Click for Estonian Prime Minister

Tallinn, Sep 10 (IANS) A visit to this medieval capital city of Estonia on the banks of the Baltic Sea - that even boasts of three Indian restaurants bang in its tourist district - has been quite a revelation in more than one way.

I not only bumped into Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and managed to exchange a pleasant hello with him - despite no prior appointment - but also got myself clicked, sitting on his coveted chair in the cabinet room for all of 15 minutes.

Though this Nordic country of 1.4 million people gained independence in 1991, it has a lesson or two to offer in democracy and e-governance.

The entire official work and cabinet meetings are done minus any paperwork and in the knowledge of its citizens.

"Not a sheet of paper is used. The entire office is wi-fi (wireless fidelity Internet). Cabinet meetings are conducted using interlinked computers. Their agenda is already on the server for all to see," said Stan Hansson, information officer at the state chancellery.

"Only important items are actually discussed since the other routine issues are dealt by the cabinet members through their computers. Some meetings are even web cast live," Hansson told a group of visiting Indian journalists.

Used to elaborate security drills before being allowed inside government offices in India, the media team was intrigued by the absence of even a single armed guard at the Estonian prime minister's office as well as the low-key security drill before we were let in.

In fact, the media team was told only later that the man whom we had bumped into on the stairs of the Estonian PMO and exchanged a "hello" with was none other than the prime minister.

"Our prime minister is easily accessible. He is just a click of the mouse away for citizens. Even personal meetings can be arranged," said our official guide Kaja Kuusk, who said she had visited India some time in the 1980s.

She said despite gaining independence from Russia in 1991, Estonia has a long history. She walked us around some heritage sites such as the 13th century Dome Church, the 19th century Russian church and the 600-year-old Town Hall.

The architecture of Estonia's numerous buildings and its sidewalks provide a vivid overview of the various eras - the Roman era cobblestone streets, the merchant houses painted in soft and bright pastel colours and castle-style fortifications.

We were also told that Tallinn boasted of the world's tallest building - St. Olaf's Church - till the late 19th century. It has the oldest pharmacy that has been in operation since 1422. It also has the largest choir of 25,000 singers.

Officials said India had recognised Estonia on Sep 22, 1921, when the Nordic Estonia was admitted into the League of Nations. New Delhi re-recognised Estonia on Sep 9, 1991, after its independence from the Russians that year.

Not exactly longing for Indian food, having tucked into a sumptuous lunch at Olde Hansa - a medieval restaurant dating back to 1400 AD - we were surprised to find not one, but three, Indian restaurants in Tallinn.

Elevant (a take off from elephant) combines the flavours of today's Kolkata, homemade food of north India, other cuisines from across the country and ayurvedic medicine with a wide variety of traditional vegetarian fare.

Tanduur serves traditional Indian tandoori food with the hookah thrown in as a novelty, while Caf VS offers fusion cuisine often found in the pubs of London combining European fares and cuisine of the Indian subcontinent.

What about Bollywood? Isn't it, too, India's unofficial envoy to the world?

Estonians did not let us down on this count either! As one waiter outside Old Hansa queried: "From India? We love Mithun Chakravarty. Wish we could dance like him."

--By Arvind Padmanabhan

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