From Russia with Love

by | Sep 1, 2021

In 1965, there was a war with Pakistan. In January 1966, Russia presided over a compromise in Tashkent, now the capital of Uzbekistan. On the night of signing the agreement, Indian Prime Minster Lal Bahadur Shastri died. Russian Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin escorted his body to India. That is how as a child I got introduced to Russia.  

I watched my first English film in 1968 in my hometown, Meerut. It was a James Bond movie called ‘From Russia with Love.’ I walked about five kilometres with a few of my friends, all senior to me, to the Palace Cinema in Cantonment where English films were shown. I could not understand much of what was being shown, but I liked the beautiful locations of Istanbul in Turkey. The hero was like a god and even the villain was sophisticated and well-mannered. For many years, I used to identify actor Sean Connery only as James Bond. 

Then came Raj Kapoor’s film, ‘Mera Naam Joker’ in 1970. It was more than four hours-long and had two intervals. There was a Russian circus artist, Marina, in the film, played by actress Kseniya Ryabinkina, whom the hero loved, but she had to return to Russia. I saw it in Nishat Cinema with my father, who was a big fan of Raj Kapoor’s. He did not like the film and I too was confused. Without any fight or a villain, the hero failed in his love three times! 

In 1971, India got involved in the liberation movement in East Pakistan and Russia stonewalled the American Seventh Fleet that was expected to intervene in support of Pakistan. Thus, the nation of Bangladesh was created. India signed a 20-year treaty with Russia, and we all saw Russians as our big friends. Nothing of this sort was ever done before or after this in the history of India. 

I joined the GB Pant University for my engineering studies and there, a big book exhibition arrived, selling Russian books translated into English and Hindi. Not only were the books attractive in look and feel, but they were also attractively priced. For twenty rupees that I had to spare, I could buy two books — the Hindi translation of Maxim Gorky’s novel, ‘Mother’ and S. Venetsky’s ‘Tales About Metals,’ where I first read about Titanium, a great metal given the exalted name — ‘Son of the Earth.’

When I joined DRDO in 1982 and was posted at DRDL, Hyderabad, to work as a Missile scientist, there was Russia all around. My boss, Colonel VJ Sundaram, tasked me to prepare a bill of material of the airframe of the Kavadrat surface-to-air missile that later became ‘TRISHUL’ after redesign. I struggled with Russian drawings, excellently made, and slowly picked up how to read the nomenclature of the components. When I later developed India’s first titanium air bottle, the ‘Tales About Metals’ was still with me. 

In Hyderabad, there was a regular bookshop called ‘Vishal Andhra’, selling Russian books and whenever I used to visit the Koti area, I would go there to spend time and buy a book. ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy, ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky and ‘Undertaker’ by Alexander Pushkin were a few of the precious literary gems that I acquired. Later, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, a great Russian enthusiast himself, gave me ‘Dreams of Earth and Sky’ by Konstanti Tsiolkovsky, one of the founding fathers of modern rocketry and astronautics and a great writer, from his personal collection. I read all these books and they become the foundation on which I developed my writing career.

In 1999, I visited Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan that became independent after the dissolution of Soviet Russia in 1991. Russia language was everywhere including on the Moscow TV channel, as the sole connection with the outside world. I went there thrice and visited Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan from there. I wanted to go to Tashkent too, but the bilateral relations between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan were estranged. When the President of Kyrgyzstan, Askar Akayev, came to India in 2003, President Kalam ensured my presence in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. 

In December 2004, when President Vladimir Putin visited New Delhi, President Kalam invited me to the State Banquet that he had hosted in his honor. All the eighty members of President Putin’s entourage, including some 20 ladies, were all dressed in black. Dr Kalam introduced me to President Putin as a devotee of Russian literature. President Putin did not say a word to anyone but spoke from his eyes and I will never forget the pure love and kindness his expression conveyed. Later, when I met the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, in April 2005, I was astonished to see the well-built Uzbeks. President Karimov handled Islamic terrorism in his country with an iron hand and kept his country safe and progressing. 

It is obvious that Russia has taken a different posture in the new Asian realities and that the historical Indo-Russian bonhomie has cooled off if it is not over. A perception was created by Russia that Western powers have adopted an aggressive and devious policy to engage India in anti-China games even while they are ignoring the aggression by China against India. Relations between Moscow and Beijing are at their best-ever level today, even better than they were in the 1950s when newly independent China made Russia its ideological soulmate, and Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong signed a formal treaty of alliance in 1950.

