Santosh Kumari Arora

Santosh Kumari Arora: The Indian from Armenia, With Universal Values

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YEREVAN — Many in Armenia know Santosh Kumari Arora from mass media as an Indian living in Armenian for many years and speaking fluent Armenian. Born in Delhi, in 1955, in 1975 to 1980 she studied at Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) Zhdanov State University, Faculty of Philology. Her master’s thesis was devoted to the comparative syntactic analysis of allied words and word combinations in Russian and Hindi. In 1980 she married an Armenian and moved to Armenia. In 1987 Santosh finished her Ph.D. thesis on Comparative Phraseology in Russian and Hindi. From 1996 to 2017 she worked at Yerevan State University, Faculty of Oriental Studies, where she taught a number of Indological disciplines such as Hindi, Sanskrit, Indian Literature, Epic Studies, Mythology, Ethnography, etc. Since 2017 she has been working at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian-Armenian University, teaching Hindi, Sanskrit, Punjabi, Indian literature, epic studies, mythology, as well as Russian for Indian students.

Santosh Kumari Arora has authored numerous methodological programs for teaching Indological disciplines, as well as numerous scholarly articles and papers on Indology, connected with the comparative analysis of different languages and problems of translation. She is also engaged in translating Indian poetry and prose into Russian and Armenian, as well as Russian and Armenian literature into Hindi.

Her house is open to everybody interested in India, its language, culture and cuisine, that warm hostess always ready to share generously.

We have known each other since 2010. Our conversation took place at my apartment, and, needless to say, in more than fluent Armenian. A longtime resident of Armenia, by using “we” and “us,” Santosh refers not only the Indians, but also the Armenians.

Dear Santosh, once you were the only Indian living in Armenia.

Yes, and I am still the only Indian who has an Armenian passport.

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The Indian presence in Yerevan has increased significantly. In which direction are the Armenian-Indian ties developing?

It is a very good question. At one time, about 15,000 Indians came to Armenia to find work, or agents brought them here to take them to Europe as labor. I divide these people into two groups. Those who come to Armenia without money, only to work and send money home, they have nothing to give to Armenia, and nothing to take from Armenia. It is very likely that they will make wrong steps, which is not beneficial for both nations. That should be excluded. And if tourists, students or entrepreneurs come, they will make investments and increase the budget of Armenia, they are more than welcome! Many may accuse me of speaking from the side of the Armenians, but it happens unintentionally: I know this nation, if you don’t disturb them, they will host you, give you bread and water, in the villages even they will give you a place to sleep if it’s late and go next day. There is no need to deceive that nation. That’s why only good people should come here, and I am very happy that the number of Indians is increasing, Indian restaurants are opening, let them prosper, and according to that, the Armenian budget will increase.

Recently, an Indian cultural house was opened in Zeytun district. What other Armenian-Indian projects would you like to be implemented?

I have proposed several big projects. First of all, cooperation between the Armenian and Indian diasporas. It will bring many results. Then, it is very important to have a direct Yerevan-Delhi flight, which not only Armenians and Indians, but also people from other countries can use, to make Yerevan a transit zone and travel to India from here. In that case, many Indians will want to come to Armenia, and both nations will benefit.

A lot has been said about you on TV and other media, about the help you provided to Artsakh during the first war, about the Armenian family you formed. However, in recent years we got to know you as a lecturer, scientist and translator. What is the state of Indology in Armenia? And what are your own academic works?

In Armenia, Hindi is taught only in Russian-Armenian University, at the Faculty of Oriental Studies. There is a big Vedic center there, the president of which, is me. I will strongly urge students and everyone to come and study Indian, there is a lot of work to be done that I cannot do it alone. Many specialists are needed to teach different Indian languages and various subjects: Indian culture, history, literature. We also have rich Armenian literature, which should be presented to the Indian people, and in Indian, a lot of Vedic literature, epics, Upanishads, which should be translated. All eight volumes of Rabindranath Tagore (some of his works have been translated into Armenian by Hovhaness Tumanyan’s sons) should be translated for the Armenian people. Recently, a textbook in Armenian language and transcription in Hindi was published. Many people suggested me to give the transcription in English or Russian, I said that the phonetics of Armenian and Hindi are similar, so it would be best to give it in Armenian. Also, an illustrated dictionary is ready in four languages (Armenian, Hindi, English, Russian), with pictures of schoolchildren, very cute. Armenian children read Hindi very correctly. An Armenian-Indian phrasebook is also under preparation — we have no sponsors to publish it. I have many articles about Armenian, Russian, Indian phrases and the difficulties in translating them. I have translated samples from Hovhaness Tumanyan into Hindi; I have started to translate The Daredevils of Sasun epic. I also translated the entire book of the Indian poet Dr. Dina Nath Sharan into Russian and Armenian. He dedicated all his romantic poems not to his mistress, but to his wife. Many people learned from him and started praising their wives in their poems (laughs).

And you also represent Armenia at international conferences.

I was appointed as a peace ambassador by the International Peace Federation. It is not important that you have that on paper — you must be peace-loving in your heart and soul and connect people to each other. I participated in meetings in Vietnam, Korea, elsewhere. Once in Georgia, women from Azerbaijan also participated in a peace conference. They came with accusations, but after my speech, they brought us gifts to take to the Armenian women. We had only one box of Grand Candy chocolates; I gave it to them and told them to make the chocolates into a thousand pieces and distribute them to Azerbaijani mothers from Armenian mothers. These Azeri women came full of hatred, but when they parted from us, they were already having tears in their eyes.

