Day #3

This is a part of a mini-series of independent posts, starting here

The Moscow saga, continued. Beginning of the story

Day 5 – 1 pm :

The roller coaster that was the Moscow trip just ended as we get on a high speed train to St Petersburg. It is similar to the ICE trains that one might encounter in Germany or France, probably a notch lower. (You can definitely feel it moving in a way which tells you there is some compatibility issues b/w the train and the tracks!; there were even a couple of seat handle grabbing moments in the ride) The route takes us through the Russian countryside, zooming past fishermen, farmers, an occasional creek, normal-looking-people (finally, after the hot-fest that was Moscow!) waiting on stations to take trains to perhaps their normal-jobs from their normal-looking-lives. Gives me some time to reflect and type away on the phone.

So before I start off again with references to people’s looks (despite previously being told not to), I must disclose that I was put up in an upscale neighborhood close to the Square, which also happened to be hot-night-life-adjacent, and so on. Selection bias was in fact the answer… This became more evident on the last leg of the Moscow trip as we were doing a metro-station-hop (more on this later), and decided to take a break and get off at Izmailovsky for (surprise, surprise!) some more shopping. Relatively far off from the central buzz, this seemed like a more “utilitarian” place, if you will. Smaller roads, more domestic cars, hawkers selling paintings, Matyushkas, carpets, Ivan Ivanovsky hats (bought it! – Exhibit 1) , fresh produce, souvenirs, you name it. Differences were stark. Less Dolce Gabbana, more flea market. Less wine, more beer. Less skin, more clothes. Must admit, felt kinda happier.

Anyways, after the heady Red Square experience of the first day, we decided to complete the experience by going there again early morning next day and taking pictures of the great monuments that could put Narcissus to shame. The energy and enthusiasm in the place was infectious and I got swept up in the groove (Exhibit 2). My extremely resourceful sister also had a whole tour of the Kremlin planned out. The Russian government allows visitors access to certain buildings inside the otherwise secretive complex including the Kremlin armory, a 007-type-named-place called the “Diamond Fund” alongwith Tsar-made churches and a few other buildings. The Kremlin, after all, served as the seat of power for centuries upto the 17th century when Peter the Great decided to shift some stuff around and make his own capital.

I’m sorry to say this, but dayum, those churches had some dull interiors. Having seen my fair share of European places of worship, these churches can at best be described as gaudy. Every nook and cranny that they could find, they coated with gold, covered by a Biblical painting, or both. Interiors with excessive red-based colors, heavy candle lighting and low sunlight just made them more unappealing. Did, however, get to see the coffin of a Mr Terrible, so overall would rate the churches a 3/5!

The Kremlin armory on the other hand was some other-level exhibit. The audio-guide led us through rooms and halls full of heavy chainmail armor, ivory encrusted guns, human-size swords embellished with gems, gold ladles, sapphire broaches, diamond necklaces, flowing gowns of Tsarinas, cradles comparable to kingsize beds – all either commissioned by the Tsars themselves or gifted by European diplomats seeking audience. It is truly a mind-bending display of wealth. That is, until we come across the tiny throne room.

It is always fascinating to encounter a piece of history or geography in real life, when you have read about or seen it on the internet; but despite this expectation, the human mind still manages to get stumped each time (Guess this underestimation bias is why market trends will always exist) When I came face to face with Ivan the Terrible’s ivory throne, or the two-seated one for young Peter and Ivan with a hole in its back for Sophia to advise the youngsters on matters of the state, or the crown that had been used for coronations across the generations of a powerful dynasty, or the grandeur of the other thrones on display (for instance, one of the thrones boasted of 300kg of gold, while another had 900 diamonds!), it was difficult to not get carried away in the moment and stand in awe at not just the wealth, but the vibes of power that seemed to transcend time to make their presence felt *shivers*

Next came the mysterious sounding Diamond Fund, a small darkened hall guarded by KGB-types, and with shining display cases alongside its walls, displaying some serious diamonds and gems. The vibrant color gradients of the gems and the sheer sizes of the displayed diamonds (some as big as 300 carats) dug out mostly from under Russia, were a marvel. I literally have no more words to describe them; I only recall the silence with which I took in the information from the audio guide, one number after another.

