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  • Wednesday, March, 2023| Today's Market | Current Time: 08:56:35
  • By Dr Vladimir Anisimov

    This story began in Cuba – in its beautiful capital Havana.

    At the invitation of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, I departed to the Island of Freedom going to explore the opportunities for a group of Russian artists who, in one year, should create a collection of works of art dedicated to the 500th anniversary of Havana.

    In 2002, I worked with a group of artists in Cuba. It was a creative expedition to celebrate the 100th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and Cuba. So I know Cuba well. Therefore, I was asked to implement this unusually interesting project.

    Among the officials meeting me, I noticed my longtime acquaintance, the hero of Russia and Cuba, the pilot-cosmonaut Tomayo Mendez. A friendly conversation ensued, we talked about plans for the future. I told that from Havana I immediately fly to Delhi for a meeting with the first Indian space pilot Rakesh Sharma. Learning about this, Tomayo smiled, hugged me tightly and told: “Say hello to Rakesh, I do not know if I’ll see him, after all, years.”

    Coimbatore. State of Tamil Nadu. September 2018.

    A Tata Sierra SUV is rushing along the picturesque serpentine of the Nilgirian mountains to a meeting with Rakesh Sharma, to meet with the history itself. We are happy and feel like messengers. Outside the window of the car float cozy mountains, the misty slopes of which cover the emerald plantations of the world-famous Indian Orange Pekoe tea. Despite the heat on the plains of India and the cold in mountains, the rain is drizzling, the fog clouds the peaks and spreads in the ravines – in general, a real resort for Indians.

    The purpose of our meeting with Rakesh Sharma is to draw his portrait as  a tribute to one of the most famous people in India. Along with Sonia Gandhi, Viswanathan Anand and other celebrities, his image should take a place of honor in my album dedicated to the BRICS countries. This is the beginning of preparations for the next summit of the Group, which will be held in Russia. India is the country to start this most interesting work. Then it will be Brazil, South Africa, China and Russia.

    Only late at night we reached the place of our meeting with R. Sharma, a small roadside hotel with the poetic name “Gardens of Joy”. The journey that began in Havana ended 19 thousand kilometers away, halfway across the world, at the Indian town of Coonoor – to start a new history of friendly interaction between distant and close countries.

    The next morning was sunny. Merry sunrays played on the walls of the veranda, in which a portrait was to be painted. The hostess of the hotel – the beautiful Gita, having learned that the legendary Rakesh Sharma will come, began to fuss: numerous servants were running washing windows and floors, changing tablecloths, curtains, and re-serving the tables. I went outside waiting for the honored guest.

    Precisely at the appointed time, a slender man, wearing a military style suit, entered the courtyard speeding away. We met like old friends: we shook hands, hugged each other, pronounced the traditional words of greeting. I invited Rakesh Sharma to sit in an armchair in order to get him talking, to relieve tension and stiffness. I told him about myself, about my painting project for BRICS, which carries a romantic name, a phrase from the work of Nicholas Roerich “Altai-Himalayas”: “Heart sends a message to heart”. I also told him that I know his country well and am proud of it, that I have already visited these places and they are well known for me after an old expedition with a group of famous Russian artists around India. It was 1998 year.

    “Well, how do you like my country?” Rakesh asked.

    “As for me, I’m in love with her,” I replied and read to him my blank verse dedicated to India.

    “I have found you, my India!

    Your arms embraced me,

    These are the Jumna and the Gangue –

    Your proud and beautiful hands,

    O India!

    At times, you would come to me,

    Stepping down on flocks of dreams,

    Your love is beyond limits,

    The Khajuraho temples are the abode of

    Your gentle love, India!

    Once I heard you weeping …

    Timidly. The scent of salty sands

    Was strumming the sitar.

    Your laments made me love

    and treasure you,

    O India!

    And when you were leaving,

    A soft Sirocco burnt my lips.

    It was your kiss,

    O India!

    Bidding farewell,

    You put on a laced mantle of waves.

    The Blessed Ocean adorned your hair

    With the sparks of Celeste mystery.

    A colored shred of memory

    Remained in my mind.

    I have found you,

    My India! ”


    The cosmonaut smiled and said:

    – Besutiful! I also feel it, like you.

    After this, the stiffness and alertness disappeared, and the cosmonaut said:

    – No one has ever painted me. I do not even know what this process looks like.

    In order to encourage him to work, I told a short story about how a famous Russian artist Ilya Glazunov painted a portrait of Fidel Castro.

