EP 2 : LANDING HEAD FIRST INTO MOSCOW

Amar is cruising fast in his Triban ahead of me and the rain is making it really difficult to follow him. He takes a steep left onto the pavement. I try to follow suit. The front tyre skids off the side of the pavement. You know that exact moment when you know you are fucked, the entire world slows down and you can recall all details. Yah that happened.  I lost my bearings and the 10 kg  bag on my back helped me land face first into the pavement. I could taste the Moscow dirt. Centuries of history, decades of seclusion and years of geo-political power plays and my first taste of Russia is literally detritus from the pavement. And Macha let me tell you this. Its the best dirt I have ever tasted. 

9 hours before.

I wait outside gate 9 of the international terminal in IGI. Almost 12 months have gone by from when this dream germinated to the moment it is about to bear fruit. I still couldn’t believe this was happening. Then an announcement in the PA system. It was in Russian. I knew it was time. Some languages, no matter what the fuck they are saying sounds sweet cause it has a particular rhythm to it. That announcement felt like Mozarts “moonlight sonata” to me. I made my way down the ramp, saw two Tamil pasingas and decided not to say hi right now. I got to my seat. On top of the left wing of a gargantuan Airbus A330. I never been in such a big plane. As my boys would be expecting. A comment on the female cabin crew is what is on the cards. But when they are all over 50, you would call it a retirement party than something for a eye candy.  As I prayed I got a window seat and as a bonus the seat next to me was empty. Lavish space. When you don’t spam god with prayers everyday and just ask for a favour or two once in a while. The big dude upstair responds.

I was praying till that moment that some fuck up at immigration or ticketing wouldn’t get me in trouble. It was my worst nightmare and when I was one that plane. I felt, the anxiety should be leaving now. CAUSE MOTHERFUCKER, YOU ARE GOING TO RUSSIA.

As I do in planes, I sleep. Like quaaludes mixed with beer type sleep. So first time I woke up. We were flying over the Himalayas and I saw one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen from an aircraft ( That Indigo hostess would top that, but this comes second).

 

 

 

 

 

                                                      Somewhere over China ( or Pakistan) 

Then I passed out again and that sweet aunty ( Aeroflot’s finest) bought me lunch with as a salad, chicken, and an Indian sweet. It was delicious. Then slumber again and and ice cream came. Into the world of dreams and then came nothing else to eat. But then came Moscow. 

I saw green. Lots and lots of green to the left wing. Then came water bodies. In a few moments the screen inform of me lit up with the landing camera. Small buildings were popping up and then the frequency increased to an extend that all all the green was replaced with buildings and then the river was flowing through it. It was like the story of civilisation in time lapse mode. The plane made its descent into Sheremetyevo International Airport. We landed and we disembarked the aircraft. I say we now cause I said hi to the Tamil Pasingas and I was oddly talking Tamil. They are two dudes from Kovai. One dude, sashvii works with AIFF to market football teams. He works with KBFC as well as Chennaiyan. And his uber cool mate, Mohammad.  So we went past immigration where the guy had a really close look at me. My passport photo looks like how Fox news would portray a terrorist, AKA Saleem from Slumdog millionaire. But he put his Russian stamp on my passport and I was allowed entry into the biggest country int he world. 

First things first, we went to get a sim card. Remember MTS, which had that big egg as an emblem. Well they are actually Russian and they are called MTC here. So knowing how they fucked up back home and being a little hesitant about oviparous telecom companies. I went fo a MEGAPHONE sim. Here is my number, hit me up on WhatsApp if you wanna trade bitcoins or hook up or go out for a beer. ( Which is exactly what I shouldn’t be doing before writing) That is my number – +79259164872.  ( It will be void after a month so I don’t develop the malignant form of cancer called whatsapp). Then the Tamil bois and this fake Tamil boi split. I got on the Aeroexpress metro train from SVO airport to Beloruski train terminal. Did I tell you I was carrying my Triban with me. If you still haven’t figured out what a Triban is, you are in for a treat as the big reveal will blow your mind and might also mend your collar bone if you had been carrying it on your right shoulder as I have been doing since Chennai. 

I got onto the Aeroexpress train which costs a heft 500 rubles but was very fast and felt like the trains you saw in Mr Beans holiday. I sat next to a Russian lady and that is when it dawned on me that beginning a conversation is gonna be little difficult in this country. ( Little is an understatement ). Soon I was there.  Belo-Something railway station.So the hostel we are staying at is in a place called Kurskaya. I have to get on a different train from here.( By train I mean metro).