All this awesomeness, in the true sense of the word for once, aided by the comprehensive and carefully preserved collections from the state history museum got me thinking of the rich culture Russia has had, its history embedded with its contemporary European powers. Which got me thinking why is our rich history not this well preserved? Why do we, as Indians, not display our crown jewels in secure museums like the Diamond Fund, or describe our many extensive dynasties of the North and the South like the Romanovs or the Ruriks? Why not market such existing museums well and make them sustainable with viable commercialization? Why do we, as the common man and thus the likely consumers of this material, not value our history enough to not cringe at paying more than just 20 or 50 rupees (<$1) for upkeep and preservation of more and more places like these, but happily spend hundreds on overvalued samosas at over-hyped movies?

Any how, as the trip progressed, as is the nature of our species, these introspections passed and were replaced by fresh ones. It also wasn't difficult to get distracted with so many new sights that the brain was getting bombarded with every hour. See, this is one of the things that I really like about travel. Somehow, I think all these new experiences act as lubricants to hasten the flow of information in your head. Somehow, these experiences add to the richness of one's memories and "open up" your mind. They give you perspective. They teach you things that someday in the future you can apply in your own life. (Simply put, it's a lot of data collection!) For example, when you see people happily busking on streets and metro stops for a living (and also being rewarded for it), you learn that their view of life is in direct contrast to yours. You often earn more and try to figure out how to be happy, they are happy and are trying to figure out how to earn more.

I guess that's enough extrapolation for today. More Moscow fun to follow, with St Petersburg following close behind.

Day #2

This is a part of a mini-series of independent posts, starting here

Well, things keeping me busy. So I am taking a teensy shortcut today. I recently got back from a family trip to Russia (Day #0 had been written on Gate B1 at the Dubai International Airport) So today’s post is my first day’s experience straight from Moscow:

“Back in the USSR!”

Day 1 – 4 pm :

Hell-o, Mosque-o! As the plane lands after a smooth 1.5 hour journey from Helsinki into the dense fogs of Moscow airport, a different excitement that includes some dread seeps in. Going from a Scandi to a Russia is not going to be pleasant, after all. Some more evidence to this effect is apparent right out the plane door, as the aero-bridge shows signs of planks coming loose in more than a few places. But, forever the optimist, I march on. A few pretty girls were sitting in the plane after all, and the race to Passport control thus intensifies.

Therein comes Russia as acting chaperone. Passport control has 6 counters, with 5 counters displaying “For Russian Citizens” signs, and the last one displaying “For Passengers with children”. So the universal set seems pretty well-defined, and I am not in it. Turns out after 15 minutes of family panic, that in Soviet Russia, none of the above really matters. Each line is everyone’s line. Welcome.

The lady at Passport control happens to be Mr. Orange’s lookalike. While she takes her sweet time in letting me pass through into the Motherland, it slowly dawns on me that I could be detained at the airport just like my first trip to Hong Kong. She is going about her job furiously, typing away at her keyboard, calling people from her old landline, zooming into my visa with those tiny eyepieces diamond expert-looking people use (I kid you not). After a few more minutes of this madness, she gives me a document to sign and I almost shit my pants. But I do it nonetheless and come out unscathed into the legal borders of Russia!

First order of business – get a Russian hat. I wanna look like a Sergei Ivan Ivanovsky after all, and what better way. My plans go to the backburner however as my chicken self decides to go along with the family flow and the irritation of a hungry baby. The airport is apparently pretty far from the main city and we get a peek into the dreariness that form the Moscow outskirts. It is pretty stark, the difference b/w these two neighbours, when it comes to the outdoors. This scenery of shrubs, grass, half developed buildings, huge empty billboards, car showrooms, and a thick fog/smog is a far cry from that of sunny Helsinki with its perfectly curated forests. As the traffic on the highway chugs along, we try and decipher any connections b/w the Russian and Roman script. It seems like a “P” here means “R” and they seem to use “phi” as a substitute for “F”. Hmm, boring.

