India and Russia: Culture as Point of Contact
India is a country having a rich history and great potential for international collaboration, believes Alyona Earath. She has devoted many years of her life to carrying out projects aimed at establishing cultural communication between Russia and India. The expert has unique experience of living and working in the two countries. She decided to share it within the corporate education programme of the Institute of Supplementary Education at IGUMO.
doctor, medical editor, expert in intercultural cooperation between Russia and India
Alyona Earath is a professional having interesting and multifaceted experience in the fields of medicine, intercultural cooperation, and art. All those three areas are harmoniously combined in her activities to this day. The expert has higher medical education and extensive experience of working in the healthcare sector.
She lived in India for more than 20 years. There Alyona Earath implemented cultural and educational projects. For several years, she was a member of the Coordinating Council of the Indian Association of Russian Compatriots. She worked together with renowned Indian professionals from various fields. In 2019, the expert represented Russia at the major AROGYA International Conference and Exhibition (Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi).
Today, Alyona Earath continues and deepens her interaction with Indian culture while living and working in Russia. In her interview, the expert spoke about her main projects and shared her experience of doing business in India.
– How did your professional path begin? How did you find yourself in India?
– I grew up in Russia and got my basic education at the Ivanovo State Medical Academy. Already during my student years, I was particularly interested in research projects at the Departments of Physiology and Internal Medicine. When preparing for Science Day in my third year of studies, I met my supervisor named Manoj Bhaskaran. He was a postgraduate student from India who later became my husband. In 2000, upon my graduation from the Academy, we went to his homeland together. That’s how I found myself in Kerala, the southern state of the Republic of India.
During the first months of my life in the new country, I visited my husband’s clinics, talked with patients and medical staff, and visited family and friends frequently. Every day I learned something new about India.
I realised that language was the main tool for learning about cultural values. That’s why learning Malayalam, the language spoken in Kerala, became my main goal.
I had a small English-Russian phrasebook, in which I wrote down the meanings of words in Malayalam. I learnt the language not from teachers but by talking with people and reading the headlines in the morning papers and the signs of the shops. After a few months, I could understand difficult texts. A year later, I could speak that language fluently. That made it possible for me to have broader and deeper knowledge of the culture and customs of the South Indian region.
– What cultural projects have you managed to carry out in India?
– Today, India is the only country having five Russian cultural centres. That demonstrates its real interest in cooperation.
Before returning to Russia, I was a member of the Council of Russian Compatriots in South India and Kerala. Since 2008, I’ve been actively involved in organising and carrying out programmes in Russian centres of science and culture in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Trivandrum. In 2017, I brought a group of child delegates to the ‘Hello, Russia’ programme. Our children’s performance was recognised as one of the best.
In 2018, the Russian Government Commission for Compatriots Living Abroad awarded me a Certificate of Honour by for my special contribution to supporting Russia, developing ties between foreign citizens and their historical homeland, and preserving the Russian language and culture. In the same year, our family received the Russian Medal ‘For Love and Fidelity’.
I still cooperate with the Honorary Consul of the Russian Federation in Kerala, the Director of the Russian Cultural Centre Ratheesh Nair, the Council of Russian Compatriots in India, and its Chairperson Elena Barman.
For me, these are very valuable projects and awards. They emphasize the special importance of intercultural cooperation and strengthening communication bridges among countries. I am happy that I can contribute to that by speaking about India in Russia and about Russia in India. Moreover, Indians are very interested in our culture.
– You are a very creative person. Did that find its reflection in your projects?
– Yes, I have been fond of creative work since my childhood. During my academy studies, I was engaged in medical illustration. After the birth of my son, I decided to return to my hobby. Then it became my second profession.
In India, I started working with the talented fashion designer Vimala Viswabharan. I loved painting silk saris. I can say that it became a kind of my cross-cultural project. For instance, a sari painted in the style of Palekh miniature based on Alexander Pushkin’s poem Winter Evening was a great success.
Soon my first exhibition named ‘Northern Lights’ took place in Thrissur. It brought together about 2000 visitors. In total, I exhibited 75 works. Those were silk paintings, saris, and pictures. After that, I started exhibiting actively. People invited me to take part in all sorts of projects.
Each of my exhibitions always had two components. One aspect of the work was about the culture of Russia and the other part was about India.
Later, I had solo exhibitions, such as ‘Summer Dreams’ at the Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Mumbai, ‘Rainbow’ in Trivandrum, an exhibition at the Jatayu Earth's Centre in Chadayamangalam, and group exhibitions in Chennai and New Delhi dedicated to the interaction of Russian and Indian cultures. Today, my works are included in private collections in India, Germany, Australia, England, Russia, the USA, and the UAE.
I have also published a book in English on art therapy for adults. It is called ‘Reminiscence: A Colorful Travelogue’. That book combines simple and complex illustrations representing two beautiful countries, India and Russia. Thanks to it, the reader can go on a fascinating journey and learn interesting facts about the two cultures.
