What is your favourite article of Indian clothing? Do you wear it?
Russia’s long-time ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin loves dressing in kurta-pyjamas and is amazed by the sheer diversity of fashion in India. Source: Press photo
Out of Indian clothes, the kurta pajama is, of course, dearest to me. At one time, when I was still a student-trainee, I wore it regularly. It is, of course, the greatest invention of the Indian mind, and much more. It is indispensable for hot weather, absolutely universal. If it is a thin cotton kurta, then you can wear it at home, instead of European pajamas or home wear.
Of the “heavier” varieties, I like the achkan, which Jawaharlal Nehru always wore. Jackets with a stand-up collar are also elegant; they are popular in Russia now, too. The most important thing in Indian wear is practicality – which is always fashionable.
Before, they also used to produce gauze shirts, which for some reason are not around anymore. In the late 1970s and in the 1980s, they were very popular in the USSR. With floral prints, they were made out of the same materials as the kurta. The Soviet youth wore them gladly and I brought dozens of such shirts to Moscow as gifts. It was really the ‘in’ thing then.
You have socialised with many Indian politicians, starting with Indira Gandhi and right up to Narendra Modi. Were there any memorable outfits?
Indira Gandhi always looked absolutely impeccable. Her saris and the accessories to them were selected with such taste. She always looked modest while also supremely elegant. It is interesting that Indira Gandhi never wore jewellery.
I recall when the famous Russian artist Ilya Glazunov painted her portrait. She showed up in a ceremonial, rich, expensive sari – unbelievably bright. But she was such a strong political figure that she was able to lend brightness to that sari, and stay elegant. During her visits to Russia, she always amazed us with her ability to pick a sari and this flawlessness was passed on to Sonia Gandhi.
Rajiv Gandhi was always immaculately dressed whether in European or Indian clothes. His jackets were chosen to the millimetre. Even before he became prime minister, he was able to dress well in simple jeans and a shirt.
And, of course, we now observe Narendra Modi dressing with great elegance and taste.
Do you agree with the assertion that in India, every woman is glamorous in her own way?
I agree entirely. India is an extraordinary riot of colours and hues. It might not seem possible to combine them, but unique patterns are often found on fabrics that are one of a kind.
Each sari is different in some way, and the woman who wears it is also unique in her own way. I’ve always been amazed at how high the artistic taste of this nation is. You won’t see anything like this anywhere in the world. Chinese fashion stands apart, but the kaleidoscope and sheer diversity of Indian dyes are not to be found in it or any other.
In this context, the words of the famous Russian painter Nicholas Roerich come readily to my mind. He said it insightfully that “beauty resides in the Indian people.” This beauty is in the simple working women of Rajasthan and in the inhabitants of the Himalayan valleys dressed in Kullu shawls. We see this beauty every day walking around New Delhi.
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