The most searched queries on Yandex show that Russians increasingly see India for what it is rather than as the land of exoticism.
Russians have come a long way since the Soviet era—and so have their perceptions about India if Russia’s largest search engine Yandex is to be believed. In 2019, India has sparked unusual interest among Russians: they are asking questions about its hygiene, diversity and even its contentious relationship with Pakistan.
The most searched queries on Yandex show that Russians increasingly see India for what it is rather than as the land of exoticism it was made out to be until very recently.
This attests to the fact that over the last few years, the communication gap between Russians and Indians has been gradually narrowing. Indians, too, no longer see Russia through a Soviet prism, and western stereotypes about Russian gangsters are also slowly vanishing from the Indian psyche. That chartered flights ferried Indian football fans to Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup also shows that Indians no longer view Russia as unsafe.
Relations between New Delhi and Moscow remain largely good, but polling
Russians on how they view India may not necessarily reflect ground realities. And that is the gap a search engine like Yandex may fill. Yandex has more than 20 million unique daily viewers.
Incidentally, the query ‘Why India (in Russian)’ produces a series of interesting search options on the website.
I tried to make sense of these most searched queries about our country, asked by Russians on the engine, to know what exactly they think of Indians:
1. The most searched question about our country is ‘Why is India so dirty?’
Unlike many countries where special efforts are made to keep areas surrounding tourist attractions spotless, India allows such places to be as clean or as dirty as the less-frequented tourist spots.
Although Russians are not known for being particularly politically correct, members of the country’s polite society often avoid asking Indians about public hygiene, in order to not sound offensive.
2. Surprisingly enough, the second most searched question is: ‘Why does India hardly use its land borders with Pakistan?’
It’s hard to understand why this question ranks high among Russians’ queries about India.
3. The third most searched question is about ‘meat’: ‘Why isn’t India a leader in meat production?’
Russians are probably not aware of the fact that India is the world’s eighth largest producer of meat, and that India is the second largest exporter of beef (buffalo meat to be precise) in the world.
4. The fourth most requested query is ‘Why is India a developing country?’
This isn’t an unusual query. Since the Soviet era, Russia has always seen a lot of potential in India. I was once asked in Moscow by an academician: ‘How long we can call India emerging if it refuses to emerge.’
5. The fifth most searched query: Why India and China are among the ten largest countries in terms of volume.
Enter this query into Yandex, and 134 million results pop up—not surprising as this is an incomplete question there are numerous results.
6. The sixth most asked question: Why did India renounce the right to take part in the 1950 football World Cup?
This is something that makes many India sports fans curious. One of the common myths was that the tournament required participating teams to wear shoes while playing, and so India backed out. The probable reason was that India saw the Summer Olympics in Helsinki as the more important event, compared to what it considered an upstart competition.
7. Some Russian netizens are also curious about India’s diversity. The seventh most searched question on Yandex was ‘Why India is the most multiethnic country in the world?’
Russians often wonder why Indians have such a knack for being multi-lingual.
8. Indians would be happy to know about the next most searched question: ‘Why is India such a wonderland?’
Some television stations in Russia still show dubbed versions of old Hindi films, and quite a few Russian Instagram users happily post pictures of Rajasthan, Kerala and other beautiful places.
9. The ninth most asked question in Russian on Yandex: ‘Why is India part of the Commonwealth?’
This seems odd given the fact that the British colonisation of India is widely-known in Russia and other former Soviet republics.
10. The tenth most asked question is: ‘Why did India attract Europeans?’
Many Russians know that Afanasy Nikitin, a merchant from the city of Tver, managed to set foot in India a few years before Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. The country has been a part of the Russian popular imagination since at least the 15th century.
Echo on Google
The top 10 search queries about Indians on Google Russia aren’t that different from the Yandex results, except the order. On Google.ru, ‘Why did India attract Europeans?’ is the most searched question.
Here Russians also ask ‘Why India is a parliamentary democracy?” and ‘Why India is a country-continent?’
A deep dive into these questions is perhaps a good indicator of how the Russian-speaking world sees India—and definitely more reliable than anecdotal evidence.
The author is a writer and independent journalist. He lived in Russia from 2003 to 2007 and has been a frequent medium-term visitor to the country ever since. He contributed this article from Khabarovsk, Russia.