Day #15

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

With worry in her eyes,

‘I haven’t given you permission to leave..’

With duty in his voice,

‘With respect, Your Grace, I don’t need your permission. I am a king (silence). And I came here, knowing that you could have your men behead me or your dragons burn me alive. I put my trust in you – a stranger. Because I knew it was the best chance for my people; for all our people. Now I’m asking you, to trust in a stranger. Because it’s our best chance’

Is this one of the finest love letters of medieval times, or what? (*.*)

Day #13

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

The dusk is visible in the leaping splashes of what used to be still water, but which I am now involved with in a dog-eat-dog race, as I put forth one arm after the other pushing back my enemy. Talk about savoring my first foray into a swimming pool in Hong Kong! I am going to squeeze a few paragraphs out of this –
yes, I am that happy about the whole deal.

Let me start with the pre-swim prep. After doing (unnecessary/obsessive) online research mining reviews on Hong Kong pools, I was a bit skeptical. Most forums would go on about public pools being crowded and so on. I feared a scenario like this:

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But hey, I am really geared up for the whole deal and how bad can the crowd really be? I am a veteran of the Dadar battlefield and have the scars to prove it. Plus, I mean its been almost 2 weeks since I last tasted chlorine; I rather miss it. All I really wanna do now is suit up and jump in. YOLO. (Well technically, not jump in. Since the pool is just 1.4 metres deep…)

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Anywho, desperation and good sense win over, but as I swipe my Octopus and enter the fairly large Kennedy Town Swimming Pool facility, my steps falter, unsure, as if testing the waters. I become conscious of the fact that I am probably the only Indian guy in the whole place at the moment. I begin consciously trying to be as invisible as possible, hoping to blend in, for some reason, with my predominantly Chinese brothers and sisters.

At the gates of the changing rooms, there is an odd sign which says, roughly, “Anyone above the height of 1.35 metres or older than 8 years old won’t be allowed in the changing room of the opposite sex”. It is one of those things which you know, deep down, that there is some backstory to it. One of the two conditions was surely an addendum and my bet is on the latter. There is absolutely no way, after all, that some tiny dude did _not_ misuse it at some point in the past, and prompted the law-makers to rethink things! 😀

Well, as I enter the men’s locker room, my efforts to “blend in” are rendered futile as I come across my first culture-shock. For the sake of civility, I shall not venture into details, but samajhdaar ko ishaara kaafi hai (A gesture is more than enough to the wise). Takes some time for my eyes to adjust to this new darkness. No one on any forum cared to mention this phenomenon, of course. Thanks, internet!

The first couple of laps are nice and slow, as I stop to smell the roses; not really counting the laps anymore, free/frog-styling, soaking in the warm water and the cool breeze, sighing with content after every lap. Boy, have I missed this. The pool is mildly warm and a little crowded, but reality is way better than expectation. After a few relaxing rounds, I get a little competitive with random strangers, setting arbitrary goals for beating them to the finish (always fun!).

I notice something peculiar after some time in the pool. There is a general lack of body hair on everyone! They have as much hair as would a skinned potato (Nothing wrong with it, of course) I feel like Anil Kapoor from the 90’s swimming among the people.

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Yeah, I know – Disturbing. Now you feel my exact mental state for the next few seconds after becoming conscious of the fact!

As my swimming session draws to an end, I have the pleasure to view the sunset from the quiet, open-air pool deck. As the Sun takes in a deep breath for its long dip in the far off depths of the ocean, it brings down the shutters on an almost perfect day…

Day #12

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

Russia trip, continued. Beginning of the story

Day 7 – 11 pm:

What a day to be alive! You’ll be introduced to the reason for my enthusiasm soon enough. And I won’t even have to tell you when.

Bright, sunny day it was after another heavy buffet breakfast with the fancy cereals and the breads and the fruits and the omelettes and the sushi and on and on. First sight, right out of the door, we caught a red hot beauty standing there:

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*whistles and jeers* After ogling the vehicle for the better part of 10 minutes, we went ahead with our plan. We decided to tour along one of the canal routes that St Petersburg is supposedly famous for. Our first stop on the route was a bit far off, namely the Church of Spilt Blood (fancaaayyy!) The other thing it is infamous for, however, made sure we took off and wore our jackets as many times as this guy:

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St Petersburg has really beautiful canals, reminiscent of Venice itself. The intermittent clear skies help; brightening up the warm colors of the city landscape.

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These canals were artificially constructed and connected with the Neva river to ease transportation through the city. Very Venice-like! Little boats scuttling about ferrying starstruck tourists through the waters. Anyways, we got to the destination finally and it was a pretty sight. It was also a little underwhelming after the Moscow trip unfortunately, so I am not going to dwell much on this part.

