Bollywood, Hindi, samosas - Lithuanian professor loves the Indian concoction! (Feature)

July 13th, 2008 - 1:38 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Shah Rukh Khan
By Azera Rahman
Vilnius (Lithuania), July 13 (IANS) Deimantas Valancihnas, a 27-year-old Lithuanian, is a self-confessed Indophile in this Baltic nation. Teaching Indology, which includes Hindi and Sanskrit, besides nuances about Indian culture at Vilnius University, his fascination for India started from the time he was growing up on a heavy dose of Hindi movies. Speaking in impeccable Hindi, Valancihnas admitted being an ardent fan of Raj Kapoor and Nargis, although he makes it a point to watch and screen all the latest Bollywood movies for his students in the university.

“When Lithuania was under Soviet rule until late 1980s, Bollywood movies were screened in the theatres and Hindi movie stars were very popular. But after 2002, when the Shah Rukh Khan starrer ‘Devdas’ was screened, there was a lull of six years,” the professor told a visiting IANS correspondent over a dinner of mushroom soup in a bread bowl and smoked salmon in one of the city’s fancy restaurants, Kalvas.

“But that ended with the latest Shah Rukh Khan starrer ‘Om Shanti Om’. I screen movies for my students every week. Last week we watched ‘Jab We Met’ and ‘Aaja Nachle’, said the professor, who wears his golden mane long.

Lithuania regained its independence on March 11, 1990, after 46 years of Soviet rule. Culturally rich with old-world churches and castles boasting of Italian, Gothic and Renaissance architecture and naturally gifted with numerous lakes, a long sea line and green landscapes, Lithuania, one of the Baltic countries, is a scenic pleasure.

Vilnius, the capital, similarly wears a quaint look. Narrow winding lanes with elaborately architectured buildings on either side decorate the whole city.

Surprisingly, the Lithuanian language, which has a Latin script, has some similarities with Sanskrit. Words like ‘devas’ (gods) are common in both the languages.

Valancihnas, who has 13 students learning Indology at Vilnius University, said that he opted to learn Hindi because he loved the way it sounded.

“I remember growing up watching all Raj Kapoor, Sunil Dutt, Nargis and Madhubala movies with my mother in the theatres here. I loved the way Hindi sounded and wanted to learn it. After I grew up, I decided to go to the Kendriya Hindi Sansthan in Agra, learnt Hindi there and took my bachelors degree in it,” he said.

And it’s not just the language that he has learnt.

“In the chatrawas (hostel) in Agra, we had the option to cook our own food. Since most of us were foreigners we experimented a lot with Indian food. I learnt how to make aloo paranthas and samosas,” the young professor, who is doing his PhD, said.

He is happy at the growing popularity of Indology in the university along with other streams like Chinese and Japanese studies. The course started with six students in 2000 and has 13 students now.

Valancihnas makes sure to add the Indian flavour in every aspect of his students’ lives.

“We celebrate Holi and Diwali in the campus with a lot of gusto and fun. I am also planning to organize an Indian film festival soon,” he said.

Valancihnas is working out an exchange programme with two of India’s permier universities - Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

“Right now we have an exchange programme with the Kendriya Hindi Sansthan. But if the talks with DU works out then our students will be able to go there for two-six months and study a subject of their choice,” he said.

After the course in Indology, the students have a choice of becoming tour operators, joining the tourist board, become translators and interpreters or do research.

“Travelling to India has become very convenient. A 55 minutes flight to Helsinki (Finland) and then a direct flight to Delhi or Mumbai through Finnair. I have been there six times, not just Agra but also places like Pune, Mumbai, Vrindavan, Mathura and Varanasi.

“I have visited Sri Lanka, Malaysia and a lot of other Asian countries, but in India, I feel at home,” he smiled.

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