City Landmark – Pushkin’s Statue, Mandi House
Pushkin in the time of war.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The poet’s long coat is unbuttoned, his thoughtful arms crossed on the back, his inward gaze turned towards the speeding autos.
Only three poets adorn the baggy wide Delhi-NCR region, as public statue. Mirza Ghalib in Jamia Millia Islamia University, Subramania Bharati near Khan Market, and Alexander Pushkin, here in a corner of Mandi House traffic circle. Pushkin’s murti has been celebrated on these pages, but times have grown intensely hostile to the poet, bringing us back to him.
These days the writer is reeling under a phenomenon called Pushkinopad, Pushkin-fall in Ukrainian. The people of Ukraine have been tearing down Pushkin’s statues across their cities and villages. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war certainly doesn’t make Ukraine a friendly place for Russia’s greatest poet. Adding more fuel to the fire is the fact that some of Pushkin’s works are considered uncomfortably sympathetic to the cause of Russian imperialism.
The Mandi House’s Pushkin was installed in 1988, when Ukraine and Russia were parts of the former Soviet Union. Two years earlier, in 1986, Pushkin had helped launch the international debut of a Delhi writer. Vikram Seth’s verse-novel The Golden Gate was patterned after Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Additionally, there was a Delhiwalla called Pushkin. So named because his IAS father and mother shared a passion for the poet. In 2004, Pushkin Chandra was murdered at his parents’ bungalow in affluent Anand Lok.
Ukraine’s falling Pushkins belong to an era when it was among the Soviet Union’s 15 republics. Russia was the largest, and the union’s eventual Russification ensured every republic its ample share of Pushkin statues. Delhi’s Pushkin too evoke an era, best symbolised by the forgotten slogan “Hindi Rusi bhai bhai.” A publicity shy but famous citizen recalls the 1970s as a period when left-leaning romantics like him were regulars at the Russian Cultural Centre on Ferozeshah Marg. They browsed for dialectical materialism at People’s Publishing House in Connaught Place, and attacked “American imperialism” at seminars in Sapru House. The must-read cult classics included Mikhail Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don.
Today, a deemak-ridden Sholokhov is sometimes sighted at the Sunday Book Bazar in Mahila Haat.
Whatever, mulling over the destruction of Pushkin’s monuments in war-scarred Ukraine while standing beside him in conflict-free Mandi House triggers a dilemma. Just how to cherish an artist’s art while staying sceptical about his life and ideas? Besides, if Russia gets similarly aggressive with India, will our Pushkin too fall to Pushkinopad?
For now, this cobwebbed Pushkin is merely stained with a fresh bird dropping. He should be in a tiptop state by next month, in time for June 6, his 224th birthday.
PS: In the photo, student Uttam Kumar is seen beside Pushkin, preparing for competitive exams.