Situations calling upon quick physical courage, are either do or die matters, or when they serve as an opportunity to display bravado. Of course, regardless of the hero’s antecedents, and how it ends for her/him it never diminishes the gallantry – for it is nevertheless a pursuit of the right, where the action is a retaliation to the belligerent’s violence. But what if the fallen has always had upheld the ‘right’, where the pursuit of justice was pre-ordained to culminate in a blaze of glory? Commodore Arun Kumar (Retd), recounts his son Alyosha’s these very fine and rare human values in ‘Alyosha – A Blaze, Like a Shooting Star’.
While Alyosha was stabbed to death defending his female friends from street ruffians, it was instances of his near yogic compassion for those in need, bear the unselfish purpose he had sworn to his existence. It was in the intervening night of September 29 and 30, 2007 that Alyosha in an incident at Nagarbhavi near Bengaluru. Alyosha and his friends (three boys and two girls), we’re headed back to their National Law School (NLS) campus when their Maruti 800 ran out of petrol. While haggling over the fare with an auto-rickshaw to fetch the fuel from the nearest petrol pump, an SUV with four people approached them – probably sensing an opportunity after seeing the girls.
In the ensuing argument that snowballed into scuffling, two other persons who were passing by on a scooter joined in the racket and tried molesting the girls. Alyosha was stabbed when he had intervened. Kumar, who was in Moscow during his employment with a private firm after retirement, was informed by his friend from the navy, after being tipped off by his daughter. She herself was informed by Alyosha’s roommate. Fighting down his rising panic, Kumar’s first thought was to temporarily keep the information of his passing from his wife, only telling her through his sister-in-law that he had been critically injured. He arrived in Bengaluru just past midnight on September 30, October 1. A piece of advice from his colleague, Commander Murthy, who was posted in Moscow, couldn’t have been more “sagacious” according to Kumar. “Shed all your tears before reaching Bengaluru. Do not cry in front of Deepa as she will need all your strength,” Murthy had told Kumar.
Spiritual as the prophetic reading of Alyosha Kumar’s martyrdom may seem. But his altruism, egalitarianism, compassion, extreme intolerance of inequality, humility (until he lived) itself connecting with some impossible coincidences with his friends (after his martyrdom) reaffirm even this agnostic-atheist writer’s belief in a deeper larger power binding humanity.
Alyosha, named so since he was born in the Russian city of Vladivostok – where his young naval officer father, was posted there in the then USSR – on December 10, 1984. Commodore Arun Kumar, now retired, was being trained on India’s first nuclear submarine, a Soviet-origin vessel rechristened as INS Chakra. But it is important to know how this youth lived, embodying every human value of compassion, simplicity, empathy for the “disadvantaged” and rational questioning of the established order that even often got him in trouble with both his seniors at the Lawrence School, Lovedale and with his own father.
Like the time he took on his father – who was the Honorary President of the Service Officers Apartments during his posting in New Delhi between 2000 and 2004 – for allowing the practice of segregating baggage between officers and families and servants’ families. Calling it “apartheid that had been abolished from its last bastion of South Africa in 1992,” Alyosha confronted an offended Kumar as to how such a regime was still prevalent? Jolted into conscientiousness, Kumar put forth his views in a committee where his colleagues upon initially being taken aback, too came around to it after deep introspection.
Or the time of his attachment with a firm in Mumbai in 2006, where he got the security guards of his aunt’s building the statutory wages they were entitled to. Before that, in the Delhi winter of 2005, he gave his jacket to the freezing liftman and also bought medicines for him. He even stood up for his friends before his own parents and own financial interests. Like their time in Bengaluru, when he suddenly defended a friend before his mother, saying the Rs 500 that went missing from his wallet only after the friend left the house, was borrowed and will be returned soon.
His generosity and large heartedness reflected in another incident where he paid the hospital bill of a friend following a motorbike accident “without batting an eyelid”. “Neither did he ever have a problem when people borrowed his car, often without telling him,” Kumar said. He even challenged his father’s conventional views on homosexuality in late 2002, where Kumar insisted that anything that did not allow procreation went against the natural order. He only realized later from his wife that Alyosha had been empathizing with his gay classmate at NLS who was shunned by others.
So grounded was Alyosha on careers and materialistic needs that he was puzzled when a friend in Delhi ridiculed him for not expecting a salary of Rs 60,000 – instead of the modest of Rs. 15,000 that Alyosha had in mind – and ignoring privileges like a company and an air-conditioned office. It was his belief that “to achieve fame, one has to live a life that makes a difference to those around you in particular.” “The easiest thing to do in life is to flow with the stream, but one is tested when he/she challenges the conventional path. It is only then that the true strength of one’s character is exposed,” Kumar says.
The departed have a freak way of connecting their loved ones and those they had met in impossible coincidences, revealing the profound mark they had left on them. What are the odds of two girls, from different parts of the world, never having met each other, describing him the same way to his father, after they heard of his demise?
Mayya, a Russian girl who Alyosha had met in the winter of 2006 when the family spent New Years’ Eve at a friend’s farmhouse there, often visited the family at their Moscow flat and kept in touch with Alyosha. In January 2008 while Kumar was packing up his flat in Moscow, she handed a copy of ‘The Little Prince’, Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic, asking Kumar to gift to Alyosha’s mother since she felt “reading it will help Deepa.” Asked why this particular story, Mayya replied: “My favourite story is The Little Prince and I saw in Alyosha.”
Then came Li Wenting, a Chinese girl Alyosha had helped during his short vacation to Singapore in January 2003. Li was locked in inside the campus and Alyosha helped her climb over the gate. After being informed of his demise, she came down to meet his parents in May 2008. She said Alyosha reminded her of ‘The Little Prince’. Kumar says he was “completely dumbstruck.” “How is that two girls, unknown to each other and from different parts of the world, saw the same person in Alyosha?” Kumar wonders.
But the extraordinary coincidence goes much beyond a mere aligning image of Alyosha in both the girls. Eleven years ago in May 1997, Alyosha had played ‘The Little Prince’ at the Lawrence School, Lovedale. “Who could have imagined Alyosha was playing out his life? Even though the manner in which he went caused immense grief, he was an evolved soul, something that needs to be celebrated and not mourned,” Kumar says. Alyosha’s message now lives on through the charitable ‘Brave New World Foundation’, set up in his memory.