So carrying my 17.6 kg modified tribal I went down the longest descent of my life ( Depression and Moyes comes second to this), the escalator down a metro in Moscow is an adventure by itself. It keeps on going that you cant see the bottom. Let me show you.

 

 

                                                          NO, THEY ARE NOT SMOOCHING

 

 

 

                                                              Not an  art Museum , its the metro

           

I have fucked up real hard on the Delhi Metro, so I asked with whatever shitty Russian I knew which platform it is to Kurskaya and lucky I boarded the right train. I got off at Kurskaya and went out the station. This was almost around the time I started to notice the female populace of Moscow. ( Not  to mention months of research on the same on my browser). See, novelty is what drives human being to do something new. But when novelty is everywhere, there is nothing new in it anymore. That’s the same here. Almost all the women between 17 to 35 look like they could do playboys cover any day of the week and the summer makes it even more apparent just how beautiful these women are. I expected this and didn’t let my Mallu eyes wander off too much. Shakeela Chechi has trained us for exactly this. I can keep it in. ( Before the 3rd peg). 

I got off and then waited outside the Kurskaya metro station. Waiting for Amar. There, being the mass Tamil payyan that he is made an entrance that even Thalaivar would be proud of.

 

 

 

 

 

He had reached one day early and had gone through a whole lot shit, which I will let him illustrate in a different segment, right now he is sleeping. Paavam.

 

Then we assembled our Tribans and we are on the road. I follow Amar and we reach the point on the road where the pedestrian foot path is gonna fuck me. Which it did. Two hot girls rushed to see if I was alright, they knew English too. How embarrassing Yadu. At least you didn’t get any bruises. ( Couldn’t say the same when I took my pants off, the damage has been done.)

That was my first “taste” of Moscow. That fall sort epitomises everything about me and Amar. We get back up, have a laugh, learn the lesson from it and just move on. And I am glad I had an accident on the first day. Now I don’t have any false sense of pride to lose. I am free. A brown guy cycling through Moscow with a helmet with Mia Khalifa stuck on it.  

So we check into our hostel. Whose name we don’t know yet. Its above a Gym which we have marked on Google maps and thats just about good enough now, Its a proper backpackers hostel. With bunkbeds and a common shower. ( I probably will be showering with Peru fans tomorrow, by “with” I mean with just a glass panel separating us, one the plus side they look more like me than most North Indians, ok I am being racist, now lets close this thought bubble and put the beer down)  

Then I saw my bed and soon I started to sneeze. I realised that I am getting sick, a slight fever had raised my temperature and that was my body way of saying- “ Madaharchod, you have been sleeping in airports and airplanes and haven’t had proper food or slept properly, sleep chutiye”

AND which I did for 13 hours straight. So the details will be little murky there guys. Will update properly on tomorrows. 

Good night and big balls. ( Why did I say that?) 

EP 1: SALAAM DILLI

Day 0

I have just been kissed my a man I just met.
Wait, let me explain. Its the best end to this day, trust me when I say this.

Okay. The day began at 4 or 3 30 something I think. Amar was up and running and I was still in bed. The reality that we are flying to Russia hadn’t hit me just yet. ( Why?). The previous day I said all my good byes. From Decathlon Teynampet to Perungudi to IIT. Today morning I had asked Illam to come with his car and help us out. So we got ready, and it was the first time we were trying to put our shit on the cycles. ( Did I tell you we are planning to take our cycles to Russia? Yah, we call it Kazhap in Malayalam. Trust me, it has lead to the advancement of civilisation more than anything)  It was a disaster as I realised that I had over packed and that my bag was to big for my carrier, but it was too late to turn back and we had to make do.

So we start cycling towards the airport from Amars house. We did a small Pooja in Amars home before, this time I was really praying. I think it would come in handy at some point. We said our good byes to his parents and his mom kept repeating “ Jagriti”, its Telugu, but  I kind of figured out it means don’t get killed and I kept saying yes. 

Both of us are cycling after a while, Amar- over a month as he is recovering from his knee and I for like 2 weeks as I been away from Chennai. And we reach the airport and start dismantling the Tribans. Trust me when I say this, if there is one person who is good with dismantling a Triban. Its Amar. ( He didn’t become Btwin coach cause he smelled good.) So we took the aluminium stallions apart and said good bye to Illam. If he wasn’t there we would have Kandippa missed our flight. Rajjapan and Manju also came to give the sleeping bag and say good bye. 

While boarding we got a little hiccup when they found the tools for the cycles in our cabin luggage. 

DONT FUCKING CARRY TOOLS THAT CAN DISMANTLE A PLANE WITH YOU.

