Dasvidaniya Russia

Moscow’s red square street remained the world’s nerve centre as the curtain came down on the month-long tournament last week

Moscow: Thousands thronged the iconic Red Square for one last time on Sunday night after the World Cup final to catch up with the activities that has kept the adrenalin flowing ever since the tournament got underway here last month.

The iconic street remained the world’s nerve centre as the curtain came down on the month long tournament last week after France won the title for the second time since 1998. From the marketing point of view, the event was a good package of football and history where the onion shaped domes of the imposing Saint Basil’s Cathedral shining brightly as the sea of fans immersed themselves in a lively get-together before the final.

In FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s words, “Russia has brought the world closer.”

The event has been as non-violent as the previous ones and it was a big slap on the British media who had prophesied that it won’t be trouble free. But Russia presented us a much friendlier World Cup than anyone expected.

Non-violent World Cup

Hooliganism that’s usually associated with the game was surprisingly absent making families, young and the old ones confident enough to return back to the country on their next vacation.

Everybody dread the notorious English fans, whose hooliganism and raucousness are chastised by many. Whether England wins or lose, their unruly behaviour has always been a cause of discomfort for others.

But we heaved a sigh of relief as the English fans had been weakened by the diplomatic stand-off between their country and the World Cup hosts.

Abuzz: A Russian family on a day out at the iconic Red Square in Moscow photo: s chander

The sour in diplomatic relationships with Russia saw a drop in number of England fans in the competition.

The Brits controlled their emotions at the subways and inside the trains. At the Fan Zones and Media Centres across the eight venues, they maintained a stoic silence as if a third eye monitored their facial expressions.

It must have been a difficult time for the ruffians as their unruly behaviour were controlled by some unknown power – Putin’s men must have tightened the noose around them and on their own people as well.

‘Let’s keep our emotions in check’, one journalist murmured to each other. There is some strange fear in their mind as they felt to be in an unsafe territory, though Russia is a friendly nation contrary to what the British media had published prior to the start of the competition.

In the end, everybody hailed the World Cup as one of the best including Infantino. Whether 2022 Qatar will live up to the excitement and fun provided by 2018 Russia will be highly debatable.

Mixture of communism and modernity

Who would have thought that despite the break-up of Soviet Union in 1989, Russia will fight back to regain its prestige and position in the world.

Communism is not completely wiped out of their life as the country has nicely balanced it between communism and modernity. The working middle-class don’t drive a Lexus or wear Armani suit, but prefer the trams and metros.

Their family life looks very simple and disciplined unlike one that gets to see in greater Europe and America. But more than the balancing act of Leninism and Marxism, it’s the iron hand of the country’s President that rules Russia. Putin is everywhere. His images on the T-shirts and souvenirs will confirm and convince his demi-God status. We don’t see another second leader after him.

“People love him, but whether its out of fear or respect I’m not sure, ” said one of my hosts here.

Shade of Marxism

Call it a shade of Marxism, Russia extends a helping hand to the Uzbeks, Tajiks — all work and stay here as residents. They don’t need a visa as one of the taxi drivers at Saint Petersburg airport sounded very positive and happy. Putin’s Russia supports the former Soviet Blocs. Some of these states, who were once a part of the big family, are not forgotten while job opportunities gives them a ray of hope to stay with the ‘big brothers’ family.

‘Shree 420’ killed boredom

Russia’s only sea resort on the Black Seacoast, which hosted a couple of World Cup games at the beautiful Fisht Stadium, returned to its normal business.

On a murky and sunny afternoon at the Olympic Park, life moved at its mundane pace. Children and their parents flocked to the Olympic Park opposite to the venue, where the hosts lost a nerve-wrecking quarter-final against Croatia.

It was business as usual and several tourists including the Russians from the north turned up to soak the warmth at the beach.
However, the city lacked the charm and enigma of Saint Petersburg and Moscow – two very significant and historical cities who have shaped the country’s history. People do come here for sailing and the Caucasus, but I didn’t feel the excitement.

Buses plying from the central railway station to the stadium don’t have ACs. The weather was a bit put off as you walk and walk in the humidity. And yes, the unwinding roads up and down-hills inside the city didn’t motivate me much.

I sorely missed the Moscow and Saint Petersburg trams and metros — they are so comfortable and convenient. A walk in and around the Kremlin Walls evoke interests, even a casual stroll here at the central market would sap your energy.

A day before the World Cup final, there’s none who would talk about the tournament in this coastal city.

After travelling from Moscow to Saint Petersburg and now here at the southern city, my belief was strengthened by the fact that football isn’t the most popular sport.

The Russians are fond of indoor games – basketball, volleyball and indoor hockey. Digital posters of some hockey tournaments at the crowded bus stations near the Sochi Railway Station convinced me that though Russia played at the World Cup, the people aren’t really football-crazy.

At the hookah club or at the restaurant owned by a Chechnyan, guests were involved in animated discussions.

Raj Kapoor in Sochi

But yes, Raj Kapoor helped overcome boredom after I was taken for a ride while I had hopped into a bus with a wrong route.
The driver, in his mid-50s, gestured and sang ‘Mera joota hai Japani, Raj Kapoor, Awara, Shree 420’ — I was greeted with some fresh air amid the cacophony and humidity during that over-an-hour misguided travel within the city.

It seemed the emotional locus of Russia 2018 is more in living rooms and bars around the world than here.

Dasvidaniya Russia!

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