also writes fiction and plays.

He can be reached at mrinalchatterjeeiimc@gmail.com

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