    “Fidel’smodesty and loneliness, unexpected for a fiery politician impressed me,” the artist recalled. “What should I do? –Fidel asked Glazunov, – I’ve never posed for artists … “-“Please be seated still and do not talk, “- said Glazunov.

    “And I confess, I thought that they would just take a picture of me, and I will leave”, Rakesh said.

    “No, it will be like for Fidel Castro,” I replied.

    – Well, then, I’ll make some calls, cancel all meetings and be ready to pose.

    I conducted Rakesh Sharma on the veranda. Together with my wife, Honored Artist of the Russian Federation Olga Yausheva, we sat Rakesh down so that the rays of the sun illuminated his face. For greater expressiveness they asked him to lean on the table with an elbow, and remember this position. It should be noted that we received a grateful model: the cosmonaut did not move, did not speak, his gaze rushed to the blue Nilgiri horizons, he was majestically calm. His appearance and the turn of his head reminded either a Roman senator, or the legendary Soviet marshal Zhukov …

    During one of the breaks, I told that we have just returned from Havana, met with famous people, painted their portraits. It was felt that Rakesh wanted to know if we were painting a portrait of a Cuban cosmonaut.

    – This time we did not draw, we only met with the hero of Cuba and Russia, Tomayo Mendez, and convey greetings and best wishes to you from him.

    The break was over, the cosmonaut took the appropriate position, and said:

    “Together with Tomayo we were in a cosmonaut detachment in the Star City, together we learned Russian. It was an unforgettable and happy time. We carried out all the training with joy and full dedication.

    – Mr. Sharma, I have been wanting to know: grueling training, testing the body for strength, being literally between life and death, is this really necessary for cosmonauts? After all, numerous space tourists simply pay money, they are trained on safety rules and competent behavior on the ship, that’s all.

    “That’s right,” replied Mr. Sharma, “they only need to pay money.” But we have a huge responsibility for the space station, for our friends, by and large for our lives. In space, anything can happen, anything which cannot be imagined. And practice shows that all the training and testing that we were subjected to, all this is not in vain.

    – And what test did you remember most? – Once I was put in a cell for 72 hours – without light, sound, food, without any opportunity to communicate with the outside world. It seemed to me that I had lost the sense of time and space. My yoga classes helped me to adapt: ​​to be calm, not to lose my mind and accept the reality that my life will always be like that. A cosmonaut detachment is a very friendly team, it is an example of behavior and communication with each other. Pleasant memories remained about Valentina Tereshkova, she talked a lot about space, about the sensations experienced there. I was lucky to come to the cosmonaut detachment with my wife, and in our family we keep the warmest memories of Valentina. What a pity that many of my colleagues are no longer alive.

    In order to dispel his sad thoughts, I asked:

    – Are cosmonauts drinking in space?

    He smiled and said:

    – We brought a bottle of cognac to those guys who spenthalf a year at Salyut station. And it was done in secret, even I did not know that such a surprise was being prepared.

    After a while I asked:

    – And how did you end up in the cosmonaut detachment?

    “We, military pilots, were selected for an important task. We were introduced to Indira Gandhi, and she chose me, saying: “You will fly.”

    I imagined as he was at 35, that is 35 years ago, and thought: “Handsome! Not Yuri Gagarin of course, but also handsome. Indira Gandhi’s feminine instinct did not disappoint. The choice was successful. ”

    It was getting dark. On the roof of the veranda ran monkeys: holding the cornice, hanging upside down, they looked at what was happening on the veranda. Usually at this time a few guests eat delicious rice, Daal soup, Tandoori chicken, from the open windows of the veranda spreads the wonderful smell of curry and other spices. Sometimes monkeys get something from lodgers, especially from those who came from countries where a monkey can be seen only in a zoo.

    The lighting changed, we were forced to stop working on the portrait and agreed to meet after a while in Delhi during the presentation of the picture.

    As it turned out, Ms Gita ordered to cover a table for uswhere treats, were smoking, exhaling seductive smells.

    During the meal, I told a story that happened to me in March 1994 in n Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu,a sacred place for all Indians.

    And it all began after Anatoly Dryukov,Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation in India at that time, asked me to go to Bangalore and try to find a hospital in which the wife of Svyatoslav Roerich, Devik Rani, was dying. As a fellow traveler, I invited Vitaly Popov,People’s Artist of Russia. The need for such a trip was connected with intrigues surrounding the will of Svyatoslav Roerich. Considering my friendly relations with the secretary of the great artist, Mme. Joyce Poonacha, it seemed that it would be easy to do this. So it turned out. It’s sad that the meeting with Devika Rani took place on March 6, and three days later, on March 9, she passed away. By agreement with the RussianConsul in Madras V. Chernov, on the way back we had to wait for a car in Mahabalipuram. I will not conceal that it was my request, because I wanted once again to draw the famous Shore Temple.

