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Delhiwale: Moscow state of mind

At Yashwant Place you are warped back to an era when the USSR was still a superpower

delhi Updated: Jul 17, 2017 11:02 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
A building nestled in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi, Yashwant Place is one of the Capital’s strangest markets.
A building nestled in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi, Yashwant Place is one of the Capital’s strangest markets.(Mayank Austen Soofi / HT Photo)

Every shop here has a sign in Russian. One showroom even has a framed portrait of its proud owner posing with Lyudmila Aleksandrovna. You’ve never heard of her? She is Russian president Vladimir Putin’s ex-wife, and visited this place during a state visit to the Capital.

A building nestled in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi, Yashwant Place is one of the Capital’s strangest markets. Lined with shops of fur, leather and jewellery, it preserves a time that no longer exists. Entering here is like stepping into a world from another era — when the USSR reigned as a superpower and had a deeper socio-economic connect with India.

Roaming around the place, we chatted with half-a-dozen shopkeepers and they all talked dreamily of the decades before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The market, set up by New Delhi Municipal Corporation in 1961, would teem with tourists not only from Russia and from other communist countries of the Warsaw Pact, such as Bulgaria and Poland. Indeed, most shopkeepers of a certain vintage claim to speak Russian as fluently as Hindi.

Today the market’s corridors are largely forlorn. But the place still pulsates with character. Bored shopkeepers sit on chairs outside the doors, looking listless. One of them said that only diplomats come to this market — Chanakyapuri, the Capital’s diplomatic enclave and an affluent neighbourhood, is just next door.

Walking down a lane, we discover a bookshop. Alas, it has no Tolstoy.