Meanwhile, an hour and a half later, the traffic doesn’t show signs of abating. We are still half an hour away from the hotel, but at least now we are seeing the Moscow city sights. In one word, the city landscape can be described as “supermassive”. Be it gargantuan government buildings, or 8 lane roads or the grand domes of Orthodox Churches.

Checked in now, crashing on bed. Tale to be continued.

Day 1 – 11.30 pm :

A preliminary visit to the Red Square. We are greeted at first by the sight of the brick-walled State History Museum, which forms a part of the Square’s border. Inside the square, and lo and behold. The other sides of the square are adorned by the St Basil Cathedral, the Kremlin and a large beautiful palatial architecture, which turns out to be (surprise, surprise) a shopping mall called the “Gum”. The initial skepticism I had post the sobering up from the Scandinavian high gets satiated to some extent as I soak in the vibe of the place where I stand. The centre of world power stands to my right, all pale and yellow in its glory, proudly adorned by the national flag and a 60 foot brick wall, to keep off those prying eyes. The St Basil Cathedral (yep, the one with the different flavors of softy serves atop its pillars) looks just the bit as it does in its stills. But since we are travelling as a family, my sister prevails and we end up in (surprise, surprise) the “Gum”. Yep, the building _has_ to be referred to from hereon in quotes, lest we confuse it with its more useful common noun. The next few hours are best forgotten.

Meanwhile, I notice some interesting things around me. For instance, the female population of the Motherland seems much luckier than their male counterparts when comparisons are drawn in the looks department. On hearing this, my girlfriend points out to me that it is simply my selection bias, and that I need to stop guising ulterior motives as “noticing interesting things”. So… that’s the end of that section.

As we are about to exit the square after having spent the north of 5 hours, it is still twilight. The crowd meanwhile hasn’t thinned much, but somehow the atmosphere is much more… tranquil. The “Gum” is shining brightly, with the Nikolskaya Street alongside lit up to match, bustling with activity, populated by tourist and native alike, listening to a busking baritone, taking in the sights, sipping on their wines. The architecture around us seems to take another form as the evening progresses thusly, and from our vantage point on a nearby bench, with these moments in our kitty, I believe we have already broken even on our Muscovy trip!

(As an additional benefit, my 2.86 year old niece just learnt how to take pictures on her phone! Mamu’s (uncle’s) DP slot on whatsapp just got booked for at least a week!)

Day #1

This is a part of a mini-series of independent posts, starting here

Positivity.

It’s a theme showing up frequently nowadays in my day-to-day. Mostly, it shows up because I locate and drag this elusive ***** back into its enclosure after each escape! Unfortunately, my processing power is quite slow, so it often takes anywhere from a week to many months, before I realize this bird has left its cage.

This time though, I’m going all out with my efforts, and I intend to keep this Houdini safe in a fortress surrounded by moats and crocs and sharks and whatever else it takes. I recall having read this method in multiple places online, with regards to manipulating positivity, or for that matter most feelings – the answer is to simply pretend. Wanna be confident? Look in the mirror, convince yourself that you are already there, and boom! Another theory is that positivity is like ringworm – contagious. Starting with a 1 instead of a 0 helps. All you need is a push at the precipice of a spiral.

With this latter view, I decided to stock up on my ammo for this missions. My armory is still expanding rapidly, and as of this moment includes a diet of healthy foods, my phone’s health app, lots of pop instead of all that rock and metal (Damn, Bruno Mars is good), and writing.

Let’s see how this tiny push works then eh?

Day #0

Today I start my mini blog series where I commit to writing, for the next 365 days. I have always noticed in me, yet less often have put into practice, a tendency to meet external expectations. What better motivation then than a public commitment.

