Inconsistency, lack of direction, fear of commitment, whatever you attribute it to, the urge to flee from monotony is real. And for those who are born with it, suppressing the constant fire in their belly comes with a price - one they end up paying with a subtle element of truth in their hearts. Individuality often gets compromised in a frantic attempt to overpower the natural disposition of the body and the mind. Happiness is thrown into jeopardy when the inner self is denied the right of expression. Material success and ego indulgences tumble down in the face of spiritual decay. Something deep inside yearns to be set free, something as intangible as the earthy scent of petrichor. And when no goal seems worth the sellout, they muster the courage to go in search of the paradise long lost.
The opportunity to become an AIESEC intern in Chelyabinsk, Russia came to me at such a juncture. The city located in the Ural region is the seventh largest in the country. Russia is notorious for many reasons, and being the coldest country on the planet is just one of them. Chelyabinsk captures the essence of the cold and rustic life in the mountains. After my Pilani days, I hadn’t experienced anything even remotely comparable to winter. So the thought of surviving in a land where the temperature drops to -4o degree Celsius sent a shiver of curiosity down my spine. Digging out the warm clothes from my college rucksacks, I felt the excitement of breaking the shackles of drudgery – just what I yearned for at that point in time. I needed a change and this was it – my well deserved break after juggling between two crazy jobs, taking care of my little dog and fighting with my folks day in and day out.
Once I had the invitation letter in hand, the visa application process was easy. Unlike the US and UK visas, the Russians did not interview the candidate. You just need to fill out the online application form and personally hand it over to the embassy along with the fee and the required documents. I resigned from both my jobs in September 2014, visited my fiance in Bombay, attended my best friend's wedding and then proceeded to Chennai for the visa processing. The Chennai trip gave me an inkling of the solo adventure I was on. After dropping off the documents in the morning, I loitered around the heritage city. Walking in and out of fancy malls, watching movies all by myself and getting lost in translation, I realized it was indeed fun to be anonymous in a big city. I collected my visa on the third day and boarded the train back to Calicut.
My onward flight from Delhi to Moscow was booked via Aeroflot, and I had a fifteen hour layover in Moscow before proceeding to Chelyabinsk. After four days of obtaining the visa, I took a morning train to Kochi and flew to Delhi from there. At around 11:30 pm, I arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. I waited all night for my flight to Moscow. Though the travel was exhausting, my experience with Aeroflot was quite pleasant contrary to the widespread negative reviews about the airline. The food was scrumptious too. Upon my arrival in Moscow, I was asked to wait at the immigration desk until an officer confirmed the credibility of my documents. He checked my readiness for the oncoming Russian adventure by asking, "Are you not afraid of traveling alone in Russia?" I replied that I was not and he let me pass.
My connecting flight was at 11:30 in the night. Fifteen long hours lay ahead of me. Thanks to Tripadvisor.com, I knew exactly what to do during my transit. First off, I exchanged the dollars in my wallet. Since they don't trade rubles in India, I was carrying all my cash in dollars. After leaving my luggage in the storage room, I freshened up, gobbled some home-cooked samosas and got out of the airport. The bus station was a few yards to my right. It was autumn and the temperature outside was 4 degree Celsius. Do not be mistaken, that is warm by Russian standards. Not wanting to take a chance with the weather, I pulled out the woolen gloves in my waist pouch. In a few minutes, I was on bus #851 going to Rechnoy vokzal (River Terminal), one of the two metro stations closest to Sheremetyevo airport (SVO). The other options to go to Moscow from Sheremetyevo are the Aeroexpress rail link and the prepaid taxi service available at the airport. For quick reference, I had downloaded a map of the Moscow underground stations onto my phone. To get to Red Square, I had to follow the green line to Teatralnaya station, adjacent to the world famous Bolshoi theatre. I bought a single ride ticket for 50 rubles. Despite being the capital city, Moscow is one of the least tourist friendly places in the world. Not a single sign was in English. I soon got accustomed to viewing the signboards as complex pictorial codes I had to decipher. The escalator going down was intimidatingly steep for a first timer. The subway was pretty much the western counterpart of the Indian metro when it came to numbers. However, the commuters were strikingly fashionable, restrained and frigid in the way they conducted themselves. The announcements inside the metro were painstakingly difficult to comprehend. Men and women bustled up and down, with single-minded focus on the rigors of routine. And there I was, estranged and out of place, attempting to find my place in an alien world.