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03 Mar 2024, Edition - 3155, Sunday

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From Russia with love



Udhagamandalam: It was a ‘this day that age’ walk down memory lane for some in the Blue Mountains on Sunday.

Sixty five year ago on this day, two of the most powerful men in the world bid adieu to this hill station after completing a memorable  two day visit to the Nilgiris.

However for most local people they were no more than two aging foreigners on a visit to the hills.  In November 1955, Soviet Prime Minister Bulganin and Communist Party Secretary Nikita Khrushchev visited India on a voyage of discovering real India. They had deliberately kept a low profile and mingled with the common people.

Nikita Khrushchev was a Ukrainian peasant and a mine mechanic before joining the Soviet Communist Party in 1918. He became a close associate of Joseph Stalin, the dictator. In 1953, Stalin died, and Khrushchev became the powerful first secretary of the Communist Party.

In 1955, he replaced Prime Minister  Malenkov with his handpicked man
Bulganin, making himself the most powerful man on the earth then. It
was in this backdrop the visit to the Nilgiris took place.

According to Mr.Dharmalingam Venugopal,Director of the Nilgiris Documentation Centre (NDC) after traveling to Punjab, Bombay, Bangalore, Madras and Calcutta Bulganin and Khrushchev were in the Nilgiris for a two full days between November 27-29. They had no particular itinerary.  Late O.V. Alegasan,  a minister of the Madras state then, was the only Minister-in-Waiting for the dignitaries.The low profile nature of the visit,notwithstanding,a rousing welcome was given to the leaders at Charing Cross,on the threshold of Ooty.

The Prime Minister and the First Secretary interacted freely with the cooks of  Raj Bhavan where they stayed. It was, perhaps,  the first
and last time in independent India that Ooty Raj Bhavan had hosted such high foreign dignitaries. They moved around freely and had many pictures taken in the garden. The visit was  something to treasure for P. Sankara Rao,who had assumed charge as the district Collector, just a few days earlier..

Bulganin and Khrushchev also sought the services of the most popular barber in Ooty then, Late N. Varadhan. Varadhan not only cut the hair of Bulganin and Khrushchev, he also hair-dressed seven other members of the delegation. He was paid a grand sum of Rs.100, for his services.Varadhan had proudly displayed for several decades,in his business premises on the Commercial Road here,  a report about the coveted assignment,which had appeared in The Hindu then.
The Soviet leaders also visited the Singara Tea Estate in Gudalur and had their first taste of  Nilgiri tea with the owners Madhvani family which had  business interests in Uganda and India.

The Nilgiri visit led to a deep interest in Russian literature  and many local babies born around that time were  named after the leaders.

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