I distinctly remember a TV interview on Doordarshan in early 80s, when a Russian envoy was asked, ” How the Russia views the current situation in West Asia?” . The envoy immediately corrected the interviewer that it’s not Russia but Soviet Union. USSR or Soviet Union existed between 1922 and 1991, when we heard words like Glasnost and Perestroika and the centralised communist structure weakened leading to creation of 15 independent states out of the erstwhile Soviet Union and the largest state reverted to its original name Russia. This is no political commentary on Russia, but a travelogue arising out of my maiden visit to that enigmatic country.
Why enigmatic? Because notwithstanding the title of 1963 James Bond movie titled, From Russia with Love starring Sean Connery, we in India have always loved Russia for it has proven to be our all weather friend. We have known it as another superpower providing balance of power in this world. Till we acquired British Jaguars and now French Rafale, Russian MIGs have been our mainstay, apart from several other areas of cooperation between two friendly nations.
Again the blog is acquiring political overtones though the intent is not to make a mention about Soviet misadventure in Afghanistan but to explain the enigma. I had studied entry level Russian way back and when once we were invited by our Russian teacher to her place for dinner, all she served was boiled potato! I was told that food was not abundant and people used to queue up for meat and bread, which were rationed. Fast forward to 2019, potato is still a delicacy, but you have restaurants in every nook and corner of the city I visited, St. Petersburg, serving all kinds of cuisines, including Indian. There are superstores flooded with food items of all ilks. Russia of today is like any other advanced European country – great infrastructure, abundance of everything and safety.
St. Petersburg, earlier known as Leningrad, has history written all over. The city has seen it all – from flourish of Christianity ( some of the cathedrals are to be seen to be believed) to Bolshevik revolution that led to rise of communism when several churches and cathedrals were either destroyed or converted into museums to resurgence of Republican state following glasnost and perestroika, when the city got back its prideful place. The city got its original name (actually it was Petrograd before it was changed to Leningrad) St Petersburg back in 1991.
We saw discipline on road, cleanliness of the highest order, general safety ( except minor crimes like pick pocketing in crowded places), great eating options, superb local transport and rare sight seeing options ( there seemed to be surge if tourists before the onset of winters) that made my visit to Sf Petersburg memorable. Though still autumn, the weather seemed unbearably cold, but all the places, including transport options are heated.
I came back from Russia with Love, though I am not sure about James Bond’s experience!