On November 19, 2020, the Embassy of India in Russia announced that Alexander Dubiansky, professor of Tamil studies at Moscow State University, had died of COVID-19 at the age of 79. Dubiansky was a renowned scholar of the Tamil language and its literature, and news of his death caused a wave of grief through the social media posts of writers, academics and leaders across the political spectrum. in Tamil Nadu. He was remembered as an “adopted son of the Tamil mother”, whose devotion to the language had “linked the Volga and the Vaigai rivers”.
Dubiansky’s scholarship contributed to, and was in turn shaped by, a rich exchange of ideas between Tamil and Russian writers, readers, and scholars. Dr Ravikumar, a Tamil author and member of Lok Sabha, wrote a detailed obituary for the diary Manarkeni, in which he placed Dubiansky’s work in the context of the shared scholarship that evolved through intercultural exchanges between India and the Soviet Union. The fall of the Soviet Union, which had actively promoted the study of Indian languages, precipitated the collapse of the institutions that had strengthened this relationship. As state patronage declined in Russia during the 1990s, individual scholars such as Dubiansky took it upon themselves to preserve and revive the ties forged between the two nations and their literary cultures.
Although her life was devoted to studying languages, Dubiansky’s daughter Tatiana Dubianskaya told me that her first love was music. He had trained as a classical pianist but, after being drafted into the army for three years, found that the interruption of his musical training prevented him from pursuing a professional career. A friend of his, a Sanskrit scholar, suggested that he embark on the study of ancient civilizations instead. Dubiansky enrolled in the Institute of Oriental Languages at Moscow State University, which had just started teaching Tamil. After years of seeking permission to travel to India – as Tatiana said, studying foreign languages was often the only way Soviet citizens could travel abroad – he was finally allowed to spend nine months in the University of Madras in 1978.