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The Russian abroad

Moscow-born Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin does not mind the smog of Mandi House, Delhi’s one-stop destination for art exhibitions, dance performances and theatre. The Russian poet’s statue stands tall in one corner of the square, next to Lalit Kala Academy, for... how many years?

books Updated: Nov 03, 2009 18:32 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

Moscow-born Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin does not mind the smog of Mandi House, Delhi’s one-stop destination for art exhibitions, dance performances and theatre. The Russian poet’s statue stands tall in one corner of the square, next to Lalit 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,” Qadir says. A school dropout, he has never read any of Pushkin’s works, but since his workshop is close-by, he has been seeing the statue since a decade. “It just needs a djinn 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 Seth ever walked past the statue of his inspiration? The unbuttoned coat, the hands crossed behind the back, the eyes looking… surely not at Mandi House traffic. The statue is dotted with bird droppings and cobwebs.

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, 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. A white building, its 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 the 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. Since Pushkin’s birth anniversary falls in June, try visiting him then.

Note: The Russian Cultural Center regularly host events. It also has a library. For more information, call 233-29100