The way the United States has left Afghanistan and the regime has changed overnight; Russia-China appears to be the new superpower of the world. For sure, Russia and China have teamed up for a robotic mission to an asteroid in 2024. They are coordinating a series of lunar missions intended to build a permanent research base on the south pole of the moon by 2030. The powerful tenures of Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Putin are looking as if they will extend much deeper into the 21st century.

India must recalibrate its position and this is not an easy task. Two roads diverge. In the coming few months, the great hope of India joining the expanded G-7 grouping would be validated by how the West decides to take the new regime in Afghanistan. Is it time to restore our alliance with Russia? Is this possible? 

Tolstoy writes in ‘Anna Karenina’, “Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be.” It is time to find love and not be drowned in the deluge of hate. Love is a package deal. You can’t pick and choose and expect people to be as you’d like them to be. So, take a pause, and do that which is the best interests of our nation. Let leaders from all political parties sit together and decide where they want to see India in 2050. 

It so happens that my nephew (brother’s son) married a Russian girl studying in the United States, and they have recently been blessed with twin daughters. Yesterday, when I was interacting with the family online, I realized that my buying Gorky’s book, ‘Mother’ in the mid-1970s was not some random event but an omen announcing the very distant future that has finally arrived now! 

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20 Comments

  1. Dear sir, Very good coverage of your student life memories. Your long association with Russia and your interest in Russian literature is very well brought out.

    Probably as the destiny would have it, you joined DRDL and the technical collaboration continued with Russia. I was thinking that the relationship between Russia and India is quite strong, I am surprised that the relationship between the two countries is cooled off. However I still believe that Russia is still inclined towards India. India has been practicing Non aligned approach.
    But sir, to tame the terrorism and to root it out from the world, India should do whatever is required to do, as individual nation and extend all out support to world body which is championing the cause of eliminating the terrorism from globe. Russia supporting Taliban in Afghanistan is a matter of grave concern to the whole world and India in particular.

    But I am sure India can definitely handle the situation and come out triumphant. I am reminded of Dr Rahat Indori couplet.

    शाख़ों से टूट जाएँ वो पत्ते नहीं हैं हम
    आँधी से कोई कह दे कि औक़ात में रहे

    Torn off from the branches, we are not those leaves
    Let the storm be aware of its limitations.

  2. A very thoughtful blog. But I feel the world has changed irreversibly.

    When India was wooing US, through “Howdy Modi” Indian community event in Texas and “Namaste Trump” for US President Donald Trump in Ahmedabad, Russia made up its mind to go with China. It needs Chinese money. Other things do not matter much. The point is what India needs. China is a proven enemy and despite summits between PM Modi and President Xi Dokalam has happened.

    American exit from Afghanistan was inevitable. OK, it did not happen neatly. But now that Pakistan is gone into Chinese fold, both India and US have no other option but to hold each other’s hand. Only if the US has decided to be confined to the other side of the globe it is a different issue. PM Modi must ask President Biden when he meets him later this month.

  3. Respected sir, Excellent blog that cover all the aspects right from your school days about Russia and China also. Hope India will strengthen it’s position keeping in mind current scenario in Afghanistan. Now it’s time to choose correct path and move on.

  4. Thank you Sir for sharing this wonderful and informative article. Your interest in various areas of Russian politics, art and current affairs is fascinating.

    I always thought of India siding with the US when it came to picking sides. The current situation of Afghanistan and the Taliban however is very disheartening.

    I often wonder what the point of these wars is, why the obsession with being the superpower and how only the innocent men, women and chidren suffer.

    Knowing that you have met President Putin makes me wonder how rich and wonderful your life experiences are. I hope you keep sharing such knowledgeable articles.

  5. It is a lovely read. I enjoyed Sunil Kaul Sir’s comment most. But it is clear that the bond both of you are talking about is no more like a college friendship after getting into a job. Russia is too heavily invested in China and Pakistan and it is very unlikely that India even has an option there. India must align with the US and the other democratic countries and become a strong nation. Phir jo ho, so ho.

  6. Another exemplary blog and this time about the reigning jewel of East Europe and also the world’s most tantalising enigma, Russia.

    Russia brings to one’s mind Tolstoy, Gorky, chess, vodka and pretty ballerinas, not necessarily in that order. In my teens I ate up War and Peace, and in later years the highly controversial albeit interesting Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

    The cold war in the 60s between USA and the then USSR and their alignment towards Pakistan and India in different arenas that you mentioned was such an integral part of our growing up.