The main reason I have started this is to bring some more discipline and focus into the personal aspect of my life. Like a child wavering between candies, I have wavered too long with my hobbies, granting each a cursory glance now and then – I am involved in a weekend band, I read non-work items occasionally, I write haikus every now and then, I scribble my thoughts down when I feel like it. While it is perfectly fun and fine to be that way and indulge all, I somehow feel like I want to be more serious about one of them at least and, for my own satisfaction, want to have some sort of finish line with a ribbon I can break through. 

Writing being the most convenient by far (not the ideal way to choose, but hey, there is none) I decided to say “You’re it”. I plan on writing almost anything – mostly it would be mundane thoughts, inane comparisons connecting random events, poems, and even articles I feel are worth sharing along with my views/notes, and who knows what else. 

Hope you enjoy the ride as much!

Good is Bad. Bad is Comfy

I had a panic attack recently. And it got me thinking. Though, I think the above was in reverse.

I feel there is a dichotomy in what I am and what I want to be. Not in the sense of status, money, job description, but rather as a person. I want to be more straightforward, I want to be more spontaneous, I want to be more alive, I want to dive off an airplane, I want to learn exactly what I want, I want to be able to take failure in my stride, I want to dare to feel the most I can, I want to dare to push myself and know where my boundaries lie, I want to be comfortable in my skin, I want to not be some phoney that doesn’t fit in, and mostly. Mostly. I just want to, nay, need to, not be afraid.

I am the star of my show standing behind the podium mike, I am my audience, and the audience derides and mocks me and I feel, for a moment, comfortable with that ridicule. It feels familiar, it feels… right. Happiness feels like an allergy; it comes every now and then, it affects, and it passes away.

While I am not a total dreamer chasing happiness, I feel rudderless. My lows bring out thoughts in me which perceive my life to be a privilege, undeserved. Rationally, I know that life is a poker game, and the hand you are played is hardly something you choose or get to decide, be it a bad one or a good one; what you make of it, is what sets you apart. But how do I convince my irrational human conscience of this truism? What’s to stop it from hurling insults my way?

I need to act out. Have others listen and step in. Realize what my current thoughts are. It’s too lonely and sad, like a monochromatic movie in sepia.

Part 2 :

Some of my characteristics I do not fancy. I think they are not very becoming of a smart and ‘good’ individual. But to be honest, if I could have lived with these flaws, I think I wouldn’t have been writing this. I’d have been out, living, being envious of others’ achievements, making overt efforts to make the world revolve around myself, lying and cheating my way into getting fleeting moments of twisted self-serving happiness, and probably a few other vices. Trying to get rid of the green shade of my eyes has proven especially difficult. I just can’t do it consistently. My envy often puts me down as my ignorance propels others upwards, at least in my mind. The battle I wage against it has been raging for a decade now.
If only I could be ok with these flaws and live remorselessly. But, alas. Something about being a human being that won’t harm, if he can’t help.

I have seen shrinks, I have sought help and it has worked to some extent. I wonder why it takes me so much time. So much time. To understand and accept and move on with things that the world around doesn’t seem to need to stop and consider, either because they think too quick or they think too less. Why do I feel I am not doing either?
There are these thoughts originating from a place of pain. It hurts to access its core, so these are just the scraps I find lying on the surface – for me to pick them up and to allow them to help me grapple with this and that.

It’s like I’m waiting for a disaster. Like there is something big that is going to come my way, and which will finally. Finally. Finally. Let me have an excuse for being a failure. So that I could project my shortcomings on to that. So that I don’t have responsibility. So that I don’t have control. So that I have pity flung upon me like cheap praise – “Its ok. Its ok. It happens. You’re so smart, you’ll get through it, I know!!” So that I no longer feel obligated to do anything that will make me succeed. That will make a failure out of me, complete in every sense. Only then will I be sad. Only then will my penance be complete. Only then will I feel a clean slate. Only then I will be happy. Only then would my wax wings be burnt, would my doubts be proven right – “No. But I’m not smart, right?” To rise up from these figurative ashes, now wouldn’t that be a spectacle? Wouldn’t that be a show to look at and gasp in awe? What a turnaround! What glory! What a whiz kid!!

