Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Missing Kolkata

It is Sunday afternoon here and the weather is playing roller coaster. A day before it was a sunny 18-20 degrees but today it is snowing since morning with the mercury plunging to minus 2 degrees. It has now been about four weeks since I left Kolkata and I have started missing the events, receptions, programs, events, film premiers etc., which is a part of my daily routine there. Irrespective of what people say, Kolkata after all is Kolkata.
Today, in Kolkata, there is a reception hosted by the Consul General of Russian Federation Mr Vladimir V Lazarev and his wife Liudmila for the 65th Anniversary of the great victory in the great patriotic war at The Park Hotel.
Mr Lazarev and his wife are my friends and every year I do attend this celebration. Two years back, at one of the receptions hosted by Iazarev at The Park Hotel, Lazarev, I and Biman Bose chatted a lot about Russia (picture: From left to right - Mr Lazarev  and Mr Biman Bose).
Russia was the first country I landed in from India. In fact my trip was from Kolkata to UK and I was flying Aeroflot and needed to spend 8 hours in transit at the Moscow Airport en route to the UK. The year was 1994 And Russia was not in very good shape. The Moscow airport was in a mess with no cafes or water in toilets. From the Airport lounge I could see hundreds of Aeroflot aircrafts parked. Later, in UK when I asked someone about this I learnt that after the collapse of USSR the Aeroflot, which was the biggest airliners in the world, was left with Russia and they were trying to figure out on how to utilise these crafts.
I was at St Petersburg and Moscow in November 1994. Although it was a booming time for Indian trade, especially tea, but it was a scary scenario for foreign travellers with a soaring crime graph. I was advised not to venture out walking and to always use a rented car, avoid radio taxis and keep a $50 note in my top pocket which I did during my stay there.
There was a silent code among the robbers that if they get you on the street at gun point they would fish out the $50 bill from the top pocket and go. If they did not get the dollar then they would take whatever they wanted from your other pockets including your watch and passport that was a must-carry for all travellers visiting Russia.
I remember that how I longed to visit the Indian restaurant New Delhi to have some dal and roti, but could not as the robbers and muggers used to follow Indian tourists from there. Yes, that was the Russia then.
Last year when I visited Moscow to attend the seminar at Moscow State University for International Affairs (picture) it was a different world. There was a sea change in Russia with free tourist movements, fashionable students, expensive hotel tariffs and other trappings of a western world. I could venture out and see the new Russia.
I also got an opportunity to meet the Russian Communist Party Leader Mr Jynov (picture).
ess bee

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