April 30, 2012

The Land of Baba Yaga

My first Non Indian Fairy Tales were surprisingly not from Andersen or the Grimm Brothers, rather it was about a prince called Ivan and a witch called Baba Yaga. Sometimes she was kind, other times cruel, at times with sisters, mostly alone in a house on chicken legs and so it was unbelievable when finally I managed to board a plane; sandwiched between 2 grave looking old gentlemen; having surpassed the second longest time frame for a visa approval! And I thought; “Mr. Nehru even during his non alignment, had been closer friends with the Russians. And then there were all the Raj Kapoor stories, and his popularity in Russia. Should I not get a preferred country status in my visa?” But alas, apparently only the Vietnamese have that.

Anyway, the journey to Russia was not simple. The weather forecasts showed that it was going to be freezing, beyond any temperature that I have ever experienced and I hoped that for the first time in my life I would actually see snowfall.

And I did. Even while I was covered from head to toe with every imaginable piece of clothing, something that the Eskimos would consider winter wear, I stood with chattering teeth trying to feel good about the fact that the ground beneath my feet was covered in ice. No wonder, every travel advisory to Russia spoke about shoes that one must carry. But finally when I started my drive from the airport, for the first time in my life, I saw grounds covered with fresh now. In all the literature around the world, snow has been considered one of the purest forms known to men. But in reality, that’s true for only fresh snow. Snow that has been on the roads for more than a day can make you depressed as it clearly shows how the darkness can taint the light. Like Saidin was tainted by the touch of the Dark Lord in the Wheel of Time, fresh snow is tainted by automobiles.

But the dirtiest thing on the Russian roads is not the snow, but their cars. I feel sad for them. All through the winter, every Russian wants to clean up his or her car and rarely can. Who would be able to in the biting cold? And imagine Russia today has the world’s second largest number of billionaires! But as much as we would love to, Nature has a way of laughing at us. I was talking to my friends in Russia and I almost blurted out; “Gosh, the cars look so dirty.” And then I realized, “Damn. The water will freeze inside the taps in this temperature!”

A trip to Moscow can’t be completed without a trip to the Red Square. But more than the Kremlin, what has always fascinated me is Saint Basil’s Cathedral. I have always believed if Hansel and Gratel had a house of chocolates, they would make it like Saint Basil’s. Situated in the geometric centre of Moscow, it is one astounding piece of architecture. Apparently, it resembles flames from a bonfire and the interesting fact is that though everything built around Russia in those days were influenced by the Byzantine Style of Architecture, this church remains to this date, the only exception and no one knows why.

The Red Square and Kremlin is the greatest living testimony to the power of globalization. As you walk out of the Kremlin, you’ll be greeted with the Golden Arch welcoming everyone in this world to believe and accept a common code. I clicked pictures of global brands like Pepsi dominating the Skyline in Moscow, but somehow I could not come to terms with the McDonalds in Kremlin. Nothing can be a more telling testimony on the defeat of an ideology.

Russia is a difficult city to walk around for the first time Tourist. The Slavic script everywhere is not the most helpful, but one can still make do around the centre of the town. A few blocks from Kremlin across the river stands the Church of Christ the Saviour. Once built as a monument to celebrate the Victory over Napoleonic Army, it was dynamited during the Soviet Era and later re built, apparently with exact accuracy. And it is here you realize the power of the Eastern Christian Faith, once again gaining back it’s prominence in Russia. Religion once again is coming back into the lives of the new generation having grown up post the Soviet era. The Russian Orthodox Church has found its voice.

The young Russia is bold and outspoken. Moscow is seeing an influx of young graduates from areas far away from home. As I spoke to some of them I realized that post the collapse of the centralized soviet economy, a lot of jobs dried up in the interiors of the country and Moscow once again became the centre of commerce like every other mega city of this world.

Russia also allowed me one thing that almost completes my professional journey as a researcher. I have now gone and interviewed consumers in blinding heat of over 50 degrees to freezing sub zero Russian cold. And trust me; it gives me such a kick!

It’s a nation with immense pride and history and an awe inspiring underground train system which I missed. And while I hope I return one day to make my trip to St. Petersburg, which my friends lovingly seem to call St. Pete’s, I guess the one thing I will take back with me is that Russia might be a freezing cold country but it is also one with warm hearts where you can expect a cup of tea at every house you go to.


Shrutz said...

Lovely city. want to spend more time there...

Shreya said...

How (Why) did you know so much about Russia in order to be so fascinated by it?

Madhurjya Banerjee said...

@ Shruti - I agree. When are you going next?

@ Shreya - I loved geo politics much more than macro economics :) This is a result of all such readings. INdian History between 50-70 can't be studied without understanding the Russian influence :)