What I am going to dwell on is what made me a devoted theist. While it might seem like an exaggeration, for a few microseconds, it really wasn’t. Imagine my horror when while strolling across the massive Palace square in the shadow of the Hermitage, I see this sight above my head.

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Low flying fighter planes in some sort of formation. Non-Russian. In Russian Airspace. Broad daylight. Holy shit. But thankfully, seeing that I am doing more or less OK at the moment, it was something more innocent. If a multi-billion dollar hi-tech aviation exhibition/market is innocent, that is. What followed was a series of sights and sounds that left me awestruck. It was beautiful. I hope I captured it OK:

Plain vanilla hellies!

Them Fighters

Anyways, having had enough adventures for the day, we headed back to our hotel for a quick refresh before a relaxing river cruise. Walking along the Nevsky Boulevard, the main street of Petersburg, we encountered hordes of tourists snapping and storing various pieces of history gracing the street, including the Leningrad Hero City Obelisk – a touching memorial which marks the bravery of a city that stood through under probably one of the most devastating sieges in history.. This is indeed a popular street; one can also tell by the tourist prices being charged in the souvenir shops!

Finally, we landed up at the cruise loading point in time to grab tickets for the last available cruise. The wait begins..

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Day #11

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

Apologies for the delay. Russia trip, continued. Beginning of the story

Day 6 – 5 pm:

There are probably few feelings as frustrating as running 100 metres through torrential rains, having to carry a faulty 20 kg bag that you cannot wheel along because its stupid handle won’t budge, looking like an idiot to passersby wondering why you can’t simply do the above and then realizing after getting into the taxi that you could simply have taken a comfortable internal route. Quite a mouthful, eh? So, after probably the worst welcome a city has ever graced me with, I sat in the back of the SUV taxi the hotel had kindly sent across, shivering, nursing a sore set of fingers and an aching back, and my jacket dripping all over the seat. Welcome to St Petersburg!

Thankfully, it all went uphill from there. After checking into the room, taking off the jacket, shaking off the cold, and freshening up, when the curtains were removed this is what greeted us:

St Isaac's Cathedral

The beautiful dome of the St Isaac Cathedral. Also built by Peter the Great, the church, like everything till now in Russia, was colossal – Huge pillars, a glorious dome to match, archangels decorating the circumference. So before I go further, a little bit about the city of St Petersburg that I quickly read up at the time. It was constructed by the relatively progressive and worldly Peter the Great who also established it as the new capital of the newly christened Russian Empire (admittedly, a much better capital shifting exercise than a Mr. Tughlaq). He named the city after his patron saint, who also shared his name. (One wonders whether that nomenclature would have been different had their names been different. Or who knows, the patron saint himself might have been someone else! “When in Russia”…) Peter was a big European buff and got a lot of European artisans in to build the city; and the influences can be clearly seen in some of the structures. It is, at first impressions, a more relaxed place than the hubbub that was the current capital. The city centre consists of most of the places of note for tourists and also quite friendly for us; it is beautiful, well constructed, well planned, and even boasts of such treasures as an art gallery with more exhibits than the Louvre!

So, once we ate our usual fare of room service Italian, we walked out into the now calm skies, armed with umbrellas and windbreakers. First stop, tourist info centre and a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city centre. Note that everywhere we went in Scandinavia and Russia, we encountered the same tourist agency operating these buses; and the service was quite good too. This is the link, in case it helps someone out. Anyways, back to the fickle Petersburg weather. During the approximately 2 hour bus ride, the weather must have changed its mood at least 5-6 times. Amid the decent sunlight to god-help-us-rain, we tried to listen to the not-properly-synced commentary on our headphones about each building as we passed it by. If not a whole picture, we got to see the outline and the colors for what lay in store for the next 5 days. We also realized that getting around on foot was the way to go, since as I mentioned earlier, most of the buildings of note were in the same area.

But for the day, we had had our fill of Russia. We found a cozy little Indian restaurant near our hotel which had better food, better prices and better service than more than half the restaurants I have visited back home and we chilled! No such feeling as diving into Dal Makhani bang in the middle of a former Russian capital. Amen.

Day #10

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

Shun the privilege
Unearned; Not mine
Passed through my blood
Not through my sweat

Shun the heritage
Not my creation
Nor the prize
From my journey

Burn it all down
Let the the smoke rise
Suffocate and choke
As the fossils fuel the fire

Nothing shall rise
The weight is too much
At first all will be bleak
The ashes, tombstones

Stripped down, Naked and bare
The legacy feeding on itself
Soon all is quiet
Light as a feather…

Silent winds carry away
These ashes
All in the noisy head
Of a silent islander

Lonely and stranded
No cry for help
Safer to watch
Than to be

Day #4

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

Moscow saga, continued. Beginning of the story

Day 5 – 3 pm :

The last two days in Moscow were eventful. Tales include an unsuccessful ~11 km chase of a river cruise along the banks (with navigation errors on the part of yours truly), the Moscow Metro hop, a walk down the pretty Arbat Street, and a visit to the Gorky park. I’ll highlight the metro rides first.