    While waiting for the Consul, Vitaly Popov and I were sitting under an umbrella. Not far from us in the ocean, people splashed and played happily and carelessly: men, women, children. They did not swim, but stood knee-deep in the water, and the incoming wave of white foam poured them from head to foot. The Indians joyfully squealed and ran with laughter for the outgoing wave, willing to catch up with it, but quickly returned back, because the new wave was even stronger and tried to drag the careless into the abyss. It was felt that these people are united by kinship ties, whether it’s a big family or two families. And indeed, as it turned out later, they came to the Mahabalipuram for an engagement. The ocean was boiling and bubbling. V.Popov said: “What a dump! Someone can drown, but they will not even notice. ”

    From our place, we could clearly see that one person does not have any resistance to waves, and a wave, as if in a centrifuge, turns the exhausted body. At the same time, the Indians paid attention to the state of the unfortunate. In a daze, losing precious seconds, they looked at what was happening. There was a woman’s howl. The trouble. Anxiety. Woe. The men recaptured the lifeless body by the ocean, dragged them ashore, and tharshed the wretched man on the beach. The crowd gurgled. There were minutes, people did not make any effort to revive the drowned man. It was a real panic. My colleague pushed me and said: “Go see what’s there, maybe help then.” “How can I help?” I asked, but still went. Seeing that a big man with a huge black beard is approaching the sufferers, the Indians rushed to me, begging to save. They yelled, interrupting each other. Horrible screams made me concentrate, and some unknown energy revealed the knowledge that had been sleeping in me for ages: how to help a drowned person, how to revive him, how to make the heart beat. With lightning speed, as if doing this all my life, I unfolded the body of the drowned man so that water would pour out of his mouth, while ordering to call for an ambulance. I started the heart, and finally – mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until convulsions accompanied by vomiting convinced the others that the unfortunate was alive. To consolidate success, I asked to bring a bottle of whiskey and poured some amount into the mouth of the victim, after which he showed even greater vitality. I finished the rest myself.

    There was no end to the cheers. An ambulance arrived and we transferred the drowned man from that world into the hands of doctors. His relatives shook my hand, hugged me, saying something pleasant. I felt their sincerity and goodwill. The elders of the families asked permission to take a picture with me. They were amazed to learn that I am an artist from Russia.

    Finally, an embassy car came for us, and a consul came out of it. He saw me surrounded by Tamils ​​and asked what had happened. The next day, a local newspaper wrote a note about this, posted a photo where I was sitting with members of two families. V. Chernov sent this note to me, and it took a place in my archive. This is the story.

    Ms. Gita, who was present at our conversation, said: “How good it would be to learn about the destiny of this person.” And the pilot, thoughtfully, said: “In life there is always a place for heroism. I will try to help make inquiries about this case. ” At parting, Rakesh Sharma said: “When you are in Havana, send your best wishes to Tomayo Mendez.”

    With a fastpace, the pilot went to the car, blinked headlights in farewell and disappeared around the corner.

    All day the whole hotel staff was tiptoeing around. The guests were served in a whisper, and they understood that the legendary man was at the hotel, and specially-arrived artists from distant Russia draw his portrait.

    The mistress of the hotel, Ms. Gita, without ado, sat on a chair on which the astronaut was sitting and said: “Now draw me,” and smiled her typical Tamil white tooth smile. She said this, as if in jest, but secretly hoping that we would agree. And my wife Olga painted a beautiful portrait of Gita, in which all our love for India is felt.

    Early in the morning, tearing the fog into tatters, our jeep drove us to Coimbatore airport. After three and a half hours we will be in Delhi, and another ten in Moscow.

    (The author is a professional drawer and painter holding the rank of Honored Artist of the Russian Federation. In 1991 he founded Bureau of Creative Expeditions – a non-governmental entity which started to promote trips of his colleagues abroad. The purpose of the artists who took part in these trips was to create artistic images of other countries for presentations to the Russian public and to familiarize foreigners with modern Russian art. Today, the Bureau has to its credit expeditions to India, Afghanistan, Cuba, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, scores of colorful albums and numerous exhibitions including those in the State Museum of the Oriental Art in Moscow.)


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