the recipe to kill cockroaches

ujjwal kanishka utkarsh

9/5/20215 min read

the recipe to kill cockroaches



after having some not so expensive but really good zeppelins and cold beetroot soup, i walked down to the museum of occupations and freedom struggle. The one nice thing also being in a poorer european country is that everything costs less. And they accept student id cards of any age!!! so the ticket was just 3 euros. The quite non descript building of the museum, and it not being so prominently marked on the tourist map, i didn’t really quite know what to eXpect. The beginning rooms were also quite small, and it was made clear that this was the office of the kgb at some point. The museum would go on and open about the freedom struggle, the mass deportations during soviet union-istation, the partisan movement and so on. On display were guns, uniforms, puzzles, gas cylinders, different medals of honors of the partisan army and so on. At some point, there was some attempt to project something on pre printed walls. Not a bad idea actually, but the eXecution left something to be desired of. As you entered the first floor, the first thing you are encountered with is a small wooden cabinet with gas masks on display. That by itself was striking, and which then led to the room of glory. The room of glory was kgb’s room of accolades, of people who had done well for and in the kgb. The museum’s and in connection the state’s own dilemma with the idea of preservation was quite apparent in the fact that while they stated the intent not to be wanting to maintain this as a room of glory, they had in fact done exactly that. This followed by a room which contained the various forms that KGB used. A very interesting installation in the room was of three screens, which were CCTV monitors of three cameras in the museum itself. I think that was quite smart. It is quite commendable this effort of preservation, and not denying it.

In a country so young, thrown into the enthralls of the EU, many of the wounds are really young too. Lithuania is clearly also of the [post soviet states which has done well economically. I wonder what/how Estonia looks at this recent past.

The ground and the first floor of the museum were alright. I get this idea and notion of trying to preserve. Trying to build up this national identity. And the glorification of that resistance. The Partisan army’s discipline and moral codes were points that were consistently emphasised upon. There is this instance, where they say talking about these oaths of moral conduct and so on, followed by, regardless of that, there were atrocities on the civilian population, just link in any war. Or something to that effect. And that by itself was quite revealing.

What was really striking was the basement. This is the part of the museum which completely shook me up. THis was the prison cells of the KGB. I assume that it was not the main prison, but maybe an intermediary place for suspects before being transferred to other prisons. Or so I thought. What you are encountered first here is these two solitary cells, Barely enough place to just stand up and sit. Of course the door had a window which could only be accessed from the outside, and no possibility of sunlight at all. Followed by cells and cells with iron beds. Some of the rooms inaccessible, had been done up to show how they were. Like the ground floor and the first, I was eXpecting to the section having a few cells and that s all. That wasn\t the case at all. This maze of a ‘prison’ seemed never ending. It wa still not huge, but it really would just keep leading on to more cells, more interrogation room, more interrogation rooms with water, and so on. On again another label was marked the eXectution room. Going there was very very overwhelming. You first walked up the stairs, which takes you into a passage of the courtyard and then another signage asked you to go down into another basement.

As you are climbing down, the steps you are encountered with glass floors, which are elevated from the actual floor. Very well lit two rooms. and the one inside with a small window. Apparently they used these small windows to slide off the bodies from. There was so much that those rooms had seen and you could clearly feel it and sense it, and be drained within it. I know it was my imagination and the knowledge of what had happened in the room, but you really could feel it, smell it.

I wonder why that was the only room that didn’t have things translated in english. they had a small model recreated of those rooms, marking where they would do what, but that too was just in lithuanian. Maybe it’s just a work in progress, but maybe it’s this idea of keeping it to yourself. The pain of it. And that inaccessibility made the it even more dark. It’s like as you step down, there’s a sign above four hooks saying - ‘Victims of KGB’, or something to that effect. The four hooks hung there empty.

After stepping out, I went into the courtyard which was the eXercise area for the prisoners. There were different cells even in that. These small eXercise areas had a small bench each kept in it. The walls were really high. And a peephole (outside in, of course) in each too. Sitting in one of them, by myself, and still soaking in that eXecution room, i really felt like throwing up. It was all a LOT to take in.and I for one, was having a really bodily reaction to it.

The language dilemma, and this angst against russian also then one understands, they were teaching lithuanian apparently in lithuanian reading clubs, and all of that. The struggle was really fresh, and recent.

Later in the day I would visit the national art gallery’s eXhibition ‘Indigenous narratives’. A beautiful one too, it just had stories of various indigenous ppl, their bios sometimes, some tales they would say. Not all had been translated to english though. Like the one - a recipe to kill cockroaches. Another recipe of a cake was translated. There was through that huge hall, songs or chants playing constantly, which were really beautiful too. Some reminded me of some hindi rhymes. Also on display were some masks, which were quite beautiful, the description reminding us that the masks of the other was not to mock others, but just as a storytelling device - bullshit political correctness. It’s also okay to mock. And a lot of it would be that, but there s beauty in that too.

Like how in one of the tales, there s this woman who is visited by three hungarians (anyone who is outsider is referred to as hungarian), and she is smitten by one. But she doesnt want to go with them, because they were hungarians. So she leads them to someone else’s courtyard and asks them to go there. She is unable to go back to her place, but embarrassed doesn’t want to go after them. So she waits for them outside her place, overlooking the other courtyard. Much later, when the three hungarians come back, they make fun of her saying - you didn’t want to come wiht us, and then you are waiting for us? She says, she is really smitten by this one, and that she wants to go back to her place, and that they should help her cast the spell off. The hungarians laugh and after making a bit more fun of, the one comes to her and taps her hands thrice, and says, now she will not want him anymore. Once he does that, she doesn’t want him anymore and goes back inside.