What romantic ambitions the mind concocts. Now I wonder why I’m such a masochist. But I like others’ pain every now and then too. It feels perverse and grotesque and sickening. It feels so… delicious. A pain junkie. Like I finally have something to talk about with this person and that. Yes. Be sad. Tell me what ails you. Tell me what has brought you down. Let me relate to you, let me revel in a shared sadness, let me walk in your shoes, let me be the one who hurts, let me be the one who gets stoned for your sins. All I want is this pleasure, please. Please, won’t you grant me some more.

I want to help you get out of this hole you are in. I want to help you rise, so that I see that it can be done too, that I shouldn’t be afraid to follow you since it isn’t something unknown anymore. Even though I don’t dare to start down a new path, I can always hope to pave a way for you to go through, can’t I? And who knows. You might like the place, it might be the answer we both are looking for.

And who knows, you might even help me up.

A lesson

Something normal happened yesterday.

Was stepping away from a long day at work, coming home to delicious mom-cooked food. Crossing an over-bridge at the railway station, headphones plugged in, walking at a leisurely pace. I saw my train arriving at the platform, and my “Dadar”ly instincts kicked in; (sorry, can’t translate that pun) for a second the unhurried pace turned into a trot. My right step a tad larger than its predecessor, my body bent forward a bit, bracing to make a run for it; My pose, I daresay with blatant vanity, was of a track runner who has just heard the gun go off. Such excitement! On a weekday! But with a mental shrug, my buzzkill head went (in alphabetical order).. “Naah. Too far, too pointless, too slow, too tedious, too tired, … Next one.” and my jog lost its steam.

I wondered, ‘Was the shrug “Instinctive”? or “Acquired”?’ My gut was betting on the latter. I decided to test my theory and gave the wind a run for its money. I ran and I ran; pushed aside a couple of guys, knocked into an older dude, almost (Almost!) crashed into an older lady, all the while profusely apologizing to the people I was leaving behind in the wake of this blitzkrieg. Finally, rushing through peak crowd and amidst a lot of curses-muttered-under-breath, I was in! And lo, the train started to move. I thought myself the destiny child, the star atop The Christmas tree, the very embodiment of the antithesis to Murphy’s law! I was a gambler who has just hit the jackpot; mistaking the win as one affected by me and me alone. The last thought, of course, arrived at the gradual pace of hindsight, occupying a void left by the receding adrenaline. All said and done – damn, that felt good!

I hadn’t done this in a long time. By “this”, I mean following my natural instincts, getting them suppressed by my acquired ones, and then trumping them with “acquired 2.0″s. At least in a big fashion; not that this was a big event by any practical measure, but it somehow felt like one. Why did I do this? This act that pretty much everyone sensible living in Mumbai summarizes with a “doosri mil jaayegi” (We’ll catch the next one)? I did it because I could. That’s the simple one-liner. And why did I think so much about it? Not so one-liner.

Because, I think I have been actively trying to suppress and forget certain things, behaviours, habits and attitudes that I acquired during my ‘growth’ phase through the environs around me, particularly the ones I am not a big fan of. During this un-learning phase that is still a work-in-progress, I believe I have successfully eliminated a few bad traits, but there has been collateral damage. I need to learn back some things now. For instance, I need to re-learn that competition & rank aren’t merely buzzwords on a candidate’s CV. I need to re-learn that happiness isn’t bad because of its ephemeral nature; that it is good precisely because of that. I need to re-learn what it feels to want something & to strive for it, not despite but because, you could fail. I need to re-learn what it feels like to make tiny mistakes, so that I will know better when I am about to make a bigger one. I need to re-learn. I need to learn.. 

So, yes. That 100m dash was but a step for me. A race against my (as of now) older self.

Something normal had happened yesterday. Just that it wasn’t normal anymore.

