Alexander Kadakin, the Ambassador of Russia to India. Source: Embassy of the Russian Federation in the Republic of India
It was long ago that I had embarked on my own infinite journey of discovering India. Like the Russian merchant from Tver, Afanasy Nikitin, with his famous voyage beyond the three seas, I stepped on this land in a quest of its eternal values in philosophy, ethics and truth, at the same time immersing into the depths of my own mind and education. Was it a sip at magic Indica potion, a spell of this country’s charm or – have I been hit by Kamadeva’s sweet arrows of Indophilia, or was I attracted by Nicholas Roerich’s Indian magnet? Perhaps, the mortar which cements my vision of India is a mosaic amalgam of various components starting from high infatuation with the unknown and the mysterious to things very rational and down-to-earth.
Recollecting innumerable brief and long encounters with India and sojourns here in various capacities during a 42-year-long diplomatic career one thing has always remained a permanent feature, a common denominator and, in a way, a riddle – the amazing phenomenon of Russian-Indian chemistry of affection for each other.
One can only guess what is written in God’s Book of Destiny, but I do believe my listing is enciphered both in Cyrillic and Devanagari. I do fondly and distinctly remember very first encounter with India in childhood. It was the time when Awaraand Shri 420 were conquering Russian hearts. That post-war period was not easy for my country, but Raj Kapoor’s movies boosted people’s morale and filled their souls with the warmth of hearts and climate of a far-away India. Then followed «The Jungle Book», Ramayana, Panchatantra and Hitopadesha and later – more serious academic books on India like Jawaharlal Nehru’s immortal “Discovery of India”. After school, the question of future profession did not baffle me at all – I dreamt of becoming a student of India, and my fervent wish was duly fulfilled, when I entered the prestigious MGIMO University under the Foreign Ministry in Moscow.
The other day, in Darjeeling, an idea struck my mind that the discovery of India is like scaling a Himalayan summit. The higher one ascends, the more the horizon broadens, and only at the top the breath-taking panorama unfolds in a short-lived drama of the morning. India has entered my life as a second homeland. It has become my karma-bhumi, because I worked here for so many years, my gnyana-bhumi, because I have learnt a lot here, my tapa-bhumi (especially in the hot season), but most importantly – my prem- and maitri-bhumi, because I have given a half of my heart to India and because me personally and the new Russia, which I have the honour to represent as Ambassador for the second time, have millions of good friends here.
I can reveal a little secret of the Indian magnet and its sorcery. Russians are attracted to this land not only because of its historic sites, enormous spiritual potential in search of harmony and tranquility, rich culture and amazing nature, but because of unique opportunity which this country provides – to look through an Indian prism into one’s own self and understand the innermost. Someone may say it is an agenda for a philosophical dispute but many of my compatriots are of the view that in order to comprehend Mother Russia better, one should first go to Bharat-Mata.
How more profound is India's traditional world, where each stone is a hierophant, a sign of the presence of the sacred in our world. Every sunrise here becomes a cosmogenic drama, like in Darjeeling, every woman – an embodiment of the tantric principle of Shakti whose presence is the source of the world's very existence, and could be manifested right up to the election Lila. Behind the exterior forms specific only of India there hides the sublime universal paradigm of the traditional conscience which is totally opposite to the modernistic one, at the same time far more vibrant and wholesome. In purely modern phenomena one sees the same movement of the spirit that one can get from traditional doctrines. The craving of human soul for sacral archetypes is unquenchable, and archetypes are easily juxtaposed with new age constructs. The sacral and the profane coexist.
It was a memorable event and I remember the exact date, when I first landed in India. The rainy August 9, 1971, when Andrey Gromyko and Swaran Singh signed the historic Soviet-Indian Treaty. Was it an omen? I thought it was a blessing. And never had I regretted in the next 42 years that my destiny would closely intertwine with this country. Could there be another try, would I choose the same fate? The answer is positive. It was kismat.
My India spoke to me in various languages which, luckily, I could understand – be it the polished English of Indian diplomacy or the "Hinglish" of informal chats, the "Hirdu" of Hollywood movies or the chaste and refined Hindi of Doordarshan. At times, it could be an intellectual discourse or a soporific pravachana, a shriek of pain or boastful self-praise. I listened to all those voices and often wondered whether they belonged to a single whole or to a polyphonic chorus. Not only the voices. Hi-tech luxuries carried on a bullock cart, agricultural revolution and the ancient plough, jhuggis side by side with glittering skyscrapers, haute couture shows watched by shabby dhoti-clad manufacturers of things fashionable, ahimsa ideals and bloody clashes – could all this coexist in a single flacon? Or even within an individual who could imbibe the 21st century ideas and razor-edge technologies, at the same time ready to fight for the identification of an ancient site?
All these years I have had unique experience and accumulated intangible fortunes. My treasure box is full of incredible souvenirs. The most graphic memories etched in my mind are contacts, meetings and friendships with a large galaxy of Indians. Many of them, regrettably, are no more. Personal friendships with T.N.Kaul, Aruna Asaf Ali, D.P.Dhar, P.N.Haksar, K.C.Pant, Biju Patnaik, Gopi Arora, Nurul Hasan, I.K.Gujral, Kishan Singh Surjeet, Nirmala Deshpande and many-many others.
Cherished are the warm memories of Indira Gandhi. A flashback to an evening in 1975. At a private dinner in PM's Safdarjung residence where as a junior diplomat I was interpreting for the Ambassador, she commended my Hindi and knowledge of India and said that one day I was destined to return as Ambassador. Her prophesy materialized. Twice!
