How much a book can affect your life? I have seen people coming out of depression or bad mood by reading a book, regaining their faith in God or life by some write-up …even crying at the distress or misery of a fictional character. In many autobiographies ( Mahatma Gandhi’s for instance) you will find reference of books that made a mark on his way of thinking, which made him change his point of views or helped him in building that. Well, inspiration comes from strange corners sometimes. It may be a sight just aimlessly witnessed from your window, a chance meeting with someone during a journey / vacation or may be a photograph seen in a magazine. The biggest inspiration for me to rise above the daily hullabaloo of life and to do something worthwhile came from a book.
I must write about this book. For one I am shocked to find out that there is not much information available about the book on the web. At least not in English….and more than that I must acknowledge how precious this small book is for my life. I am talking about “The Cause you serve” by soviet writer Yuri German (translated by Olga Shartse)- the sole Amazon link on net gives these details for this book Hardcover: 342 pages ,Publisher: Raduga Publisher,C.I.S. (Sep 1997) ,Language English ,ISBN-10: 5050024366, ISBN-13: 978-5050024367. But I first read this book in its Hindi translation. That was titled “ Adarsh ki Sadhna” . It came as a gift from my cousin when I was a student of 7th standard. I picked it up like any other story book and my world was changed for ever. Later I found the English version in a nondescript bookstore. I still don’t know much about the writer …never read any other book from him. All I can gather from the internet is that he was a known screenplay writer I Russia and that this book was also made in a movie.
Well, it is a simple story of a boy called Volodya (short for Vladimir Afanasyewich Ustimenko) , growing up in Moscow of the Soviet Union . Like all soviet stories the hero will be an idealist, a leader of poor and a tough person: “A light to others , I burn myself out” Yes, Volodya will grow up to be like that. The story unfolds and now Volodya decides to be a doctor. He will meet some of the great doctors and surgeons of his time and will also face some of the opportunist seniors and colleagues. Despite offers to live a comfortable life our hero will leave his country to a world of shamans and witch doctors and to serve the cause he has picked up for himself. In this process he will have to leave behind friends, comforts and even his lady love (Varya – a budding actress). The story ends when our hero is still in the foreign lands of difficulty and disease but he has won hearts of the villagers and peasants …he has survived days when no patients will turn up in his hospital and when his skills of surgery and medicine will be tested in most adverse conditions .But the end leaves you with a subtle assurance that Volodya will continue to serve the cause and that he will be contented doing that – “ …believe me the only thing that matters is knowledge of duty well done.”. There are moments in the story when our hero will be all alone, frustrated and even lost . He will be called opportunistic, fame-seeker and crazy by others. The most charming part of this young doctor was his conviction. His commitment to do things right. Later on I found some glimpses of Volodya in Ayn Rand’s description of brilliant architect Howard Roark, who dares to stand alone against the hostility of second-hand souls. But call it the bias for childhood-sweetheartor whatever; I will still rate Volodya above Roark. I would agree with another young doctor who will join Volodya later in his remote hospital that “ I take Ustimenko , with his iron will, scientific foresight, devotion of work and uprightness , as my model of perfection.”
The back cover of the book says “This story based on fact is about a doctor, who , in the author’s words, is a man of action with a clear purpose in life , who is sincere and open hearted whatever and however tragic the circumstances. He errs because he is human, but he makes his mistakes on the straight roads leading to the truth , and not in the small blind alleys in search of nothing more than personal well-being .” But it was more than that , for me- it was an eye opener- that the world out there is going to be different from what I have read so far in my comics and story books. It was a shock and a surprise at the same time. Shock because there was a lesson that things will be difficult for those who try to rise beyond the mundane and surprise because it taught me that at that level those difficulties …the snubs, the criticisms and the rest of the world and its relations… will be meaningless. Few days back I was reading my old diary , recalling my first impressions of the book….I was so moved. I wish I could live back the experience of that ‘awakening’ in me.
The opening passage of the book says “It happened to him when he was in the ninth form. All at once Volodya lost interest in everything, even in the chess circle, which instantly fell apart without him, even in his form master Smorodin, who had always considered Volodya Ustimenko his best pupil and even in Varya Stepnova, with whom till only a little while ago, during the November Holidays, in fact, he used to enjoy the slowly flowing Uncha from the edge of its high steep bank. Life so jolly and amusing , so busy and noisy , so fascinating in all things , big and small , suddenly seemed to stop , and everything around Volodya stood still , listening apprehensively, on the alert, as much as to say: let’s see what’s going to happen to you next youngster!
And yet, nothing had happened really”.
Today I know why I fell in love with the book instantly. I was also a girl of almost that age, uncertain about future and its challenges. It was so easy to relate to Volodya: to rejoice in his success, take pride in his conviction and feel sad for his loneliness. Like all teenagers, there were days when I thought I am in love with Volodya…but it didn’t take long to realize that I want to be a Volodya myself. Later in life, I referred this book so many times and got immense strength from it. It was guide, my friend, my support , my comfort on the days when I tried doing something honestly but failed- was laughed at or even ridiculed.
Let me now quote some of the favorite passages from the book that made me swim against the current. The book that taught me being different is not same as being wrong . The book that gave me courage to speak my mind , say things I feel – however bitter and politically ( or socially) incorrect they are .I have recommended this book to many .Let me recommend it to you too…and let me also hear from you about books that changed you .
1. “What does a man live for?”
“I believe it was Korolenko who said the man is born for happiness… for happiness as a bird for flight. Pretty, but vague. ……For centuries the love of man and woman has been poetically compared to that of doves: cooing doves, billing doves and all other trash elevated to poetic heights. But I refuse to think of myself as a cooing dove. If you are a real man, you want more than the physical feeling of happiness on the hot sand , you want more than dovelike bliss— you want to go ahead , to fight to penetrate fields of knowledge no one has explored before you , to feel that you are useful not just to yourself or your children , which is not enough for society , you want to feel that you are doing creating contributing to the common cause.”
2. One very hot, stuffy day, Bogoslovsky flew out at Volodya catching him sprawling in a chair in the outpatient department.
“It’s so hot.”
“It’s so hot, you say?” Bogoslovsky shouted, his brown face reddening with fury. “Go home, if you’re quite cocked. A doctor should not look like a piece of overdone beef, he must be a strong energetic man whom it is a pleasure to obey. You must be a pillar of strength morally a legend, a fabulous giant and not a jelly fish. A patient should try and get well for his good doctor. You must use your personality and not merely rely on your scalpel, your physiotherapy or on pills.”
3. Clasping his knees and staring up in the sky he sat there alone far into the warm summer night. His heart was beating evenly and calmly, his head was amazingly clear, his thoughts were lucid and serene. The people are really fine. It doesn’t mater that Yevgeny is a swine, and never mind Dodik and Alvtina . They don’t count. The people doesn’t consist of them…..It’s very important to be indispensable, to be needed, to be the sort of man good people can’t do without . The rest just doesn’t matter much.