    I found your article very interesting in the current political context too. As you said, it is time to look at the whole scenario with fresh eyes and love in a different way. As times change, so does the political climate and so must we.

  7. From Russia with Love …….it does seem the love is wearing off or has lost its sheen. In international relations, national interest is paramount. Only when a relationship serves the national interest of the partners concerned, it is sustained over a long period of time. The global scenario is dynamic; relationship equations also keep on changing as per the national interests.

    Russia’s intervention in the 1971 war did stop American Seventh Fleet getting involved in the war and facilitated early creation of Bangladesh. This was indeed a great support from Russia to defeat the evil designs of Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon. Multi-colored and attractive children’s books from USSR were also a big draw. They were affordable cost-wise. I used to buy them for my kids and also for gifting to other children.

    For India, it is essential to have national consensus on its foreign policy to ensure its continuity and consistency irrespective of the political setup in power. Once this is achieved, the country can develop alliances with the East and the West keeping its national interest in mind. I have seen individuals maintaining excellent relations simultaneously with two adversaries without antagonizing any one of them. Why India can’t do the same at the global level !!

  8. I have read your well scripted blog on Russia and the interesting context of your personal association and experiences.

    I think the world, especially the West, is in the first or even the second phase of its decline. Two centuries of imperial exploitation, and now, the vast fiscal polarisation in society especially in the US, is catalysing external reactions, and internal frustration. These are exacerbated by stunted leadership, be it Trump or Biden. Money rules the roost, and the democratic process throws up the dominance of two of the least common denominators- the average idiot on the one hand, and the super, rather hyper- motivated capitalistic interests that drive policy and international action.

    Russia under Putin, and China with its wise more collective leadership have ganged up together. With hordes of fired up Islamists under

    Where is India in the Big Game?

    One wonders. And Sometimes a chill runs down one’s thinking spine.

  9. Dear Sir, Very beautifully articulated narration on Russian History and it’s relation with India so far. As you have very wisely mentioned that time has come for India to define it’s geopolitical stand and show to the so called world leaders that India is also rising exponentially in every aspect.

    The super power nations must understand whether they would like to support us in this thrive or they have all the choice to become the back benchers and see the India’s legacy show which world has not been witnessed so far. I could not refrain my self to quote one shloka mentioned in “Chankya Neeti,”

    “यथा चतुर्भिः कनकं परीक्ष्यते निघर्षणच्छेदनतापताडनैः ।
    तथा चतुर्भिः पुरुषः परीक्ष्यते त्यागेन शीलेन गुणेन कर्मणा ॥”

    which simply insinuates that Just as gold is tested through rubbing, cutting, heating and beating; a man is examined on four (grounds) – liberality, character, efficacy (and) action. India will stand high on above given parameters and will make all of us proud to be an INDIAN…

  10. That’s the right caption to the right write-up.
    Russia all the way – from your sojourns to our pleasure…
    From Sean Connery / James Bond to Raj Kapoor / Mera Naam Joker…
    The bonhomie and friends of yester years to the aloofness and caution of the present…
    It indeed is From Russia with love…..

    Fully agree, we neither have created an enemy nor have we lost a friend. In fact no love is lost between the two countries, its primarily sitting together over Kvass (Russian non-alcoholic drink) or Vodka (Russian Alcoholic drink) and singing together…. Mera joota hai japani…sar pe lal topi Rusi…phir bhi dil hai Hindustani…… The simmering love will blossom again.

    As rightly pointed out with the present situation and the political buildup it’s better that Moscow – Putin, continues to have a soft corner for us and we in turn need to work on with more vigour to enhance the comradeship. Beijing – Xi Jinping looks at us as his competitor and business rivals and making friends is almost impossible.

    Moreover, with the jing – a – la – la we have with America we obviously are not Beijing favourites. it is also sending wrong signals to Moscow and probably we need to balance properly between these two super powers like a trapeze artist walking over a tight rope.

    Do it India… for being close to Moscow will keep Beijing at bay as both have lot of common interests and would not like to have a fall out.

  11. As Russia and China have developed strong ties, India’s relationship with Russia is bound to have some strains. Our democratic values and quest for transparency in public life have brought us closer to the US.

    Unfortunately, the influence of the USA is waning in Asia. Obviously, this complex situation has created a difficult moment for Indian diplomacy.

    After reading your blog, I have become moderately optimistic about a peaceful resolution of differences in our neighborhood.

