Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Like Walls Drawing Closer

The world has never ceased to amaze me, for all its glory in its various aspects and planes of existence. Meeting new people, having new experiences, living out of a suitcase (at least for some time every year), that is the dream.
Fortunately, I have been born with the means to put down a country or two on my passport every alternate year, which has expanded my view of life, and my exposure ever so much. This also means that I possess a political neutrality, a balanced outlook and a general level of adaptability.

This past month, I've spent most of my time exploring China, Mongolia and Russia with the family... parts of the world not familiar to the average US-UK-Aus hopping tourist.

Right now, I sit in a tiny Soviet era serviced apartment in Irkutsk, Russia, compelled to write my heart out.

My first brushes with Communism.

A totally different experience.
I feel choked.

There's a coldness about Russia that is not in the frigid climate. It's in people's eyes and expressions of cold disregard. It's in the boarded up gray buildings and the deserted roads and even in the dogs that don't respond to your whistling. Like a post-apocalyptic world. Communism may have made its exit 20 odd years ago but it's left a slew of dead oppressed lifestyles in its wake.

I'm sure all of Russia is not thus, and I look forward to Moscow and St. Petersburg, the outposts of Russian Tourism, where the post-Soviet youngsters enthusiastically throng the bars and actually talk to you, or so I've heard.

I'll try to give you an idea of how the USSR must've felt.
My apartment leaves me with this lingering feeling: I have nothing to look forward to in life. It's all choreographed.

Very direct. Very depressing.
That being said, I'm not depressed, just thankful that I'll be outta here and on my way westward tomorrow.

I encountered Communism in a very different way in China, which is still Communist.

Firstly because I couldn't understand jack shit. At least in Russia, the script is kinda sorta maybe familiar (even if it's just 10 familiar alphabets so you know that 'Супермаркет' above a store reads 'Supermarket').

Then, to my distress, I found out that YouTube and Facebook are banned in China. Also, anything, and I mean ANYTHING I wanted to google about the Tianenmen Square massacre came up as a failed page-load... As if a deliberate attempt to wipe out from history their one credible struggle for democracy. When I went to Tianenmen Square, I wanted to know where the 'Tank Man' incident had occurred. The guide's eyes widened in a kind of shock that I must admit reminded me of Harry Potter's utterance of Voldemort's real name and the reaction it provoked. My guide looked around to make sure nobody had heard. He quoted 'Chairman Mao' a little too loudly in his next sentence.

(For the uninitiated, the 'Tianenmen Square massacre' and 'Tank Man' are must-googles)

English publications in Beijing were hard to come by, and in a country where the media is largely infamously state controlled, I picked up a few English dailies.

It was full of news about China... It felt like a pathetic means of brainwashing. Like a big show. Not one page about the neighbours, not one section about the world.

Randomly, I went on to the webpages of some renown world news networks just to be up to date. An article caught my eye.

A gruesome picture of a man crumpled under a steamroller, his pulverized brains visible.

From rural China. Apparently he had protested when the government chose to acquire his agricultural lands. The Chinese authorities had ordered the execution.

Of course that news never made it to the Chinese daily in English.

The Chinese are like sheep. Truly. Gullible and very nice to make sign language with. And very clueless about what they are denied daily. It's almost sad.

Not surprisingly, I've made a lot of friends this month. Ha! A Finnish photographer, a group of gay Brit 30 something hippies, a Mongolian kid studying in Bulgaria, two Dutch girls and a bunch of travelling Aussies. My Dad found himself a bunch of Uzbeks who laugh and love with a lot of throaty belly shaking.
Note how I don't have a Chinese OR a Russian friend.

For all its flaws, India definitely has more sustainable political growth, but for the red tape. 

But hey, at least we're not Communist.

*Grimaces through her smile*


  1. you should definitely visit Moscow as there you'll find youngsters coming to you with unique sense of amusement wrapped within... Heart throbbing Car Races on busy rushy roads which will get you on your nerves!!!
    And if you get a chance to make a Russian Boxer fall in love with you... you can sense and feel the amazing way of showing true emotions by Bouquet of "JUST 1000 ROSES"

    1. You just breathed a different perspective into my Moscow itinerary! Thanks :)

  2. Nice account!!!
    I wonder how you will feel about Autocratic Islamic Nation States!!!

    P.S. : Might I caution that Islam is'nt autocratic and autocracy hasn't percolated into the minds of the ordinary populace unlike the frigidity of Communism which has left its indelible marks on the very psyche of its subjects!

    1. I've been to quite a few Islamic countries, (the UAE, Pakistan, Egypt, Oman) and never have I felt such oppression in the air... the Islamist flavour is distinct in the culture...the food.. the architecture.. the inimitable sounding of the azaan...even in the hospitality of the people.

      That being said, and I concur with what you observe, although maybe in a formerly communist state like Russia, the cover has lifted and the debris is exposed. Also, communism shuns religion, so there's precious little to expect in terms of cultural finesse anyway.

      Although I haven't been to an Islamist state under a stringent regime watchful of the public, I do wonder if the general populace is actually okay or just that they don't know better and have made their peace with what they get.
      Or even worse, that they are being persuaded to put on the infamous 'it's all good' act.

      You should read Khaled Hosseini. He talks of a scarred Afghanistan like he's been through the shredder himself. It makes you think. :)

  3. Amri. You really communicated the essence of your experience (I think). Loved this post.

  4. Thank you, Bhabhs. I feel like I've developed a sound readership. <3
    P.s. Moscow was brilliant.
    It's like I got off the train and breathed out 'Europaaaa' at 5 in the morning.
    The air was different.
    Also. I omitted Mongolia from this account, which was, by far the most liberating experience. :)