Lesson learned.

So we had to take care of that and we boarded the Jet airways flight to Delhi. I was sleeping like 80% of the time cause thats what I do in airplanes. Its like when people pass out when they experience too much pain. For me listening to kids cry in a pressurised cabin while stuck in the middles seat with a dude wearing 3x is purgatory with hot girls in uniform who are payed to smile at you. So I pass out into a safe space called  sleep. Peace. We go the best idili I had at 30 000 feet in the air. It was amazing and thank you jet for not charging us. 

We touched down in Delhi, put some stories and Nandhita calls me up ( I fucking misspelled your name on purpose :)). She has a flight to Kerala’s asshole which also happens to be our capital. ( Shit, I shouldn’t type after drinking booze off strangers). So we decided to meet. After a quick KFC lunch we were fast at work trying to assemble and disassemble the cycles so that I can learn the mechanics of it. I soon realised I had failed elementary math lessons on clock wise and anti-clock wise directions when we were trying to tighten nuts and bolts and Amar was like – “ How did this Otha get into IIT?”

I ask myself the same everyday my friend. Then Susmit kept calling and said he would come. ( BTW, where is Susmit? ) 

Nandi called AFTER SHE CHECKED INTO THE DOMESTIC TERMINAL ( Django move) and we had to have a conversation over a glass wall like one of us was incarcerated. So we decided to check into the lounge and soon we were chilling in the lounge. Nandi came and said goodbye ( Photo eduthilladi) and I slept for like 2 hours on 3 chairs which were kept together( best sleep ever this week.) We got up and it was time for the Intercontinental Cup Final and we watched India beat Kenya 2 nil with two goals from Sunil Chhetri making him equal with a certain Argentine footballer named LIONEL MESSI in terms of goals scored for country. It has been a privilege to see you in action Sunil and if I wasn’t going for the WC, I would be there with you machane in Andheri.

After that we went out of the lounge for some food. We went to this place called Vango ( Most fake Tam restaurant in North India ever) and had what they called Masala dosa. Then things went Konjam south (pun unintended )as I was not allowed back into the lounge by airport security as my flights is not 24 hours away but even more than that. So at this point. Amar and I had to part ways. He will fly off to Moscow today morning (11th ) at 5 and I will fly tomorrow morning at 5. Inshallah we will meet each other at Moscow and take things on from there. It has been so far so good where we have been looking at each minor set back as a lesson and slowly we will get things rolling in our stride. 

So I was relegated to the floor from the sweet lounge ( At least till 5 AM today) and I was setting up shop when I heard a dude speak Tamilil. ( Okay, over the course of the last 8 months my Tamil has improved so much that I use every opportunity to show it off, especially when the other person doest speak Tamil :p) So I said Tamila? And then began this conversation with Rebun who is from Marthandam, which means we were speaking Malayalam soon and after a while he invited me to the bathroom for a drink. Usually I don’t do such shady shit ( who Am I kidding ) I said yes even before I knew what poison it was. Two drinks down and we are sitting down and chatting about life, his family, how “The Gelf” is not the mallu heaven it used to be and how our priorities in life changes. His story is fascinating. He went to the Gelf to prove a lot of people wrong ( Reminded you someone ?) and he said he had to work from scratch. He is such a jovial character with a lot of cool traits. Best of which is giving without expecting anything in return. He told me of the many stories of how he got cheated and how his character never holds any grudges. Maan, its the perfect sorta conversation you need before an adventure like this, It reinforces your faith in humanity and makes you believe that, no matter how fucked up things get. There will always be a mallu Chettan with a bottle of Gelf scotch to offer to help you sleep at night. He talked about his two little girls and how he is going to see them for the first time in 2 years. Fucking 2 years man. He gave me a pack of gum which is suppose to be worth a lot and I was so thankful that he gave me a kiss on the cheek and said. …….I don’t quite remember what he said, but I will always remember, Ruben Chettan with the Passport scotch. 

Thats it for day -1. 

See you on day 0.

Good night and passport(scotch)  in the toilet somehow tastes better. 

DAY 17 – LEFT FOOT OF THE PRODIGAL SON

In the life of most football fans who started following the game as kids, there comes this moment when a kid, almost the same age as you makes his debut for your favourite team, maybe score a couple and then the entire world starts talking about him. 

This is the first existential crisis in the life of a football fan( Unless your Arsenal, then its every January). You feel like someone out there has worked all their life to live your dream, to play on that pitch, with 50,000 people behind you screaming you to shoot. With your heroes playing next to you and with a chance to script history. To make your name immortal. While 99.999% of the population in that age group wanks off to bed, that person is living your dream.

