Ratheesh Nair, director of the Russian Cultural Center in Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram), India, where he is also an Honorary Consul of the Russian Federation, talks with RIR about Kerala`s connections with Russia and future celebrations.

Russian Cultural Center in Trivandrum © Mission of Rossotrudnicchestvo in the Republic of India
Russian Cultural Center in Trivandrum © Mission of Rossotrudnicchestvo in the Republic of India

Q: How was the Centre founded?

A: The Soviet Government decided to open its 5th Cultural Centre in Trivandrum for historical and political reasons. The high literacy rate in Kerala was also one of the reasons for selecting Trivandrum. The land was purchased by the Soviet Government in August 1969. Construction of the Cultural Centre Building was completed in 1975 and the Centre was opened officially the same year. The Centre was the hub of the organizing committee of the USSR Festival in South India which was held in 1987.

Q: You are the only Indian head of RCSC in India. Do you see things as an outsider, or from within? What should Russia do in coming years to promote its culture more effectively?

A: I am not a competent person to comment on that, being the Head of RCSC in Trivandrum, in other words as you mentioned “from within.” Because I work for an organization that is headed by experienced people who are aware of the priorities to be given in promoting Russian Culture. Being an India and a person who loves Russian language and Literature I have some suggestions in promoting Russian Culture in Kerala. People in Kerala love Russian Culture and literature. This is basically because of the Political and historical reasons. High literacy rate in Kerala is another positive reason for their affinity towards Russian Culture. Translated versions of books played a major role in bringing the people from this part of the World closer to Russia. Also people here take film as a serious medium. So I think, works of more Russian writers, both classics and contemporary, need to be translated into Malayalam. More efforts need to be taken in popularizing E-library culture for Russian literature. More Russian films in DVD forms should be made available. And of course, we have to increase the number performance by Russian Cultural Groups.

Q: To which areas should Russia pay more attention while promoting its culture (areas like book publishing, education in general, movies releases, tourism)?

A: I have already mentioned about books publishing and movies. We need to attract the new generation also. They are going to be the Ambassadors of People’s diplomacy. In the past, the young leaders of the political parties were actively involved in promoting the relationship between our two countries. Now the political situation and the attitude of youngsters have changed. We need to change our strategy accordingly. Providing Scholarships to activists of Russian-India Friendship movement will go a long way in promoting Peoples Diplomacy. Tourism is another area of co-operation. Here we talk about the inbound tourism to India from Russia, especially for Ayurveda. But we should not forget about the outbound tourism from India to Russia. Nowadays, the number of tourists visiting Russia is increasing. Most of them have a prejudicial approach before they go to Russia. But on their return they are happy about their visit to Russia. So we need to promote Russian tourism in a proper way in India.

Q: Kerala had rich traditions of relationships with Russia in the past. How does it affect the modern state of cultural relationships?

A: Since Kerala has rich traditions of the relationship with Russia, we don’t have to spend time to educate people about the importance of this time-tested friendly relation. But sometime we get confused due to the nostalgic memories of the friends of the former House of Soviet Culture (present RCSC). They do not understand the changes taking place in Russia. When the older generation demands that we function and carry out activities like 25 years ago, the new generation wants us to modernize the style of functioning. The older members of the House of Soviet Culture want to see old Russian films in our theatre, but the students want DVDs.

Q: Your RCSC became famous all around India with gathering of people with Russian or Soviet origin names. Tell us more about that. Are you going to continue that tradition? What were the most interesting names?

A: Gathering of Keralites with Russian names was one of the interesting events. Especially since it was held in a small village in Kerala called MOSCOW. There are more than 200 people in Kerala who have Russian names. Over 60 of them participated. It is interesting that most of them use Russian family names as their first name. One girl from Alleppey (Alapuzzha) who attended the programme was called TERESHKOVA. Another gentleman’s name was SPUTNIK. There were 5 PUSHKINS, 8 STALINS and 8 LENINS also present. GAGARIN was another person who attracted the crowd. We plan to organize this kind of function next year.

Q: Are any interesting events planned for the anniversary? I heard about plans to install a monument to Svyatoslav Roerich in Trivandrum. Could you confirm?

A: We are starting a Russian Festival to mark the 90th anniversary of ROSSOTRUDNICHESVO and 40th anniversary of RCSC in Trivandrum. One major event is the unveiling ceremony of Svetoslav Roerich’s monument, on 24th December. A beautiful bust made by Russian sculptor Grigoriy Potosky will be installed on Roerich Road. The road adjacent to the RCSC was named after Svetoslav Roerich in 2004 by the Trivandrum City Corporation Council. I.K Gujral, former Indian Prime Minister, opened the road officially in August 2004.

Q: Are the Roerichs popular in South India? Are there any Roerich paintings in local museums?

A: The Roerichs are famous in South India, especially in Kerala. Svetoslav Roerich had a personal relationship with the Royal family of Travancore. He stayed in Trivandrum for 3 months to paint the portrait of the then Ruler, Sree Chithira Thirunal Maharaja. 12 paintings by both Nikolai and Svetoslav Roerich are kept at the Sree Chitra Art Gallery in Trivandrum.

Q: As an Indian, which challenges for Russian culture do you expect in future years?

A: Passion for Russian Culture will never decline. But I think we need to make use of the new technologies in popularizing Russian Language and Literature. Social media should be properly but widely used. Information on the positive developments in Russia should reach people. In the new geopolitical situation, we have to work to popularize Russian culture because many systems in the World are working against Russia’s role in promoting peace. We need to attract youth.

Q: Do you have any statistics, how many people are studying Russian in South India? What should Russia do to increase their number?

A: I can talk about Kerala. More than 2500 students are studying Russian in Kerala. In Trivandrum alone Russian is taught in 4 schools and one College. Apart from that, Kerala University has a Russian Language Department. Pushkin Institute of Russian Language at the RCSC is offering different courses in Russian. We opened a chapter in Kochi. Next year we plan to open a chapter in Calicut. The University of Calicut has a Russian Language Department.

Q: What do you think is the most exciting aspect of Russian culture for Indian people?

A: Russia like India is a country of Unity in Diversity. Fortunately Russia has all types of art forms that reflect the culture of all regions. The Government is keen to protect it and promote it. The cultural forms like dances, music, paintings need to be shown in India, especially in rural areas. We need to organize more interactive sections between the youth of both countries. Literature and movies should also be given priority. Russian fairytales and cartoons based on Russian fairytales are the seeds of people’s diplomacy of the future generation.