I also recall the statement of A.B.Vajpayee way back in 1977 which most vividly reflected the core essence, vastuand chetanaof Russian-Indian friendship. Imagine! April 1977, the aftermath of the general elections. For the first time in independent India’s history a government from opposition came to power. I must admit it was a real shock for Soviet leaders. The Kremlin was seriously concerned about the future of our ties. Mr Vajpayee,the then Foreign Minister, received the Soviet Ambassador first among the Diplomatic Corps. It was at that meeting, which I interpreted, that the major concept of India’s foreign policy was enunciated: “There is a national consensus on Russian-Indian friendship in the country, and bilateral relationship does not depend at all on domestic political compulsions or on any kind of marriages of convenience or expediency in the international arena”.
This timeless formula has been elaborated in minute detail by the entire history of Russian-Indian ties, culminating in 2000 when Russia and India became pioneers in establishing strategic partnership – a novel format of international relations and the historic Declaration was signed by Prime Minister A.B.Vajpayee and President V.Putin. Today, our ties are, no doubt, shining as never before. They have blossomed into a special and privileged strategic partnership, in spite of other ideas being intentionally implanted on people's minds by vested interests.
For centuries certain powers have preached the cynical doctrinal notion of “no-permanent-friends-only-permanent-interests”. Diplomats cannot be romantics, but, personally, I abhor this concept. It does not at all apply to Russia. We sincerely regard India as our closest and best friend. Hardly will you name another country which would have twice supplied nuclear fuel for Tarapur against the backdrop of rigid sanctions, would have leased nuclear submarines or offered unique defense technologies for BrahMos world’s best cruise missiles or the fifth-generation aircraft. This is the gist of our strategic relationship. Yes, it is also the reason why Russia does not exactly feel comfortable when attempts are made to put us on the same shelf with others as regards opportunities for future contracts and tenders under the guise of equal chances for all – including several newly-acquired partners or contract-seekers who had clamped sanctions against India. Our relations are special after all.
In such free straying towards seemingly alluring horizons there comes a temptation at times to sneer at ‘bhai–bhai’ slogans or even Bokaro and Bhilai, Soviet antibiotics of Rishikesh, and the joint manned space mission. And yet, the irony of real facts is that without Bhilai and Bokaro steel, Rishikesh antibiotics, Bangalore’s modest electronic lab, and India’s ‘Aryabhata’ of that era, there would have been neither the Indian auto industry, nor the remarkable pharmaceutics, nor the Chandrayaan module or the Kudankulam nuclear power project.
Let us be in no doubt: in this strikingly new world, which smells and sounds different, our two countries are in greater need of each other. Our common past – however touching and romantic its narrative sounds, as if sung by Raj Kapoor’s personages – is not the only bond uniting our two countries. Together we face the pressing new challenges of the dramatic present and so far hazy future. We are so much alike; so similar are the problems we encounter. Both you and we try to establish and maintain cohesion in multi-confessional and multi-ethnic societies.
We are anxious to strike a balance between loyalty to the cultural heritage and, as Mahatma Gandhi pointed out, to throw open the windows of mind for fresh breezes of new ideas to blow in. We seek to put scientific and technological progress at the service of society rather than of individual corporations; to overcome the financial crisis and counter cross-border terrorism, separatism, chauvinism, violence and social vices; to create beauty inside ourselves and around us, as directed by India’s best Russian friend – Nicholas Roerich. Each of us has its own experience, both positive and negative, which could be of use to the other. Finally, there is a desire to share these experiences and discuss them.
We can and should serve each other not only as sources of goods, arms, and energy but also as a treasure-chest of ideas. It might sound abhorrent, even sacrilegious, coming from a diplomat, but I must insist: we should not allow our hardened bureaucrats to feather their nests at the expense of our partnership by ritually getting together, uttering cliché phrases, holding round tables and other protocol shindigs and ceremonies, which hardly have anything to do with our public and social milieu or ever seem relevant to our peoples.
I wish that our economic cooperation were measured not only in trade statistics figures, but in real projects – enterprises, ventures, roads, banks, hotels, and joint scientific researches. I wish there was greater contact between our professionals from all other fields – both technical and humanitarian. I wish that our cultural interaction would imply not only sitar playing and bharatanatyam or the circus and ballet, which we seem obsessed with, but many other genres. I wish that our journalists would remember Russia and India not only at the time of summits, natural disasters or – God forbid! – terrorist attacks. Finally, I wish that charter flights and tourist buses would carry not only Russian tourists to Goa or Agra, but also Indians – to Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Suzdal, Pereyaslavl-Zalessky and Lake Baikal.
Undoubtedly, the time has come to write 'Imagining both India and Russia' and implement the most daring plans. So dear to us are the flavours, sounds, and stories of the past. However, while cherishing them, we should not miss the wonderful chance of taking our relations forward, to a higher plateau. I personally pray and work for it. It is my karma in yet another incarnation as Ambassador to India.
Once, looking at the magnificent Great Banyan in Calcutta’s Botanical Garden, fascinated by its cosmic might, centuries-old wisdom, youthful vigour and divine splendor, a thought flashed across my mind – Russian-Indian relationship can be likened to that sacred tree with innumerable air-roots, young and grown-up branches. Likewise, the various facets and avenues of our cooperation extend to the outer space, the skies and deep oceans. Today’s meeting is another sprout on that mighty tree. The honour you have bestowed on me goes fully to my colleagues in the Embassy and the Ministry, and to all those millions of Russians who work for stronger ties between our nations.
Let us jointly carry forward the baton of our friendship so that the banyan of Russian-Indian cooperation could grow from strength to strength for the benefit of present and coming generations, in the interests of peace on Earth, security and prosperity of entire humankind.
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