On a chilling winter afternoon in December 2014, an old man looking like walking out from the fairy tales visited my office at the Centre for Indian Studies, Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics. Going with him were two women, who he introduced as Ms. Kusum Jain, in her short and chubby figure with the good-natured look, the Vice President of the India - Viet Nam Solidarity Committee in West Bengal, and Ms. Pravarayee Samantary, tall and dark complexion, a researcher at the Committee where he was the President. The old man and the two companions entered the office openly and friendly as if this was their home. We were standing there to wait for him, while he was searching for something in his bag. After a while, he took out from the bag a yellow scarf with red and green edges. He said: “This is the embroidered scarf, the hand-made products of Indian girls. I carry it from the most ancient civilization of human beings to give to you, the founding Director of the Centre for Indian Studies. It makes me feel warm”. Then, he folded the scarf around my neck. As a habit, I tighten the scarf on my neck. He said: “It is not the way Indian people wear scarves. You should keep the scarf comfortably on your neck, loose and tight”. Everyone laughed when he was folding the scarf on my neck, making the cozy atmosphere in the office. I think his saying and actions have the deep philosophies of a powerful nation with a long history and one of the four cradles for human being civilizations.
When we sit around the table, the old man-friendly and heartedly told us the stories of founding the India - Viet Nam Solidarity Committee in West Bengal; the movements to support Viet Nam, which were launched by Indian students and youth and then followed by Indian people during the two resistant wars against France and the USA in the past, and during the cause of building and protecting the country nowadays. He showed his special love to President Ho Chi Minh, the country, and the people of Viet Nam.
While I was talking with Mr. Geetesh Sharma, I can imagine the bonds between the two cultures of Viet Nam and India.
Viet Nam and India have had long relations in history and civilization for many centuries, and such relations were tightened and eternal with times. There is abundant evidence that Buddhism has been respected, disseminated, and practiced in both countries. Many Hinduism architecture sites in the spectacular Cham temples in My Son, Nha Trang, Phu Yen, and other Indian tangible and intangible heritages have been integrated into the daily life of the ancient Viet peoples, which silently tells interesting stories about the Viet Nam - India relations in history.
During the past centuries, Vietnamese and Indian histories and societies have gone through many interferences of external factors, but along the history, what differentiates Viet Nam - India relations from other diplomatic relations is that the relations have been always good, and conducted via commerce, culture, religions and philosophy about the principle of non-violence and peaceful coexistence, which was described by Vietnamese late Prime Minister Pham Van Dong as “as clear as a sky without a string of cloud”. These are the most important traits of the long-standing relations between the two countries. With the firm foundation of peace, the relations between the two countries were continuously improved throughout contemporary times and have been stronger.
On the threshold of the 21st century, since the establishment of the strategic partnership between the two countries in 2007, Viet Nam - India relations have been developing pragmatically in many fields. The two countries exchanged high-level visits, including the visits of the Vietnamese General Secretary of the Communist Party, the President, the Chair(wo)man of Parliament, and the Prime Minister to India. From the Indian side, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and President visited Viet Nam. Especially, in 2014, Indian President High Excellency Pranab Mukherjee visited Viet Nam and together with Vietnamese President High Excellency Trương Tấn Sang inaugurated the Centre for Indian Studies. The high-level visits of national leaders of the two countries not only created momentums for the implementation of the cooperation agreements but also strengthened bilateral political trust.
Together with state diplomacy, public diplomacy has been also enhanced in many fields by many organizations, in which the India - Viet Nam Solidarity Committee in West Bengal is a typical organization. For example, recently, under the leadership of Mr. Geetesh Sharma, many activities for Viet Nam have been conducted by the Committee, such as: The 125th anniversary of President Ho Chi Minh; the exhibition of books and photos about the time President Ho Chi Minh stayed in India, organized together with Vietnamese Ho Chi Minh Museum; consolidation of Ho Chi Minh memorial site with the upper body statue of Ho Chi Minh in a solemn site in Kolkata, India; name the Ho Chi Minh Highway in New Delhi and a city of Ho Chi Minh Sarari in Kolkata; studies and publications about Viet Nam and Viet Nam - India relations, such as: India - Viet Nam relations: From the first to the twenty-first century, Indian cultural trails in Viet Nam, International poets wrote about Ho Chi Minh in India. In 2015, the Centre for Indian Studies organized three International Conference about the cooperation development of Viet Nam - India relations in many perspectives, although he was 80 years old at the time, he still managed to write papers and present at the conferences.
Recently, Mr. Geetesh Sharma and other leaders of India - Viet Nam Solidarity Committee in West Bengal visited us again at the Centre of Indian Studies. In our stories, we talked a lot about the bright future in the relations of the two countries; about public diplomacy, and civil responsibilities in diplomacy; about culture, education and communication for the coming generations. We both agree that, while we were so proud of the ancient and modern friendship that initiated by our National Father of Viet Nam, President Ho Chi Minh, and India, the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the future of Viet Nam - India friendship depends on the young generations of the two countries. Therefore, our responsibilities are to educate the young people about this relationship.
Confident and friendly, he handed to me the book “Viet Nam Liberation war: Role of Calcutta” that he edited in India. He wrote a letter of delegation for the Centre for Indian Studies, Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics translate and publish the book in Viet Nam, so that the Vietnamese audience can understand why the name VIET NAM is so well-known in India, particularly in West Bengal, where the people consider themselves as the Vietnamese and shout the slogan Tomar Nam Viet Nam, Amar Nam Viet Nam (Your name Viet Nam, My name Viet Nam).
I think the publication of this book is one of the small work to connect the “myself” with the “ourselves”, an attempt to connect the affection between the two peoples and friendships of the two countries. This book provides an opportunity for Vietnamese people to understand the affection of Indian people for Viet Nam, the unconditional passionate love, and the sacrifice of Mr. Sharma for Viet Nam. How many non-Vietnamese people on Earth can have so much love for Viet Nam like him? Listening to his enthusiastic and exciting talk about Viet Nam and Ho Chi Minh, I cried many times. Sometimes in my dreams, I though of Mr. Sharma - the man:
A fairy man hiding in a spiritual cover,
Traveling to the end of the world,
Unlimited like the rivers and seas,
Love Viet Nam wholeheartedly.
I am grateful to Mr. Geetesh Sharma - a journalist, an author, a social-political activist. Thanks to the Political Theory Publisher, Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics for the arrangement to meet the one who enables the publication of this book in Viet Nam./.
Assoc. Prof. Ph.D. Lê Văn Toan, the Founding Director of the Centre for Indian Studies