  12. Dear Sir, I remember, in one of your lectures in University of Hyderabad, you mentioned about Nature’s signs and directions which shows you a picture of your future. You suggested to learn how to recognize the nature’s sign if you want to achieve something great in your life.

    Since then I am practicing this and I happy to say that somewhat I have gained this skill. It’s 100% true that nature tells and guide us for betterment of ourselves and for the family as well as for society, unfortunately most of us don’t know the skill to recognize that signs. Perhaps they don’t had a mentor like you in their life. I am blessed being your student.

    I remember in 2019 when I visited University for my PHD Interview and forgot to bring my original certificates, which were compulsory to attend the interview post written qualifying exam. I asked for your help to get permission to attend the interview. Then you asked me how is your family, where is your wife? I said she is in Australia for a small project for 3 months. You said it’s nature’s sign that you forgot your certificates to bring, actually you are going to Australia, and after 1 week only, I got a long term project in Australia and been here since July 2019.

    What a true forecast you did, that day I called my wife and said that Sir asked me to go to Australia, I am coming, seems nature is asking us to stay together. This is just one example, have such more examples with me where I was guided by nature and I just followed the Nature’s sign and tuned by energy with nature. Warm Regards,

  13. Sri Arunji, this was very beautiful & pleasant read .. This question has always been playing in my mind as well on how to have great positive relations with Russia in new world. Happy to read your perspective on it.

    On China, again it does always feel like culturally, historically, geographically & philosophically over centuries & centuries (leaving last few decades), we have so much commonality to share. But differing political ideologies and self interest driven strategic positioning of China in recent times has taken us much farther apart. And with every passing day the divergence seems to be increasing.. Not sure what can be really done with current political structure in China. Would love to hear your perspectives on this as well..

  14. From Russia with love is a good read. Looks like your association with the world’s largest country is predestined. The story of ‘Dreams of earth and sky’ motivating you to fulfill your dreams brings back memories. The thumbnail of this blog says it all. If love becomes our launchpad, hope can soar high enough to see beyond pettiness and false perceptions. Alignment with countries to create and sustain peaceful societies should be the only option leaders must look forward to. Let any partnership be about peacekeeping and promoting democracy. Safe and progressive democracies have an important role all the time and must choose partners wisely, to create an inclusive world.

    I wish the new parents twice the love and twice the happiness. Let’s be receptive to good omens ONLY.

  15. Always nice to read the great recollections of your treasured life memories Prof. Tiwari!

    It’s a very sad moment in history for the USA, and quite an embarrassing moment at that. Many nations – both friends and adversaries – are certain to recalibrate in the face of weak leadership here. The future is quite uncertain.

  16. Excellent blog. Russia has consistently proved itself our reliable partner in times of need, drawing comparisons to China’s “all-weather friend” relationship with Pakistan. As you rightly pointed out, while the US backed Pakistan during the 1971 Bangladesh “Liberation War” – sending an aircraft carrier into the Bay of Bengal – Moscow supported India by actually blocking it. Even now the urgently needed S-400 missile defence system is coming from Russia.

    Moscow has been favouring a Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral format to advance a variety of security and diplomatic objectives – ranging from the normative promotion of the inviolability of state sovereignty to the pursuit of a governance and security architecture for Asia. The Quad must not become a wedge between India and China. There is a need for a recalibration and this is the time.

  17. Always a pleasure to read your blog and learn from it.

    Many of us who grew around almost the same time as you did, and were not indoctrinated with a particular mind-set had a likeness for Russia, sorry USSR. Russian science books, including Maths, were also very popular and much cheaper.

    The world is changing, and changing fast. I wish India could position itself to move into the slot gradually being vacated by the USA. I hope now China does not do the same mistake which Russia did and lately US did in Afghanistan. After spending trillions of Dollars spread over two decades, US has been badly burnt. We quite often get carried over by our sense of over-all superiority and try to overwhelm (or subjugate may be the right word) those who we think are “inferior”, not realising the deep-rooted inner value system of our opponents.

    Next 10 years and beyond will be different, not just because of COVID-19 but also the new geo-political-economical groupings of the world.

  18. Great coverage on Russia and advice to India to recalibrate it’s position post Taliban take over of Afghanistan.

  19. Dear sir, Interesting article, thanks for sharing . Surprisingly I never picked up your interests for Russian authors during our discussions. You have shared so many of your experiences but this one is very interesting. Your summary of the world and India’s approach to handling the situation the coming days is precise.

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