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The Russian abroad.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Moscow-born Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin does not mind the smog of Mandi House, Delhi’s one-stop destination for art exhibitions, dance performances and theater plays. The Russian poet's statue is standing at one corner of the square, next to Lalilt Kala Academy, for… how many years?
Abdul Qadir, a mechanic resting on a nearby bench, says that it was installed in 1933. India was a British colony then. Why would the English ignore their Wordsworth or Keats for a Russian? “This Roosi writer must’ve have done something good for them,” Mr Qadir says. A school dropout, he has never read any Pushkin but since his workshop is close-by, he has been seeing the poet since a decade. “The statue needs a djinn for it to come alive,” he says.
Pushkin died in 1837. Almost 150 years later, he became the reason for the international success of a Delhi writer. The Golden Gate, Vikram Seth’s first novel, was written in verse style, patterned after Pushkin's masterpiece, Eugene Onegin.
Has Mr Seth ever walked past the statue of his former muse? The coat buttons are open, the hands crossed behind the back, the eyes looking… surely not at Mandi House traffic. The statue is spotty with bird droppings. There are cobwebs, too.
A fruit seller says that it is washed once a year. “The cleaners are sent by the Russian Cultural Center,” he says. On the pedestal’s back, a Russian-language passage is crudely etched, along with the number ‘1988’. Is it the year when the statue was put up?
The Russian Cultural Center is a ten-minute walk away, on Ferozeshah Road. On the way, my thoughts turn to another Pushkin, a friend. This Pushkin was an Indian. He was so named because his parents were first drawn towards each other due to their passion for the Russian poet. I would often see Pushkin at second-hand bookstalls in Basant Lok. In 2004 he was murdered at his home in Gulmohar Park. The newspapers turned the tragedy into a scandal. The Pushkin Chandra Murder Case became a popular conversation starter in Delhi drawing rooms. For a month or so.
The Russian Cultural Center is a white building. The lobby is empty. The first floor gallery, lined with Hindi translations of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, too, is empty. One book is titled 15 years of Soviet-Indian Friendship Treaty. On the next landing, the walls are done up with old photographs of places with names like Astrakhan, Novogrod and Kazan. Suddenly someone comes out from a corner room. SV Nair is an employee here. He knows about Pushkin’s statue. “It was put up during Gorbachev’s time,” he says referring to Soviet Union’s last head-of-state. “Each year on Pushkin’s birth anniversary floral tributes are paid at his statue by students of the Institute of Russian Language.”
Query satisfactorily addressed. Pushkin's birth anniversary falls on June. Try coming then.
Note Russian Cultural Center regularly host events. It also has a library. For more information, call 233-29100
Pushkin and Mr Qadir
Shaded by trees
Threatened by smog
The Russian Cultural Center