It’s almost impossible to visit New Delhi and miss Connaught Place, the vibrant shopping hub full of cozy cafés and upscale shops. It’s also surrounded by numerous landmarks, such as the ancient Hanuman temple, the Jantar Mantar observatory, and the Agrasen ki Baoli.
If visitors walk from CP towards the stepwell, they may see an unexpected Russian name popping up in several places around the Janpath neighborhood, home to the bustling Tibetan cloth market. In the area, there is a building called Tolstoy House, a street named Tolstoy Marg, and there’s even a statue of Leo Tolstoy himself, standing tall and proud in the Indian capital.
On the pedestal, the author’s name is spelled out in Hindi and Russian, alongside the year of the sculpture’s installation: 1989. But of course, his zenith of popularity in India goes further back than that. Russian literature is known to have shaped Delhi’s intellectual life in the 1960s and 1970s; Gorky, Chekhov, and Pushkin were all the rage back then, but not quite as much as Tolstoy, who remains in vogue to this day. You can easily find a copy of Anna Karenina or War and Peace at any given bookshop in New Delhi.
Tolstoy’s connection to Indian culture does not end there. More significantly, it is known that Mahatma Gandhi’s famous philosophy of nonviolence was greatly influenced by Tolstoy’s 1894 book The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Though they never met in person, the two corresponded with each other up until Tolstoy’s death in 1910, exchanging a series of letters and discussing politics. Gandhi also named his ashram “Tolstoy Farm” during his South African movement.
The monument in Janpath serves as a good reminder of this forgotten cultural connection between India and Russia.