A Saturday night in Barcelona (‘s airport)

(Based on true events. Hour 00:00 represents the Start of the ordeal, not the actual time)

Hour 00:00

Arrive at airport to leave for Mumbai. Spent past few hours vasooling some really fast prepaid 3G data pack with rihana videos, sound engineering tutorials and whatsapp calls. Battery ~9%, but shan’t be a problem. Have a priority-pass-obeying-lounge coming. Free wifi, free food, free electricity dischargers. Life’s good.

Hour 00:30 –

Realized that check-in with luggage won’t be possible till 3 hours before flight. Have to wait for ~7 hours outside. And no lounge till check-in… Try the information centre regarding the good-life facilities, but it is fruitless.

Hour 00:45 –

Thought strikes that we can check-in with all bags classified as handbags. Sadly, doesn’t work out due to *cough* liquid contents. The solution for the objective function is not pretty. We weigh the risk-rewards. Decision taken. We stay the outsiders’ course.

Hour 01:15 –

Battery at 5% A search for charging points doesn’t yield much results. We are advised by locals to scan the bottom of all the airport walls to find them. 20 creepy minutes follow, no results yielded. Barcelona airport officially has less charging points in its huge departures lobby than it has terminals as a whole. The search leads to a fourth and final (albeit futile) attempt at the informació centre to extract some help, where the cute girl behind the counter surely suspects by now flirtatious intentions on our side. We move on to other places being decent people, looking for far off lands with modern-day electric dischargers.

Hour 02:00 –

Time is not flying. Nor are we. After another 20 minutes (in the arrivals lobby this time) my phone is trying its best to break-even. Still no clues, still no help; still no power. We keep going around in circles, having lost our compass, as the creatures on the airport sense our presence. Eyes dart towards us time and again, scanning the two brown guys walking with suspicious looking wires in our hands. Meanwhile, we have found our solution.

Hour 02:15 –

The toilet. More charging points in one tiny room than the number of f**ks the airport’s designers gave about them. Anywho, the undignified place has become a mini-inn (funny how that sounds like minion) for the moment as my battery inches upwards and I type away furiously lest I forget the tidbits and taint history with the curse of hindsight. The smell isn’t something to take back home as a souvenir, but it will have to do for now.

Hour 02:30 –

We have encamped ourselves outside this place. Arnav (my companion) lounges leisurely on the hard cold floor whiling away time as much as possible. Being a little more paranoid, I stand inside, as a permanent piece of furniture in the (lavish) washroom, as I notice people come, stare and go. Fun.

As I venture out for some fresh air, I realize something I had overlooked. Arnav, in his leisure, by mere accident or calculated brilliance, has found a vantage point. I look into the array of mirrors from outside, a relatively respectable distance as compared to a few moments ago, and after a few trials-and-error, find myself staring at my pale-colored lifeline. And Now, His Watch Begins.

Hour 03:00 –

Have spent the last half hour trying to not look suspicious as I stare into a mirror in the male washroom from far off. Not an easy task, mind you. Parked squarely outside the general washroom area for all genders, it’s quite a balancing act between not looking like a creep and not looking homeless.

Deciding that trying to tiptoe around, maintaining a clear line-of-sight can’t work for too long. Need to switch things up a bit, need to decrease my paranoia. With that in mind, I start profiling the male crowd entering to better gauge whether I should keep an eye. Male, age 45-55 (yeah, first time profiling, not too good with differentiating among that age group), in a hurry, ring on finger. He’s good. Male, unknown descent, age 16-18, messy sports jacket, tattoo on neck, a Messi hairdo. All systems on high alert.

Yes, this could work.

Hour 03:15 –

Battery in green finally. Phone has finally achieved terminal velocity.

Hour 05:00 –

Long, fun, insightful chat with travel companion. Great many thoughts laid bare. Meanwhile, we got lucky. A couple unplugged their charger a few shops away and my ears shot up. They were quickly replaced and the resulting space well utilized. Status update on the battery – 92%

Tummies partially full, bodies aching from all the travails, semi sleepy, we sit at a table in another sleepy 24×7 airport café with another apple pie and sandwich consumed.

Signing off for now. It’s been a long day.