The translation and creation of the cover for the book ‘Spend Less, Get More’ on the Ayurveda Way was another small but interesting project for me. The book was written by Revanasiddappa Sarashetti, PhD, Indian Professor, and official representative of the Ministry of AYUSH in Russia. I have also translated articles for the Ayurveda & Yoga magazine.
When living in India, I took part in leading TV programmes. My interviews were printed in major magazines and newspapers in Kerala.
Over the past two years, I have been doing my favourite medicine-related work. I am also Editor of Clinical Medicine at the ‘Action’ International Centre for Economic and Financial Development.
In 2019, I returned to Moscow. My son entered the Gnesin Russian Academy of Music (class of Tatyana Zelikman). I got became the Marketing Director at Ayurveda Media. Under the guidance of Dathan Nair, the company has been popularising Ayurveda and yoga in Russia and the CIS countries for many years. In 2020, I collaborated with Dr. Naushad Ali Thacha Paramban who is the leading Ayurvedic specialist and the founder of the Atreya chain of clinics and an Ayurvedic sanatorium. It was a productive and informative project, which helped me learn more about the values and essence of the most ancient system of medicine called Ayurveda or ‘the science about life’.
– When living in India, you communicated with representatives of various professions. Do the etiquette and principles of business communication in India differ from those in Russia?
– The representatives of Indian culture are very sociable and open people. They highly appreciate showing respect in communication. For example, in Kerala, it is customary to address a doctor, always mentioning the word ‘doctor’ before that person’s name and then adding ‘sir’ several times in the conversation.
Just like in a family, business environment in India is characterized by the principle of respecting elders. Thus, irrespective of your position, you should pay special attention and respect to those older than you.
It is important to observe etiquette during business meetings. To do so, it is better to learn about seating arrangements and other details in advance. It should be noted that, if a person from another culture does something wrong, he or she will easily notice it by the way the Indians react. They are very emotional and completely open people, especially the residents of the southern part of the country. They are very likely to tell you about your mistake in a friendly manner.
Of course, the dress code is very important in India. Just like in Arabian countries, women must be dressed without cleavage and short skirts. The best option is to put on a pantsuit or a long dress at least below the knee.
Many European clothing brands are quite familiar in India. At the same time, the appearance of the local population may seem unusual to representatives of other cultures at first glance.
When getting acquainted with your future partners, I would recommend to focus on your life and professional achievements. For Indians, that is a very important indicator. In their offices, you can see a lot of diplomas in wooden frames and one-type cups traditionally awarded for various accomplishments. Moreover, if Indian colleagues decide to give you a present during business cooperation, you will most likely get that same trophy or certificate among other things.
– What principles and values should be the basis for an effective international and intercultural collaboration?
– In recent years, I have been repeatedly hearing the term ‘culture of peace’. It presupposes mutual respect and dialogue among countries based on an understanding and acceptance of differences.
I believe that, to establish effective communication, one must be culturally literate in the first turn. One needs to know the history of other countries and learn about their art, customs, and traditions.
It is important to understand that intercultural cooperation should always be future-oriented and focused on long-term constructive communication.
There are two basic rules that have helped me in my life. Firstly, treat other people the way you would like them to treat you. Secondly, respect the norms, customs, and traditions of a foreign country. In my opinion, if everyone begins to follow these simple principles, we will be able to build strong intercultural bridges ‘brick by brick’.
– What prospects and significance of cultural cooperation between Russia and India can you name?
– Russia and India have had a 75-year-old history of friendly relations. Importantly, these relations are equally valuable for both countries. Successful cooperation between Russia and India takes place in the field of education. Programmes on strengthening relations between universities and other educational institutions are constantly implemented. Cultural and film festivals are regularly organised in both countries. Young people take an active part in them.
Today, Russian is being actively promoted in India. Hindi is becoming increasingly popular in Russia. It demonstrates that our peoples sincerely want to know and understand each other better.
I would say that the strong relations between Russia and India spread over all areas. They are based on the principles of trust, mutual respect, and understanding.
– As a person who lives in Russia, knows a lot about India, and is involved in intercultural projects, how would you formulate your social mission today?
– Based on 20 years of my experience, I can say that I consider culture as an effective unifying factor. I am happy to be a linking element and to contribute to the rapprochement of the two cultures. Integration, accepting the principles of Indian culture, and preserving m own principles have changed my perception of the world. That has also influenced the way people around me perceive Indian culture.
I believe that, first of all, the respect of principles and values defines the route for further mature intercultural cooperation on the way to the mutual enrichment of these two civilizations. It doesn’t matter much what field of implementing projects (education, economy, politics, entrepreneurship, or creativity) we are considering.
Photos are taken from the personal archive of Alyona Earath
Viktoria Gusakova, Global Women Media news agency
Translated by Nikolay Gavrilov