Expectations weren’t high, but numbers beat street estimates by some margin. Who the hell, after all, expects a “metro hop”? Intra city train hops in Mumbai are a topic best left untouched in polite company. Don’t get me wrong, the trains will get you where you need to go. Probably the fastest way around. Also happens to be the fastest way to get drenched in sweat; some of it not yours! (That being said, I loveth _aamchi_ Mumbai local) So one can empathize with me when I say I had gone into the whole thing with what can be described as slight skepticism at best and fear at worst. Moscow’s metro stations don’t, after all, look like the friendliest places to be in. Sure, they aren’t claustrophobic; nothing in Russia quite is. Yet, I don’t know if it is the lighting, the colors, the tiling, but I’ll be damned if some of them don’t induce that feeling. Doesn’t help that their trains and tracks somehow seem incompatible with each other, evidenced in the worrisome vibrations at speeds more than 20 kmph. Or that their doors snap shut faster than Exhibit 1. Or that a few of these stations doubled up as bloody bomb shelters, not too long ago!

But what does help is the beautiful decor of the stations. And they are so well maintained, that “Moscow Metro tours” are an actual thing and one can see why! We saw multiple tourist groups snapping pictures of the pretty stained glass panels at Novoslobodskaya, the palatial interiors of Komsomolskaya, the 34 gorgeous mosaics on the Mayakovskaya ceiling, or with the frontier guard statue at Ploshchad. (It is believed that rubbing the nose of the dog which is a part of the guard’s statue is supposed to bring good luck – it is such a common activity among all that the dog’s nose has actually been worn off its bronze) All of this was expectedly surprising to a bunch of people used to strictly utilitarian modes of transport. The experience comes highly recommended. And in case you visit, don’t forget the Komsomolskaya selfie spot!

Once done with our underground shenanigans, we thought of giving a shot to another mode. After a long walk down Arbat street, (great place to shop for some paintings, or catch a theatre performance, or just sit around and watch people go by) we decided to catch a ferry ride on the Moskva river. However, in our hurry, the distance to the loading point got grossly underestimated, and we started off on the long walk ahead after a sleep-inducing lunch of Dal Makhani and Tandoori Roti. After an excruciating 2 hours, which included several navigation errors by yours truly, we got close to the loading point, only to be told that all slots for the day were full.

The saving grace for us was that we were essentially at the border of one of the most extensive and beautiful parks I have ever seen. As Russian architecture somehow seems to go, this park was massive. At 7 pm, it was bustling with people lining up for cotton candy, schnitzels, corn on the cob, beer and more, after perhaps a long day at work, children running about, cycling, skating, Segue-ing, kids enjoying the bubbles around bubble guy. Glorious summer day! We did finally get on a cruise the next day (with more planning this time), but it isn’t quite worth mentioning. So, after a tiny tour of the beautiful and _huge_ Soviet-era government buildings, after what seems like ages, we finally bid adieu to Moscow and head for St Petersburg!

As a final thought, I think I really underestimated what the city had to offer, as far as sights are concerned. Some that I have described till now showed the grandeur and the beauty of a city; once and still powerful. But along with this grandeur, one can see through the cracks if one cares to focus. I saw what was probably the most disturbing sight I have seen in my life in person, when in front of the Ritz Carlton at Red Square, I noticed a pregnant lady (probably nearing the end of her second trimester) kneeling in submission with her head hung low, and a cloth in front of her. It’s not like I haven’t seen people asking for alms on the street in Mumbai, but this somehow felt different. She was alone, didn’t have any support to hold on to, and was being thoroughly ignored, especially by the patrons walking by in their Jimmy Choos, and clutching their Guccis, and driving their Porsches. Away from home, in this grandiose city, caught up in a bubble, it brought me crashing back to the reality of a place that actually isn’t all monuments and power and glitz; that picture has imprinted itself on my brain, and even though I did not have the heart to take an actual photo, I won’t ever be able to push that image out of my head. It was a reminder. The yin to the yang…

Overpowering Voice, Love

Here’s to your voice, love

Overpowering every sense
Blinding,
But your presence;

Missing that voice, love

A voice, gentle
A voice, calm
A voice, melodious
Blinding,
But your charm;

Speak your voice, love
& Let it overcome

The Feelings despised
The Worries harboured
The Nightmares, dreaded
Blind me,
& Guide me
Through the dark