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From Uzbekistan with love

From Uzbekistan with love

You don’t need a language; a connection is enough to start a conversation.

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Last Updated : 07 July 2024, 21:29 IST
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I was trying to find the best spot to photograph a splendid blue minaret in Khiva, Uzbekistan, when two ladies strode purposefully towards me, blurting aloud, “Namaskar India.” 

Continuing, the scarved duo smilingly exclaimed, “Mithun.” When I responded, “Mithun Chakraborty,” they giggled and crooned, “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, Aaja, Aaja, Aaja,” a line from the song in his famous film Disco Dancer. Without pausing, they rattled off the names of Bollywood stars: Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Shahrukh Khan, and Kareena Kapoor.

With the three of us lost in translation and making desperate attempts to communicate, I learned how much Uzbeks love Indians and Bollywood. The ladies told me Uzbeks watch a lot of Indian films and recalled how popular Mithun’s films were in Soviet Russia. Impressed, I gladly posed for a photograph with them before trotting off to find my companions.

At the ancient Juma mosque, two young schoolboys accosted me. “You Indian, you speak English; your name”? Soon, their friends and teacher chimed in. They were keen to know the city I came from, where I worked, and how I knew English! As we spoke, some students clicked selfies with us, and others eyed us with a mix of awe and curiosity. A cute fellow told my wife, “I love you,” and scampered away.

At restaurants, parks, streets, and malls, locals uninhibitedly begin a conversation in fragmented English, request selfies, and thank us profusely with handshakes, hugs, or flying kisses.

It amused us that we’d become celebrities of sorts in this former Soviet state, and we felt honoured that Uzbeks expressed so much warmth and love towards Indians.

At the crowded Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent, some vendors, joining their palms, bellowed “Hello dost, namaste India.” Others blurted Taj Mahal, Raj Kapoor, Kajol, Preity Zinta, and Mumbai Meri Jaan.

One evening, when we dined at a restaurant that was once a Caravanserai, it wasn’t surprising to hear a musician singing the old Hindi film song Mera joota hai Japani...Phir bhi Dil Hai Hindustani.

It was heartening to know what
a huge influence Bollywood has on Uzbeks.

A septuagenarian in our group, unfortunately, had a bad fall on the street and was rushed to the hospital. She  was screaming in pain, and while the doctor was fixing her injured wrist, he sang Hindi film songs. That heart-warming gesture eased her pain.

Apart from Bollywood and Bachchan, the other ‘B’ that Uzbeks admire greatly is one of their own, Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty. Many Uzbeks visit India to see the Taj Mahal, built by Shah Jahan, a descendant of Babur.

Last but not least, it was truly gratifying to see the statue of Lal Bahadur Shastri as well as a school and street named after him in Tashkent, where he died in 1966, a day after signing the peace treaty to end the Indo-Pak war.

Language can be a barrier to communication, but after visiting Uzbekistan, I realised you don’t need a language to communicate; a connection is enough to open doors to a conversation.

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