By Sona Avagyan
Indians say that whenever foreigners come to India, they experience two shocks.
First is the cultural shock, because India is completely chaotic, and you need to realize yourself by your own definition in that ocean. But once foreigners start living in India and explore it, they are completely subsumed in the country. The second shock is when they have to return to their countries, but don’t want to, even if they don’t know the reason why they have become so attached to India.
But Armenian theologist Ruzanna Ashughyan had different feelings when leaving India in 2011 after having studied in Delhi for 2 months, because she knew she would return for permanent residence.
In 2012, Yerevan-based Ruzanna Ashughyan married Delhi-based Indian businessmen Rananjay Anand. After studying German at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, he went on to complete his MBA. They had had a chance meeting back in 2009 on a social networking website.
Rananjay, like many other Indians, had never heard about Armenia. He even thought Armenia might be a city in another country. Ruzanna, like many other Armenians, was not knowledgeable about modern-day India. Rananjay was amazed when Ruzanna asked him if people were very poor in India.
“So we started discussing each other’s country, people, philosophy, culture, religion, everything, because it was all new to us. During that time we came to know that there was a very special relationship between India and Armenia which lost its former brilliance in the course of time,” Rananjay says.
When Rananjay Anand came to Armenia for the first time in 2011, he and Ruzanna Ashughyan had already decided to get married.
Rananjay will never forget hospitality of old man at Geghard
Rananjay says that whatever he was trying to do in Armenia, people responded positively. He pleasantly recalls an incident that happened when they were having a picnic at Geghard Monastery. An old man was crossing the river carrying 10-12 bottles of water. Rananjay held some bottles to help him. When Rananjay gave all the bottles back, the old man gave one to Rananjay and said: “Please leave it, this is a sunny day and you may feel thirsty later. You are our guest and we would love to see you well.”
“I cannot forget this my lifetime and I am deeply in love with Armenia. That gave me a great impression of a counrty and I always tell this story to my friends in India, about the great hospitality and people we have in Armenia,” Rananjay says.
As for Ruzanna, when she first went to India she was surprised seeing so much diversity, so much population. On the other hand, she was surprised at seeing so much development in the country she thought to be under-developed.
India is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing economies. At the same time, India is a country of coexistence and paradox. In Rananjay’s words, you have very posh buildings and five star hotels in India, but poverty is a stone’s throw away. You have very well organized infrastructure in India, where the rich and poor walk side by side.
“In India you can find everything. We went to Kashmir in June. Kashmir is in Himalayan Mountains. When I was in the forested mountains, I felt as if I was in Dilijan or Ijevan. Later on, I visited the south. And that was totally different experience. I was amazed that this is the same India,” Ruzanna Ashughyan Anand says.
Rananjay also cannot say that he knows the whole of India. “It’s a huge country. India is an ocean and living in India is like living in an ocean. An entire life is not enough to explore India,” he says. Whenever Rananjay Anand is in Armenia he tries to explore Armenia as well. He has been to Khor Virap, Garni, Etchmiadzin and Tsakhkadzor. Now, he and Ruzanna plan to visit Dilijan, Ijevan and Artsakh.
Rananjay plans to learn Armenian completely and Ruzanna plans to learn Hindi completely
The couple has been living in Delhi for eight months now. They celebrated New Years in Armenia. At their wedding in Yerevan last year, the entire tiny Indian community of Armenia was present. Achal Kumar Malhotra, then the Ambassador of India to Armenia, and his wife gladly agreed to step in to take the place of Rananjay’s parents. Given the short notice, no one from Rananjay’s family managed to come to Yerevan for the wedding.
When asked about what they do to benefit from their different national identities, cultures and lifestyles, rather than letting them hinder their life, Rananjay responds that it’s all about giving space and respect to each other.
“Marriage is something that is dependent not only upon culture. Any marriage can be successful or unsuccessful anywhere in the world, whether it is an Indian or an Armenian marriage. Once you understand each other, it’s not a problem. We always share our difficulties and challenges,” Rananjay says. Ruzanna adds that without the support of one’s partner, it’s near impossible to survive when faced with a new set of circumstances outside one’s native country.
