September 19, 2013 By Abhijith

Dostoyevsky’s Hell and Heaven

dostThis is a space for clawing back the world of fiction to the aridity of our real lives. There are, sure, magnificent novels and short stories which have changed your life forever-fictions that helped you take reality more vigorously than ever before. Feel free to write about them and email them to Here Abhijith says how he met Dostoyevsky during his humdrum existence in a call centre in Bangalore, fell in love with him and lived forever under the mighty Russian’s influence

Precisely when I wanted to read Dostoyevsky, I can’t tell you. I did not use to remember date and time. The air-conditioned, all-time chattering, room of the call centre shut out the time and space of others from us by replacing them with the log-in time and the log-out time. The first rays of morning, the din and bustle of afternoon, the soothing evenings and the spiritually calm dusk were all tied up between the two points of time: log-in time and the log-out time. We had nights to celebrate. But as we celebrated every night, I did not remember it as night, but as celebration. Usually celebrations were done at pubs. And we shuttled between the call centre and pubs, hardly noticing if it was raining outside.

I did not know that the company chauffeur, Premnath, who took us early at 8 o clock in the morning to the office was an avid reader. Once I saw a book kept inside the drawer in the van. I took it out. But it was a Malayalam book-the language I hardly knew. The figure in the cover page looked familiar. He looked serious, shattering my expectation of the book as being a sleazy thriller that someone like Premnath occasionally reads to stave off boredom.

‘It is Desthe-visky’ he introduced the author, the last syllable sounding ‘whisky’ I down every night.

‘It is a Malaylam translation of the Brothers Karamazov,’ he added.


Thus began my tryst with Dostoyevsky-which I pronounced and asked Premnath to pronounce as Desth-aye-vski. Premnath narrated to me how he was introduced to the author by a Malayalam novelist whose masterpiece work features Dostoyevsky as the protagonist.Many years went by after he read the Malayalam novel. But the character remained unfaded in his memory. Once he went to a bookstore to buy a textbook for his daughter. There he chanced on the Malayalam translation of the Crime and Punishment. Then it dawned on him that the name Dostoyevsky that he had already known as pure fictions were real. His reading went on to the Idiot and the Brothers Karamazov, whose second reading was the occasion when I met the mighty Russian. Premnath came to realise that Dostoyevsky had much more to offer than the book which led the former to the latter.


My reading of Dostoyevsky zigzagged with the initial boredom, to the flashes of wisdom while flipping through, to the determined reading, to the chucking out, to the reclaiming to that final moment when I read him from one end to other end.


Till I read Dostoyevsky, I had considered novels to be that worthless trifles that fill in the blanks of boredom in our life with refreshing tales. Like weekend moves. Like those bottles of whisky we downed at pubs. In Dostoyevsky, we find that essential tug of war between like and death, between good and bad, between ideal and real, between sanity and madness between all the positives we wish to encounter and all the negative we wish to discard transformed into a newer framework. Are we not reading the Bible, the Quran, the Gita and all the resources of wisdom and ethics as interpreted by Raskolnikov (aka Rodin), Myshkin, Fyodor Karamazov, Alexi, Katernina and Sofia (to name a few characters)


Till I read Dostoyevsky, I considered hell as the call centre and heaven as the pubs. And we read the beautiful description of hell in the Brothers Karamazov ( From Talks and Homilies of the Elder Zosima):

Fathers and teachers, I ask myself: “What is hell?” And I answer thus: “The suffering of being no longer able to love.”

Elder Zosima again says: ‘We do not understand that life is paradise, for we need only wish to understand, and it will come at once in all its beauty,and we shall embrace each other and weep …”

The understanding of hell as our incapacity for love and of heaven as life as a whole and as our ability to cry for others is the lesson I learnt from Dostoyevsky.

Thanks again for Premnath.



1. It seems that the author alludes to Permubadavom Shreedharan’s Oru Sankeerthanam Pole

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