Before coming to Armenia, had you heard about Armenians? One time there were significant Armenian communities in India.

I did not know anything about Indo-Armenians. During the Soviet Union, in India, we used to get the magazine Soviet Woman in Hindi, which I used to read once in a while. For me, the Soviet Union seemed like a paradise, where there are no homeless, hungry or unemployed people. I won a competition and decided to go and study in the Soviet Union, learn from them, come and change our country. So, in Leningrad I had an Armenian friend who gave me History of the Armenian People, Stepan Zoryan’s novels Pap the King and Armenian Fortress, Franz Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, all in Russian. I haven’t been able to read Musa Dagh to the end; I always cry in the middle. I couldn’t even watch the movie until the end (by the way, the main actor is Indian). You cannot forgive yourself that all this happened; I feel guilty too. Then I met my future husband and we moved to Armenia.

And what were your first cultural shocks?

First we lived in Shgharshik, a village in the Talin region – the birthplace of my husband. I learned that Armenia is a beautiful country, but my first acquaintance started with a stony Talin with almost no nature. But after some months we moved to Yerevan and I already started to long for that stony landscape. By the way, until now, wherever I travel, including India, I begin to miss Armenia very soon and become impatient to return home.

The whole Talin region learned about me, and soon Shgharshik was called by people Hndiki gyugh (Indian’s village). Many women came to see me, having seen Indians only in films. Some even would lift my sari to see whether I am barefoot. My mother-in-law used to rebuke them, but I was not against satisfying their curiosity.

When my first child was born, they baptized him in Yerevan’s St. Sargis Church, and they baptized me too without telling me beforehand. I was a very staunch Hindu, so at first I was upset, but I thought that it is too late to change anything, so I read the Bible and saw there are almost the same things in Hinduism. In the 1980s, Armenians rarely had Bibles. I started buying and giving them to people, saying: this should be a book for your table, you should not only read, but also apply it. It was a time of atheism, People have taken the name of Christ, but they don’t want to have a Bible. I was scolded a lot, but I continued to present Bibles. I get satisfaction by doing it, it gave me peace.

They say that Armenians and Indians are similar. Are they?

I consider that we are the same nation. This is like a hypothesis, but I feel it inside. As a philologist I can say we share many common words. Go to the Indian and Armenian house — you cannot distinguish their profession and income, but they will host you highly and put whatever they have on the table. Both Armenians and Indians are very hospitable people, they always respect elders, we bow down to elders. In particular, both our people respect and even adore our mothers, and both peoples have many poems about mothers.

What do Armenians have to learn from Indians?

Armenians do not have the ability to concede, they have to learn that from the Indians. If you are at peace in your soul, you will concede. In Armenia, everyone feels himself like a king, it cannot be like that. We should love each other so much that we concede the other person first. When we have this culture, there will be no more accidents on the street, we will not fall down, we will not get sick, we will not make hasty decisions. When the time comes, we have to take a deep breath and concede. If the Armenians love and support each other, there is no nation like them! I adore this nation, especially their women. I have learned many things from this nation’s women: they are very patient, pure, dedicated. I bow before the Armenian woman!

And you gave five children to the Armenian people.

Yes, but they all consider themselves Armenians.

I remember, your son Hayk used to read and write in Hindi.

All my children know Hindi. Hayk was born in India, studied in Thailand, but in the 9th grade he applied for an Armenian passport to serve in the army. When Hayk was in Sweden, one of our friends called and said that their Indian neighbor had been invited to play a special Indian game, when someone sings a song, it ends with the letter, the other player sings a song that starts with the same letter. Hayk has defeated all of them. Those people are ashamed, that an Armenian defeated the Indians in singing Indian (laughs).

When we met before, you were wearing a sari, now you are in Punjabi clothes. I wish our Armenian women were in national costumes too. The late artist Lusik Aguletsi was the only one who always wore national garments.

Lusik was a very good friend of mine. I have always said this: Armenian people, you have lost your face. You immediately recognize the Arabs or the Indians on the stage, but not the Armenians, who turned to Europe. Each of our regions had its own costume, I have a map of Armenia with pictures of the national garments of its different places. My children wear hats and vests with Armenian costume patterns. Now I am thinking of ordering pieces with Armenian patterns in India and making them into bags for notebooks, so that anyone who sees them will know that they are Armenians.

Santosh, among your many jobs, you also find time to teach at the Indian Guru dwara (Temple of the Teacher) center opened in Yerevan.

I think that universal values should be taught in schools in Armenia, as in the whole world. The Armenian people should accept that knowledge with great gratitude. After all, we must understand that we all have one father. It does not matter what religion, what nation we belong to or people accept or not accept him, but they must understand that he is an ocean of peace, an ocean of love, an ocean of knowledge. We teach those universal values in the Temple of the Teacher. And we do it for free, just in case you want to know and reveal the knowledge that you actually have beforehand. Who is not fond of love, compassion, peace, who does not have a thirst for knowledge? You have to learn to subdue your mind, to lead it in the right direction. Man is the driver of his mind, he must understand where to take his mind, right, left, upwards?

Straight up! Upwards! To positiveness!

Upwards! To God! Whoever has God, he will never suffer, God will always be a guardian!

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