City Landmark – Tolstoy’s Statue, Janpath
On reading War and Peace.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
And what does he make of his country’s war against Ukraine?
But Leo Tolstoy is remaining as silent as a statue. With arms crossed on his chest, the great writer’s gaze is directed towards the Janpath outlet of McDonald’s. This is a rare statue in Delhi dedicated to a novelist.
As a repercussion of Russia’s war against its smaller neighbour, Russian artists, musicians and sportspersons are increasingly being barred from global stage. In Delhi, as in elsewhere, Tolstoy lies too far removed from the present. His art has transcended his ethnicity, so much so that while he is still every inch a writer of Russia, he simultaneously belongs to the world.
In this time of war, when one hopes for peace, it is a suitable time to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Since the long novel demands a kind of commitment difficult to sustain, the next best thing you may do is to pay audience to Janpath’s Tolstoy, with a copy of War and Peace.
Nestled amid a leafy bunch of trees, Tolstoy is partly obstructed from the pavement by a banner of Central Cottage Industries Emporium. He is wearing a Russian peasant shirt known as tolstovka, so named because Tolstoy used to wear it often. The statue’s plinth is carved with the author’s name in Hindi and Russian, along with the year of installation — 1989.
To understand the logic of having Tolstoy’s statue in the city of Ghalib, one might as well go back to the recent past. Russian language was taught in Delhi even before Independence, while the phonological education in Russian started in 1965 with the setting up of the Centre of Russian Studies, which was given a space in IIT Delhi campus. In addition, back in the 1960s and 70s, Russia — rather the USSR — profoundly shaped Delhi’s intellectual life. A environmentalist who grew up in the Delhi of that time, told this reporter of literary evenings at the Russian Cultural Centre. Kurta-wearing ideologues lambasted American imperialism at seminars in Sapru House. Maxim Gorky’s novel Mother was a cult classic.
This afternoon, as Tolstoy’s homeland is engaged in a war its leader started two months ago, one might read aloud under his statue the following passage from a battlefield scene in War and Peace—“Rostov looked at the snowflakes fluttering above the fire, and remembered a Russian winter at his warm bright home, his fluffy fur coat, his quickly gliding sledge, his healthy body, and all the affection and care of his family. “And why did I come here?” he wondered.”