Hotel Tsaritsino, Moskva,
The cab touches my hotel at 0730 tomorrow.
I have to attend to my professional assignment at 0815. I have been left tired, bruised and sore after a 2 day trip to Dmitrovsky Pogost.
Yet, what inspires me to write is the underlying fear that tomorrow may not be as beautiful as today and tomorrow’s difficulties may overpower the joy of the last two days.
Somewhere on Profsoyuznaya Street, Moskva,
I was feeling a little sick because of the unusual heat in Moscow, aggravated by the absence of a fan in my hotel. The hotel people probably never anticipated the heat wave.
The office was a big relief because of the AC. I was already dreaming of a relaxed Saturday and a quiet Sunday where I would do nothing & sit like a rock.
Every 6 hours, I would get up to cook something and then get back to the being a rock.
The dream suddenly snapped, Sankar offered that we should make a trip to his fiancée’s country home. Initially I was a little skeptical, thinking of things that general urban idiots think of.
For me, lying like a stone was very important and relieving.
Then Amit pushed.. and when the boss asks, you don’t deny.
I am glad I didn’t. And you’ll soon know why.
Hotel Tsaritsino, Moskva,
The alarm rings, like a robot instructed to wake up, I get going. Run to the kitchen, make some Indian breakfast , pack it in the box and head to the metro with Amit.
At Kolomenskaya metro we meet Sudarshan, Divya, Jaspreet, Kiran, Sankar, Natasha, Marina & Natasha Ivanova.
For ease of understanding, let me codename Sankar’s Natasha as N1 and my colleague Natasha as N2.
We buy lots of water at & start the train journey, the heat was getting to us, but slowly the body adjusted, and the country scenery whizzing past only added to the pleasure.
We reached a place called Shatura (N1’s mom tells us that this is very famous for wood and furniture).
The place was looking good and calm, but the way to an Indian’s heart is definitely through his stomach and there was a McD just 50 mtrs away.
Jaspreet and I started making hungry noises, Sankar like a responsible father goaded us to move on.
We then boarded a mini van and made our way ahead to the village.
Pine trees on both sides, a winding and traffic-free countryside road, what else could a city-bred idiot wish for?
This was really beginning to inspire me! I wondered, if the prelude was so good, what would the main course hold for me?
Dmitrovsky Pogost village,
150 kms south east of Moscow.
Few minutes later, we reached N1’s home.
It was over a hundred years old. An old wooden house, very beautiful in structure and in location.
From the inside it just reminded me of my great grandfather’s home that I had seen in pictures. Very nice and cosy.
We were a little dirty, so we got a garden hose and without thinking much started it and the freezing cold water hit Sudarshan first, then Jaspreet and then me, but we enjoyed it.
We made a barbeque and had a wonderful time.
The vegetarian barbeque took a while longer and much to the chagrin of vegans like Amit, Sudarshan and others, the potatoes did not come out that well.
Meanwhile N2 was waiting for someone who could eat meat and me and Jaspreet jumped! This was after a long while since we were denied food at McD’s :P
We were hungry, had our hearts content and set out for a walk.
I had a badminton racquet in my hand which came in handy for killing the flies and mosquitoes.
We were trying to reach the river. The vegetation grew and so did the mosquitoes and blood sucking parasites.
The pine trees towered 50 feet over us on each side and the mosquitoes surrounded us!
The racquet could help only to an extent, there were red marks of bites on all our bodies. Huffing, puffing and jumping like Jitender we reached the river, or rather a rivulet, or maybe a canal, or say just a water stream.
[TRIVIA : Jitender was an Indian film actor who was famous for jumping and dancing]
Vladimir(N1’s cousin jumped and swam effortlessly, Amit followed, but stopped at the shore, me and Sid braved our instincts and said.. why not!
In the river, we drenched ourselves in mud, when we came out, we looked like two fat bears.
Black, huge & hairy. The mud had piled everywhere on us.
We somehow washed ourselves, but we were still very very dirty. My white and green shots had turned black and black. Once I came out, I realized I had cut my feet somewhere, and I was bleeding.
The sight was a little overwhelming while the pain was not.
But N1’s mom just did something that amazed me. She took the bicycle and rode up at least 4 kms and back just to get me an antiseptic and a band-aid.
I was touched, but couldn’t thank her much because of my language issues and I did not want someone to translate because it was not an official matter.
Once back home, I had a numbing cold water shower to clean myself, but the shorts I had worn were beyond repair.
Went in, had some rest.
When I came out after an hour, I saw my shorts on a cloth line almost white and green again!
Puzzled, I enquired and Kiran told me that Marina(N1’s mom) had washed it clean.
I don’t know what went through me, I was feeling like a kid. She took care of us more like a mother than like a host.
I was touched.
Somwhere in the Dmitrovsky Pogost village,
N2 went to sleep, however we all thought we should be having some fun. So we went out for a walk.
There N1 had called a friend of hers, Julia who played guitar.
It was 1 am in the night and we all eagerly sat like children in a row on the road in front of her.
That was the last time we felt reality that night.
Once she started singing and playing the guitar, we were all taken into a different world altogether.
She sang Russian, but music has no barriers they say.
We connected at a level which was way beyond watching or listening to an artiste on television or movies.
I could not believe the talent that was being showcased. It was an out of the world experience.
The songs were all wonderful and her voice – SURREAL.
I have never seen a better singer.
On the bed, Dmitrovsky Pogost,
My alarm rings.
Amit : “Hey Akshay, get up man”
Me : “Amit, nobody is up, what will we do.. lets keep sleeping for some more time”
Amit : ”Damn.. I think I have become old, because old people sleep less”
Me : “Oh no, don’t worry… by the way.. look at Sudarshan, going by your theory, he must a 6 month old baby then!”
We all have breakfast a while later and proceed to Belayaozra lake.
All through, I was expecting this to be a secluded lake with little human activity.
Once we reached there, we saw a bikini clad sea of humanity!
This part of the world, the crowd really enjoys sun bathing! It looked no less that a mini Goa or a Miami.
We were all eager to jump in.
I was a little skeptical because of my cuts and bruises, but then it was a fresh water lake and I wasn’t able to resist myself any longer. Took the dive and never wanted to come back.
All of us had a whale of a time playing throw-ball in the water. It was a superlative afternoon spent. We went in, came out, again went in and had multiple rounds of dips.
Very refreshed through the soul and tired through the body we came back home at 5 in the evening and started our trip back home.
Back in Moskva, in my hotel, the comfort and environ is something else, the 1 centimeter mosquitoes are gone, there are no flies.
What there is, is a bath tub, some neatly arranged utensils in the kitchen and a nicely set up living room.
But still there is something amiss.
That thing is a human’s connect with nature.
All of us are so tied up in the daily race that we indulge in, that we forget the smaller joys of life. We had our heart’s fill of these joys in the last 2 days and I have to thank Sankar for that.
I have to thank Natasha who let us in to her wonderful home. We were a bit clumsy because we were too many in number, but never did we even once feel out of place.
Natasha’s mom was the perfect host. She took care of us all to such a degree that we all started feeling at home from day one. She made it a home away from home for all of us.
We would never have imagined being at such comfort in a Russian village 5000 kilometers away from India.
It was a weekend that all of us would remember for a long long time to come.It was Russian countryside explored like very few people had done.
At least like very few Indians had done.
To us, it was a gift, a gift – From Russia with love.