Indian-Russian families are contributing to the cultural enrichment of Russia and India.
When Dr. Rameshwar Singh first thought of bringing together Indian-Russian families living in Moscow, he had no idea how many of them were there. A year after he launched a friendship society, Disha, about 300 mixed families have responded and interest is growing.
“After we went on Facebook with our group we got calls from many Russian cities, Samara and Krasnodar in the south, Chelyabinsk and Omsk in Siberia, and even Blagoveshchensk on the border with China, 10,000 km away from Moscow,” says Dr. Singh's Russian wife Nadezhda, who helped him set up Disha. “People were asking whether Disha planned to open a branch in their city so that they could join in.”
The story of Dr. Singh's marriage is typical of many Indian-Russian families. Rameshwar met Nadezhda at an Indian exhibition in Moscow in 1985 when he was a third-year student at the famous Friendship University, where tens of thousands of boys and girls from the Third World were trained for free during Soviet times as doctors, teachers and engineers. After Rameshwar received a doctorate in Russian philology from the Moscow State University the couple decided to settle down in Moscow. Today they have two children and run a design studio-cum-print house.
Even though the Soviet Union had an unofficial ban on marrying foreigners, India was granted an exception as a close friend. But some couples still suffered from restrictive Soviet regulations. Dr. Ratindra Chatterjee married Yelena when he came to Russia in 1966 for post-graduate studies in geology. After obtaining a doctorate degree he was offered a very good job back home. He went to India hoping his wife would follow him shortly. However, her emigration request was turned down and 18 months later Dr. Chatterjee returned to Moscow, missing a rare chance to make an excellent career with UNESCO. Looking back at his life, Dr. Chatterjee said he has no regrets. They have two grown-up sons and three grandchildren, all living in Moscow.
Speaking at a function to mark Disha's first anniversary, India's Ambassador to Russia Ajai Malhotra recalled that Indians and Russians have intermingled over the centuries, since the time when Russian merchant Afanasiy Nikitin reached India in 1468, well before Vasco da Gama. Indian merchants came to Astrakhan, where the Volga river flows into the Caspian Sea, in about 1615, and lived there for several centuries. The Ambassador said Indian-Russian families are contributing to the cultural enrichment of the two nations.
“When two great civilisations, India and Russia, come together, it's like giving man two legs to stand on,” he said.
Some Indians living in Russia have helped forge bonds between the two countries in more ways than one through marriage to a Russian.
The respected doyenne of the Indian community, Dr. Madan Lal Madhu, has translated into Hindi, for Moscow's Progress Publishers, more than 100 books of Russian classical, modern and children's literature, including some of the finest masterpieces by Tolstoy, Pushkin, Chekhov and Gogol. His distinguished services have been recognised with a Padma Shri, Russia's Friendship Order and the Pushkin Gold Medal. Dr. Madhu's Russian wife of almost 45 years, Tatiana, a trained linguist and a Hindi expert, has been his lifelong adviser, consultant and reviewer.
Dr. Chatterjee also worked for many years at Progress Publishers, whose science, educational and fiction books brought out in many Indian languages have helped educate several generations in India. When the publishing house folded up after the break up of the Soviet Union, he joined Radio Moscow, Bengali Service, where he worked till retirement. Recently the Voice of Russia, as the radio station is known today, called him back as it was running short of Bengali news readers.
For more than two decades now millions of Indians have been reading Moscow-dateline dispatches by Dr. Vinay Shukla, PTI's correspondent in Russia, who earlier worked for UNI. His wife Zamira hails from Tajikistan and is half Uzbek-half Tatar. It is probably because of this mix that she still thinks of herself as belonging to the erstwhile Soviet Union, rather than today's Russia.
Some couples complain that their Indian-Russian children suffer an identity crisis.
“My children do not seem to belong either to Indian or to Russian culture, they feel lost somewhere in between,” says businessman Neeraj Jain.
Neeraj has three children, none of whom speaks Hindi. The father speaks fluent Russian, so it is this language they use in the family. His two sons Nemi, 15, and Matvei, 7, also speak English. His daughter, Aishi, is a toddler.
Neeraj's sons go to a Russian school in their neighbourhood, even though there is an Indian Embassy school in Moscow. He says it would be too much of a trouble driving his children every day to the Indian school and back through Moscow's horrendous traffic jams. Other mixed families often send them to Russian schools for the same reason. Another factor is that Russian schools are free, while the embassy school costs about $500 a month.
In mixed families where Indian parents insisted on speaking the native language, the children have grown up identifying themselves with India, as well as Russia. Dr. Shukla's daughter, Urmila, says she feels being an Indian, even though Russian is her native language. She perfected her Hindi at Moscow State University and has taken up journalism after her father: she works for the Voice of Russia radio, Hindi service.
Some couples just let their children grow in the Russian cultural environment. Sometimes this brings remarkable results. Yash, a 10-year-old son of IT professional Joy Dusgupta and his wife Nataliya, goes to a Russian school and does not speak Bengali, despite the fact that his mother knows the language. Last year, Yash was chosen by his school to represent it at an inter-school contest in Russian language and literature, and won a prize in poetry recital.
Statistics say that 25-30 Indians marry Russians in Moscow every year, and the number is growing, but many couples nowadays choose to go back to India, where they see more opportunities for their careers.
“Our aim is to build bridges and make Indian-Russian families living in Russia to feel more at home here,” says Dr. Singh.
Keywords: Indo-Russian ties