'He was a very good friend for India. He stood by us through thick and thin.'
Fidel Castro's bear hug to Indira Gandhi in the spring of 1983 at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in New Delhi best symbolises his warm ties with India which always looked to the legendary leader as a 'great friend.'
Under Jawaharlal Nehru, India was amongst the first countries to extend recognition to Cuba after the 1959 revolution led by Castro who overthrew the Fulgencio Batista regime.
Unmindful of the United States sanctions on Communist Cuba starting from the Cold War era, India has always maintained political, trade, cultural and people-to-people relations for about six decades.
It was Nehru who reached out to the Cuban icon and told him that the non-aligned nations saw his leadership with immense hope.
Castro, who died on Friday night aged 90, had been denied the possibility of staying in five star hotels in New York in 1960 when he attended the UN General Assembly and the owner of the Theresa Hotel came and invited him and his delegation to stay there. Then, important dignitaries paid him courtesy calls there.
Castro, years later, told then external affairs minister K Natwar Singh that, 'The first person who came to see me was Prime Minister Nehru. I can never forget his magnificent gesture. I was 34 years of age, not widely known. I was tense. Nehru boosted my morale. My tension disappeared.'
The friendship established between them was strengthened during his daughter Indira Gandhi's prime ministership.
The bond of India-Cuba friendship is best symbolised with the unforgettable image of Castro embracing Indira Gandhi while handing over the NAM chairmanship to her in 1983 in New Delhi.
'Today, while handing over, after more than three years, the chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement to our admired Indira Gandhi and to India, that she in her historic right represents, we can affirm that we have a movement whose unity was not weakened, whose vigour has grown, whose independence has been withheld despite all the challenges it faced...' he had said at the time.
Castro and Indira Gandhi met on several occasions. In September 1973, she hosted a dinner for him in New Delhi when he was on his way to Vietnam.
Another landmark visit occurred in August 1985, when then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Havana.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Cuba in 2006 while Vice-President Hamid Ansari met Castro during a visit to Cuba in October 2013.
Ansari's 65-minute meeting with Castro reflected the warmth in the relationship between India and Cuba, two of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement.
The meeting was the first time in a long time that the Cuban leader met a foreign dignitary.
"I had the privilege of meeting him 6, 7 times, both in Havana and Delhi," Natwar Singh said, remembeing Castro. "He was a very good friend for India. He stood by us through thick and thin."