I wondered how could people be happy without being free: Lapierred

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Kolkata, Dec 7 (UNI) French author Dominique Lapierre wants to drive through today's Russia and soak in the changes, from what he saw 50 years back during his motor-ride through the Soviet Union.

At the national release of his new book, 'Once upon a time in Soviet Union' last night, Lapierre, known for converting Kolkata into a city of joy, said, ''When I first travelled through the Soviet Union as a 25 year old, I thought it would remain like this for the next 2000 years. I wondered about the people who I thought, neither belonged to hell nor heaven, but to humanity.'' ''I believed nothing could change behind these iron curtains. It was a belief bordering on conviction, but now it would be interesting to take another motor car ride through Russia and the same route, but in a car of Indian make,'' Dominique, said.

His new book is a fabulous 'historical document' about the common people of Russia as he travelled 14,000 kms, then as a reporter of 'Paris Match' magazine, from Poland to the mountains of Ural, from the villages of White Russia to the beaches of Black Sea, from the Kremlin to Stalin's birthplace in Georgia.

This extraordinary adventure had undertaken N A Jaguar by five people Mr and Mrs Dominique Lapierre, his photographer from 'Paris Match', Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini and his wife and a Russian journalist Slava Petoukhov.

In a note to the reader, Dominique points out, ''It does not pretend to paint an exhaustive portrait of the Soviet Union in the days following Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of Satalin's crimes.

Nor does it claim to offer conclusive revelations about life behind the Iron curtain at that time, it seeks only to entertain the reader with the prodigious journey by car, on Soviet roads miraculously exposed to our curiosity by Khruschev himself.'' Asked what made him write about Russia after so long, he said, ''Had I written it before it would have been journalism now it is a historical document.'' The book contains five characters whom the team choses randomly as they went along Russia. It is in coming in contact with them that Lapierre wanted to trace the common man of the then Soviet union.

The people whom he chose were a Minsk railway worker Victor Anufrievich Sicheiko, Moscow sales agent Genia Gregorieva, Ukranian peasant Gregori Iganatovich Klivotchuk, a Tiflis surgeon Georgi V Mossechvili and Gorki factory worker Ivan G Sitnov.

Asked what the most poignant feeling was, after coming in contact with the common people, he said, ''I wondered how the regime managed to pick up the destiny of an individual from the moment he/she was born and cast him to a safe life devoid of any freedom.'' ''I could never visualise the Soviet Union today's Russia.

It is amazing what time does. I thought the iron curtain would remain unchanged.

''No one could have visualised this. No body was allowed to leave the Soviet Union then and no one was allowed inside. They didn't want any foreigner tampering with their state orchestrated safe life,'' he gushed out.

''I wondered at the collective farms of Ukaraine, the way people earned on the basis of the amount of milk they sold. It was not only strange, but extraordinary. Extraordinary was the fact that Gregori, the farmer, had a picture of Czar Nicholas II and not Stalin or any other communist comrade,'' he said.

''I travelled for three months and 14 days and the memories I gathered of the French speaking Russians, who welcomed us with open arms will be etched in my mind forever. Equally memorable was the fact that they knew roads back in Paris, by name and sad was the fact that they would not leave Russia again, ever in their life. These Russians were a legacy of the Czar's regime, trapped in a communist world,'' he added.

''I kept thinking how could men be imprisoned and be happy. I had no intention of destroying their illusions. But I wanted to take back with me a part of Russia, that I may have chanced upon just by luck,'' he said.

He had earlier published a photo-feature ''Freely on Soviet Roads'' on his experiences in Russia.


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