Kazakh, but proud to be called Indira

October 24th, 2008 - 9:28 am ICT by IANS  

Almaty (Kazakhstan), Oct 24 (IANS) People in Kazakhstan admire three Indian heroes - film legend Raj Kapoor, former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru - though not necessarily in that order.Despite the huge popularity they enjoy in this Central Asian country, Raj and Jawaharlal are not common Kazakh names. But many girls here are named after Indira Gandhi and the legacy continues.

“Indira”, read the name tag of a receptionist at a luxurious hotel here. Asked if she was from India, though she didn’t look Indian, her reply was an obvious “no”. She smiled and looked at the badge.

“Yeah. This is your prime minister (name),” she said in broken English.

“My parents have named me after Indira, an Indian empress who won millions of hearts in Russia during her visit in the 1950s,” the 25-year-old said in the Kazakh language, as translated by an interpreter.

A 20 something waitress at a restaurant was also named Indira. “My parents named me after Indira Gandhi. I couldn’t be like her but even the name is enough,” she told this visiting IANS correspondent smilingly.

“Who knows,” she wondered, “may be I will name my daughter after Sonia Gandhi - the most powerful woman in your country now!”

Their “pride” is shared by many young and middle aged women in this country of around 130 ethnic groups and 46 faiths with a predominant Muslim population.

“We don’t know if Indira is a Muslim or Hindu name. I have read and known about Indira’s charisma. She is an example of women’s empowerment for the entire world,” said Aiman, 30, an executive at a money exchange bureau in this picturesque city of Kazakhstan, a country that emphasises gender equality.

“Indian culture and politics have had an impeccable influence on Soviet people,” said Temir Zhamankulov, a cultural expert here.

Indira Gandhi first visited the erstwhile USSR with her father, the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, in 1955 during which she stayed in Almaty almost for half a day.

“But during her brief stay here she became so popular that people even now have not forgotten and that is why you find many Kazakh girls named Indira,” Zhamankulov said.

The Nehru-Gandhi family’s love for Russia is well known and it has been reciprocated deservingly in many former Soviet republics. Moscow has Indira Gandhi’s statue. A square in the Russian capital is named after Nehru.

Central Asian political and cultural relations with India are age-old, the expert noted, recalling that Russia’s first contact with India began with Afanasy Nikitin, a merchant from Tver on the banks of the Volga river who faced many odds before reaching India in 1469 and lived there for three years.

“Not only at the people level, many poets and writers in entire Central Asia have written poems and literary pieces dedicated to India, and modern Indian literature has been published in millions of copies in many languages of the former Soviet republics,” he said.

(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at s.kashani@ians.in)

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