| Prithpal Singh with Stalin’s bust
Mohali, June 23: Josef Stalin has just escaped being flushed down the drains of history. Thanks to Prithpal Singh.
Singh, whose politics is of the indeterminate variety, has decided that he will not turn a brass bust of the Soviet leader — despot or not — into a bathroom fitting to adorn the flashy toilet of some upstart Indian.
“The bust arrived in Mumbai from Dubai on a ship about two years ago. Then it was loaded on a truck with brass hookahs (smoking pipes), tumblers and other household items,” said Singh, a partner in KPR Industries, which melts metal to make bathroom fittings.
He added that the bust, 3 feet and 3 inches long and weighing in at 198 kg, had travelled from Moscow but there was no way of confirming that it did, indeed, come from Russia. The origin could be anywhere in the erstwhile Soviet bloc of eastern Europe where statues of Stalin and Lenin were pulled down as communism collapsed in the region.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, pictures of people armed with rods, hammers, chisels and ropes destroying communist icons were splashed across the world.
The Stalin bust, now sitting in Singh’s smelting unit at Chandigarh’s twin city Mohali, bears the marks of assault. There are cracks in the neck and dents in the face with the large moustache that is now reviled in history almost as much as the face with the sliver of a moustache — of Hitler.
“The bust seems to have cracked after falling from a very high level. There are also marks indicating that iron rods had been used to damage it. The left eye, too, seems to have suffered some damage,” a worker at Singh’s factory said.
Prithpal's elder brother Rajpal Singh, who is also the media secretary of the state Congress, said it was by sheer chance that they did not melt the bust after it reached the unit.
If they did, they could have made 200 brass taps out of the bust of the man who turned communism into a dirty word.
"Everything we get is rolled immediately into glistening brass items. Somehow, the bust escaped the smelter. Perhaps, it was destined not to be melted. We are proud that a part of world history can be glimpsed in this small town," he said.
The statue came to the Singhs two years ago, which is why records are hard to trace and there's no telltale mark that betrays any sign of its history. All that they remember is that when the consignment was being offloaded, the bust was among the last to get off the truck.
For a long time, the Singhs did not even know the identity of the man behind the bust. "We were very surprised when we first saw it. We did not know what to do with it as its value in metal terms was only Rs 20,000. It was not melted and instead kept at one end of the plant. Then somebody who had come here for some work noticed it and told us that it looked like Stalin. A hurried glimpse at history books provided the answer."
Now enlightened, they will not sell it to anyone.
Not even to the CPM, which is still undecided whether or not to entirely reject Stalin. The Chandigarh unit of the CPM pleaded ignorance about the statue, though a local vernacular daily published the news over a week ago.
"We don't know anything about it. Thank you for informing us. Please advise us on what to do," said Charan Singh Virdi, state secretariat member of the CPM. Central committee member Balwant Singh was unavailable for comment.
They need not worry, Stalin is safe in Prithpal Singh's hand. He has built a concrete stand right outside his office and placed the statue there - the conflict of class interests notwithstanding.
Virdi, the CPM leader, will soon a pay to the site of this comfortable cohabitation of the businessman with the demolition man of private property.
"What can be its value'" Virdi asks. Reminded of history, he muttered: "After all, it has come to Mohali as scrap."