For me that person was Adnan Januzaj. I was 16 and he was 18.

I look at him and like so many football fans, I saw my dream manifest itself in the form of a lanky Belgium winger who is strong on both feet and can make any defender sweat ( at least initially). I noticed him first in “ Football Manager”, he had this peculiarly oriental name. Then when he scored two against Sunderland, where we came from behind to win. I was like, this is the “second coming”, he is the answer to all our problems, this dreaded season had something to give us hope. And that was a naive 16 year old asking an 18 year old to shoulder the responsibility of carrying the worlds biggest club on his shoulders. Matter of fact, I had been saving up for 8 months to buy a Man United kit, it would be my very first original kit. I went all the way to Banglore, found the store and then I was in a dilemma. I can go for club legend Giggs, this would be his last season and he is our greatest player, period. With more appearances than anyone else. Or Wayne Rooney. Our second greatest player with the most amount of goals for the club. But a voice inside my head always says, don’t look back, always look forward. And I printed “ JANUZAJ” 44 on the back of that shirt.

I even made a chant for him 

“ He was born in Belgium ——————Januzaj

Tip-toed upto the top.       ——————Januzaj

Anderchelt taught him

ManU bought him 

He can play on either left or right 

Januzaaaj Januzaaaj 

Hes the next Cristiano 

Hes Adnan Januzaj 

Januzaaaj Januzaaaj 

Hes the next Ronaldo

Hes Adnan Januzaj “

( I made the same mistake that United did when they rewarded him with a blockbuster contract, we expected too much of a kid. )

2 seasons later and he is not even near the first team. 2 unsuccessful loan attempts later, he was gone. Out of united to Spain. 

I was also struggling during that period, and the first bouts with depression wasn’t made any easier with the way united were playing during that time. I was so emotionally invested that I ran away from home for a day when we lost to Everton. That was the worst loss of life. I lost my self respect that night. So Januzaj was the only thing positive about that season, only thing which made me still believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. And when things didn’t work out for him, around the same time I lost my way.

I felt betrayed, almost like I failed myself. Where that hope and potential didn’t come out to anything. But thats life isn’t it. Things don’t always work out the way its suppose to.

Continued…

3 English fans ( 2 English men and an Indian dude who sounds English when drunk). 10 Belgium fans. A host of Russians. 

All it needed was a spark. 

“ Its coming………………….

 

30 minutes later.

We walk out the bus and hug the Belgium mates. We had abused their entire county and their fan base and more over made sure that not 30 seconds went by without an England chant being sung, it was something else. But at the end of the day its all banter, its what gives life to football. We are brothers who are connected by this love for the game, which is a bond unlike any other. For a person who failed in French ( twice), my French was good enough to say – “ bon chance moi amie, avec le Englaes, but aime Fellani et Lukaku” .

That is the fun part, saying French, but when the guy replies in an accent which sounds like someone throwing up on Kerala porotta, you just shake your head and say – “ fuck yah”. 

 My mates from Kerala video called me and I made sure they were given the real match day experience. I even made both set of supporters chant – “ India , India. India” ( My most significant contribution to the country till date.”) 

I see the stadium. Arena Baltika. What makes this stadium special is that it is on an island and there is nothing but this stadium on the island. Its this grand structure which stands in all its glory not giving a fuck to anything else. It commands respect, and from the outside, it was getting intense. Every bus brings a group of fans screaming either in English, Dutch or French or German. ( Fuck, thats a lot of languages isn’t it.)  

It was a carnival out there. Small stages where bands were performing, Russian dressed up from traditional village girls to Ivan the terrible to fans just dancing along. Say what you may about the Brits, but they know how to get a party going. There was a band playing the 7 nation army. Sweeeeeeeeet.

Now me and the boys officially begin our debauchery. Remember that marble pyramid that the random Russian woman gifted us.  Yah, so we turned it into a lucky charm. Every person we meet, we ask them to rub it. Told it will bring good luck to the lads. We went around asking for a rub( I meant to do that :p) and we got a lot. We got our faces painted and made this Russian bird kiss the pyramid. Not the most hygienic thing to do, but we sure as well enjoyed it.

I met Pakistanis for the first time. Two mates, and they were chill as fuck, we shared a smoke and talked about football. And this wont be the first time with Pakistanis that I will share a conversation ( or a smoke).  

