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Barelling on at 90

He may come under fire from pacifists, but Mikhail Kalashnikov is a sure shot for history.

india Updated: Nov 12, 2009 00:00 IST

There was always a poet inside Mikhail Kalashnikov. After all, he’s from a country whose greatest writer was saved from the firing squad seconds before a Tsarist reprieve. But while Fydor Dostoyevsky went on to produce some of the most stunning works of literature, Mr Kalashnikov, who celebrated his 90th birthday on Tuesday and continues to write poetry, became famous for something else: the Avtomat Kalashnikova 1947 or the AK-47. It was while he was recovering from an injury received in 1941 during the Battle of Bryansk against the Germans that Mr Kalashnikov started designing assault rifles for the Red Army from his hospital bed. One of them, the selective fire, gas-operated 7.62 assault rifle, clicked. The rest, as they don’t say often enough, is high-speed rat-tat-tat-tat history.

While pacifists have a different take on Mr Kalashnikov and his creations (the AK-47 being the source of many other variants of the lightweight, compact and cheap assault rifles), we tend to see a more aesthetic side to the AK family. From a sheer design perspective, very few objects marry beauty with function as wonderfully as the AK-47 and its (legitimate and illegitimate) children and grandchildren. The violence that it holds — and its raison d’etre — makes Mr Kalashnikov’s greatest creation, arguably, the greatest work of 20th century pop art.

As for the artist, despite some 100 million AK-47s going around in the world, he hasn’t profited from his work, but only receives a ‘State pension’. Mr Kalashnikov does own a big stake in a German company that trademarks products that carry his name, the latest being a mobile ringtone that replicates the high cough of a AK-47 in full flow. A couple of days after his 90th birthday, we wish Mr Kalashnikov a long and peaceful life.