The Russian abroad.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Moscow-born Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin seems at home in Delhi. The Russian poet’s statue stands high on one side of central Delhi’s Mandi House traffic square. The statue is so discreetly situated that unless you are not actively looking for Pushkin, you will not be able to spot him.
Resting on a nearby bench, mechanic Abdul Qadir says that Puskin was installed here in 1933. India was a British colony then. Why would the English choose a Russian and ignore their poets? “This Roosi must have have done something good for them,” says Mr Qadir.
Pushkin died in 1837. Almost 150 years later he became responsible for the international success of a Delhi writer — Vikram Seth’s first novel The Golden Gate was written in verse style, patterned after Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.
Pushkin-in-Delhi is looking so relaxed that he could as well be basking under the St Petersburg sun. His coat buttons are open, his hands are crossed behind the back and his face is turned towards the beautiful Nepalese embassy. But the statue is spluttered with bird droppings. It is also cobwebbed at few places.
A fruit seller says that Pushkin is washed once a year. “The cleaners are sent by the Russian Cultural Center,” he says.
The back of the pedestal shows a few crudely-etched Russian words along with the numbers ‘1988’. Was this the year the statue was installed?
The Russian Cultural Center is a ten-minute walk away on Ferozeshah Marg. On the way my thoughts turn to another Pushkin. This Pushkin was a Delhiwalla. He was so named because his parents were first drawn towards each other due to their passion for the Russian poet. In 2004 Pushkin 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 the works of Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, too, is empty. One book is titled 15 years of Soviet-Indian Friendship Treaty. The next landing has walls done up with black-and-white photographs of Russian towns Astrakhan, Novogrod and Kazan. Suddenly a silver-haired man emerges from a corner room. He is holding a thick book. “Yes, Pushkin’s statue was put up during Gorbachev’s time,” he says, referring to former Soviet Union’s last leader. “Each year on Pushkin’s birth anniversary in June floral tributes are paid at his statue by students of the Institute of Russian Language.”
It is June but I have missed the date. Dear poet, you will now receive my flowers only next year.
Sir, autograph please