Rananjay's parents live in Bihar state, quite a distance from Delhi. Whenever “Diwali” and “Chhath” are celebrated, Rananjay and Ruzanna visit his parents. “Diwali”, the festival of lights, is celebrated six days before “Chhath”, the worship of the sun, the main and most sacred festival in Bihar. There is a tradition in India to celebrate these festivals with families.
|“Chhath" festival||“Diwali” festival, photos from wikipedia.org|
Rananjay and Ruzanna generally speak English to each other and sometimes Hindi, the official language of India. After settling in India, she started learning Hindi, because Rananjay’s family always ask Ruzanna to communicate with them in their mother language. In turn, Rananjay is learning Armenian because Ruzanna’s family wants to communicate with Rananjay without a translator.
“Our plan is that I will learn Armenian completely and she will learn Hindi completely because this is the main communication hardship between our families,” Rananjay Anand says.
Indo-Armenian Friendship NGO, founded by Rananjay and Ruzanna, operates both in Armenia and India
In 2009, after getting acquainted with Ruzanna, Rananjay started the India-Armenia Friendship Group on Facebook to promote mutual awareness of each. The Facebook group now has approximately 2,000 members from Armenia and India, as well as some from other countries who just want to know more about Armenia and India.
In 2011, Rananjay and Ruzanna founded the Indo-Armenian Friendship NGO (IAF) and registered it in Armenia. The NGO’s core team is up of twenty people who carry out the group’s projects. From the very start, then Ambassador of India Achal Kumar Malhotra helped IAF with his advice and encouragement.
Ruzanna Ashughyan Anand says that the number of Armenians now living in Calcutta has dwindled to a handful from centuries past. In Calcutta Armenian life revolves around the Armenian Church. But in Delhi one can meet students and tourists from Armenia, as well as newly established Indo-Armenian families in which the wives are mainly Armenian. The IAF tries to facilitate connections amongst the Armenians of India. In 2011, the NGO celebrated Armenia’s Independence Day in India on a small scale.
The Indian community in Armenia is also very small, consisting of mainly students at Yerevan State Medical University, Indian Embassy employees, and a tiny business comminity. IAF is in close communication with the Indian students of medical university and alumni who have returned to Delhi. The Indian students in Armenia celebrate “Diwali” every year. In November 2010 they celebrated “Diwali” with the support of the India-Armenia Friendship Facebook Group. Rananjay hopes that if everything goes well, “Diwali” in Yerevan will be celebrated not only mainly among Indian students, but that more Armenians could come and enjoy the festival.
At India’s top institution, Jawaharlal Nehru University International Food Festival is organized every year on Republic Day of India. It is the responsibility of the students from a particular country to come together, prepare food representing their country and sell it at their stall. Three students from Armenia study at Jawaharlal Nehru University. In 2011, they organized Armenian Food Taste, displaying lavash, tolma and matsnabrdosh. Rananjay says they supported the effort to make people more aware that there is an Armenian stall. In his words, all the Armenia food was sold.
In January 2012 the group photo exhibition “India through the Armenian Lens” dedicated to the 63th anniversary of the Republic Day of India was organized in Yerevan. Rananjay organized the exhibition from India and Ruzanna organized it in Armenia with the support of the Embassy of India. At the opening ceremony, the Indian students performed the Indian national dance “Bharatanatyam.”
More than 50 photos were exhibited. They were taken by Armenians who had visited the new India and just clicked away with their cameras; they were far from professional photographers. Two photos taken by Liz Chater, a UK-based family history researcher specializing in Armenians in India and an India-Armenia Friendship Facebook group member, were also exhibited. Initially the exhibition was to last three days, but people responded so warmly that IAF extended it to ten days.
|Holy Virgin Mary Armenian Church, Saidabad||Edward the VII Arch, Calcutta, “India through the Armenian Lens” exhibition, photos by Liz Chater|
The IAF’s last program was in Delhi in December 2012, when the NGO organized an interactive session between Dr. T. Suresh Babu, the newly appointed Ambassador of India to Armenia, and members of the IAF. Former Ambassador Malhotra was also invited. The newly appointed ambassador has yet to arrive in Armenia.
The IAF wants to take cultural troupes from Armenia to India in order to organize Armenian cultural events there. The most challenging thing for the NGO is to fund these programs. So far IAF has been funding these programs itself, with the support of the Embassy of India in Armenia.
“We just want the two countries to come closer together, to the extent possible. Once we succeed, it will change many things. We’re not so big an organization that we can do it all on our own. Without the support of others and our governments, we cannot realize our vision. But we should always try instead of sitting back and doing nothing,” Rananjay and Ruzanna say.
In Rananjay’s words, person to person contact has been the biggest achievement of IAF since its establishment. He is sure that connecting people and educating them about each other’s countries, even at a very basic level, is very important work.