"So you are going to Russia, cool mate". Those were the words I heard when I got my Russian visa. It was my colleague, who unfortunately was not placed in a project as yet telling me that. Imagine even a place like Russia sounded like music to his ears. To tell the truth, it did not hurt me as well. I was rejected a US visa and this seemed like a perfect response - after all they were enemies at one time. Jokes apart, I was excited about travelling. It is in me to go to new places, understand the culture (especially the Russian water part), see new places and in general have a good time.
So, we (yeah! there was another guy with me) left from Chennai, landed in Delhi and joined a long queue at Aerofloat check-in counter. That was when I realised that Russia IS a place that a lot of people actually wanted to go to. There were students who were ready to spend 5-6 years for engineering, 6-7 years for MD, businessmen, IT guys like us and Pegions. Don't be surprised, we were not checking-in in the open. These are the people who take a flight to Russia and then fly out (by road) to one of the nesting sites in western Europe. They work in apple farms, clean public toilets, pick garbage, sell things that one will never need and last but not the least make life miserable for people like us who travel legally. Thanks to them we are checked anywhere-anytime. Anyway, we checked in and as a good gesture filled in a few immigration forms for pigoens, cleared customs and security checks and landed in a couch somewhere inside the terminal. After about 2 hours there was announcement (which to my surprise was of the same quality as that in ISBT) and we were requested to board the flight. As usual, it was the a race to get in. Not sure why! Isn't it true that airlines normally wait for all the passengers to board the flight before taking off? For a moment I thought I could be wrong.
We got into the flight at around 3 a.m. and were getting ready to sleep. Just then our co-passenger made a statement "Dekho bhaisahab! Inka english kitna alagh hai" (Look bro, their english is so different) holding a Russian in-flight magazine in his hand. That was an interesting observation, after all it's only Russians who call it Russian. Another gentleman asked "Going to Moscow". Felt like saying "No. To Afghanistan!!! We have our chutes ready and the pilot will tell us when to jump". We just smiled and said nothing. It was too late (or early) in the day to say anything. We somehow made ourselves comfortable and tried to sleep. Just then a Russian airhostess with traditional Russian hospitality shook us hard and asked if we wanted anything to drink. It felt as if someone was cursed with a stone face or had a condition where no facial expressions are possible. Anyway, we said no to that and to another jolt for food.
By the time the plane landed in Shermeteyevo it was around 7.00 and it actually felt like heaven. The only thing that was in our mind was to get in to our apartment and crash. So we walked out of the aircraft and joined the immigration queue. My colleague reached the counter first. For some reason his passport and ticket was taken and he was told to go back to the queue and wait. Before I could realise what was happening, I was called and got the same treatment from a person having the same Stone Face syndrome. And so we waited and waited and waited and waited!!!! Hard to believe, but we were there for more than 2.30 hours. In this time we could see passengers from two aircraft's clearing their immigration, kids crying, people cursing and police walking from one room to the other with our documents. Not the best of situations to be in, esp. when you are flying out of India for the first time. But as the saying goes "If a screw up had to happen, it will happen". Anyway, this was something that we could not to anything about. We just stood there tired, thirsty and famished (without even having the luxury of using the washroom for our daily ritual). And then we were finally allowed to cross the gate just to be caught by another lady who was standing there to take over us. We were then escorted to another counter. That's when we realised that the most important document was missing. The one that's green in color with the face of one of the US presidents. The code word was FINE and people like us had to comply. No choice or excuses. Just pay FINE and go. This it seems is a thumb rule. Just pay fine for anything. No wonder there are so many PEGIONS flying to Russia.
So, we finished the first time ritual of paying FINE and picked up our baggage. Just then I looked up to the ceiling. It was an amazing design. It actually had copper coloured rings (of about 1 foot diameter) hanging all over the place. You would wonder how good the designer must be to comeup with a design like THAT. It was nothing that you would have seen in your lives. There were thousands of rings attached to one another and hanging all over the place. It made the place look cold, hostile, crude, gloomy, etc etc etc. It had to be cold war art. It had "YOU ARE NOT WANTED HERE, GO BACK" written all over the place. But we had no choice!!!!! Afterall we are the software guys from India. We brave everything to be in a cleint site.