MINSK (BELARUS): As many of the residents of this Belarusian capital head for their dachas on weekends, a group of girls — young and not so young — prefer to stay back home and head in the evenings for a special class that would help them achieve their dreams — to learn the classical Indian dances.
The teacher is not Indian but a Belarusian.
For many in this tiny country which was known as Silicon Valley of the erstwhile Soviet Union, India has always been a mystery. They avidly watched Hindi movies that were received, dubbed in Russian, from Moscow. None, however, dreamt of visiting India. The meagre incomes just did not permit the luxury of foreign travel. Things, however, changed after Belarus became independent in 1992. More of India can be seen — thanks to the exhibitions of Indian goods — saris, shawls, handicraft and apparel that are being held regularly. An ISKCON temple too has opened and aroused interest among many in this former communist culture. New avenues have opened up.
Tiny advertisements in the city’s buses featuring the Taj Mahal are enough to drive hoards of Belarusian girls to the exhibitions that he has been organising for the past few years, says Navin Kohli. Settled in Minsk for over a decade, Navin has married a Belarusian girl. Business is good, he says as he directs his sales staff to look after the customers in the exhibition that has Indian consumer goods for sale. Their natural inclination towards technology has drawn the Belorusians towards Bangalore. As many Soviet day statues and street names remain unchanged, a busy traffic junction and a huge park in the capital have been named after Bangalore which was made a sister city by Minsk.
India has been generous in offering technology and training. And one of the industrial giants of Belarus, Amkodor, which builds heavy duty machinery, is toying with the idea of tying up with Bollywood for film production. During the Soviet days, most of the defence armament and equipment manufacture facilities were located in Belarus. After independence, Belarus maintains the trade ties in defence. Trade between the two countries in various fields, from grapes and cotton to pharmaceuticals, has been growing.
“My interest in Indian dances grew ever since I was a child. I would see my mother and father watch the Hindi movies with either Russian subtitles or dubbed in Russian. Either mother or father would invariably cry watching the movies or we children would wonder why they did so,” says Elena Sipach. “I must have been as young as three then,” Elena, now an expert in ‘Kathak,’ says. So involved she was in Kathak that she persuaded her parents to send her to India to learn Kathak and spent three years in Delhi’s Ganesh Natyalaya and then Sriram Centre.