Indira arrived in Ueno zoo in Tokyo on a cool autumn evening in September 1949. She came bearing a letter from Pandit Nehru addressed to the children of Japan. In 1957, when Nehru visited Japan, he made it a point to meet Indira. By the time she died, Indira had become a legend, symbolising goodwill between India and Japan. Indira’s story had begun when an enterprising Japanese child had written to Nehru, highlighting the fact that there were no elephants in Japan for the children to see.
Indira, a potent symbol of a long and supportive dialogue between our two countries, silently lumbered on the sidelines of a galloping economic and bilateral interaction. The symbolism and Chacha Nehru’s legacy continued when Asha and Daya landed to replace Indira at Tokyo in May 1984.
Before Indira Gandhi could formally present the elephants, she died. Rajiv Gandhi, on a State visit to Tokyo then, presented the two elephants to the Japanese children. In return, the mayor of Tokyo gifted two African chimpanzees for Indian children.
Then, Maruti, the monkey God, emerged as an exemplary link between India and Japan. The Maruti-Suzuki tie-up ushered in the automobile revolution in India. Recently my academic supervisor from Yokohama National University visited India. Yamazaki Sensei had discovered a strong pull in Buddhism. His search for the secrets of this sacred path led him to India and he arrived, not in an academic capacity, but as part of a group of monks — epitomising in his quest the civilisational chords tying our nations.
It is not merely the fact that Japan is the third largest investor country in India that makes our relationship special. We have supported Japan historically in its first industrial revolution by providing cotton and fabric and in the aftermath of the World War II by providing iron ore.
The silent presence of the Japanese is to be seen all around. Whether it is on the bridges that straddle the Yamuna, or on yellow polio vaccine carriers, the vivid red dot that symbolises the land of the rising sun is etched there. The pride of the changing face of Delhi, the Metro rail, also thrived with Japanese assistance.
Amid clamours of the dawn of the Asian century, it is these special aspects of our relationship, symbolised by the legendary Indira, which will take the journey forward at the speed of a bullet train.