We stood in line  and started chanting, ( Fuck, I don’t think I have chanted this much in a football match before, or for anything.) Once in, it was time to part ways. Court and Tom were on a pavilion below me and we said our goodbyes as the chances of us meeting are very slim as they are on a coach back across the channel right after the game. 

I have to say, it has been an absolute privilege sharing the experiences of the day with the lads and I hope I will see you guys for the Euro. ( inshallah) 

Then as tradition dictates, one overpriced Bud later, I find my seat and I am slightly disappointed to find no England fan anywhere near by. Its zee Russians everywhere. Since I was wearing the England kit, they were asking me to sing the chants to them. ( Its not coming home if you sing it like that Sergei). Then the team lineups came out and my worst fears were realised. See, it was the last match day and both England and Belgium have qualified, both with 6 points. And the team who would finish first in the group will have a more difficult run in to the final than the team who is finishing second.  This creates a unique situation where both teams can afford to rest their best players and let the Chinna payyans ( fringe players) play. Which is exactly what happened. I payed money to watch this game ( half a months salary and I was left disappointed). So Lukaku, Hazard, KDB, Harry Kane and a host of other players who are on top of their powers were on the bench and in their place I had the honour of seeing Phil Jones, Fellani and Adnan Januzaj. ( If you are not a football fan, they were united players who’re kinda shit for united and somehow they made it to the national team.)

 

 

But Rashford was one of the two strikers partnering Vardy and that kid is going places, it was really an honour to see him play. 

The game started on a high with a Tielemans dipping shot being saved by Jordan Pickford. You could hear the British chants pick up steam as Dier and Delph try to consolidate control over midfield. But this Belgian generation is the best the country has ever seen and while still resting all their stars. That team looks like it can go all the way to the final, a France with less immigrants :p. 

And in the 51 st minute I saw the second best goal I have ever seen live. ( First being Sushant Mathews for KBFC against Chennaiyan).

 

He receives the ball on the left inside the box. Fakes a shot and rolls it into his left foot and unleashes a curler that sends Pickford into the air like a fox but it was too well placed for any goalkeeper to do much. Danny Rose is rooted to the spot not knowing what just happened.

I am in a dilemma. I support England and so I am sad, but the kid I hoped would take over the world just scored a wonder goal. 

I didn’t celebrate, but I smiled for him, cause he deserved it. Adnan Januzaj deserved it  Just that proud mom smile where everything just comes together.  

 

England were playing second fiddle to a superior midfield, but they did get a few chances. Rashford came one on one with the keeper and the memories of that goal against City in his debut season came. But he couldn’t quite pull this off as Courtios put just enough of his hands on the ball to divert it into a corner.

And as the game was reaching its conclusion, Januzaj walked off to the standing ovation in the 86th minute. This was the zenith of his career and he knew it. No extravagant jubilation, nothing out of the usual. He clapped his hands and walked away. He will remember that chilly night in Kaliningrad for the rest of his life. Full time and Belgium top the group with 9 points. 

I make my way down the stadium. And it was lit. The stadium lights up at night and it was blue and like Sankt Peterburg, this stadium also looked like spacecraft landed down here. I went out and called my Kochi mates and they said they will meet me out in the exit. So in Russia, when you have nothing to do. You smoke. ( That is why I am struggling with nicotine addiction now :p)

So while I was having the smoke, I meet a lot of Indians. The cape of a flag on my back makes it easy to  identify that I am loud and proud to be Indian( I like to identify myself as a supporter of team India more than any nationalistic pride.) Then while I was having the smoke an another mate is also smoking. So since I was bored I made conversation. ( This single action would have a butterfly effect which would change the way I see people for the rest of my life) 

( So always fucking say hi to as many people as you can.)

We talk football and I was surprised to learn that he played 3rd division football in St Petes. He flew down here to watch the game. And since my next destination was St Petes, I thought we could trade numbers. He ran outa smokes and I offer him mine( or was it the other way around?, I don’t remember). And we get on a bus and make our way to the railways station. I told my Kochi bois I will come to the hotel. And I am off with this really tall Russian dude I just met. We go to Macdonalds and have a McTasty and that things is the dope. After that we say good bye and go our separate ways. His name was Anton.

Back home, my mom says don’t walk the streets after 10. I have been raised to believe that all things sinister and dangerous happen at night ( statistically, thats true), so when I am out on the streets of a foreign city past 12, naturally I get these self conscious vibes that something bad about to happen. I lose my cool and I get on the first bus I see. I feel like I am being watched, that feeling where your conscious says fuck off asap. I listened to it. Flip side being, I am on the wrong bus. And I get out on a place further from the city in a more shady area.  Good going Yadu. 

But as I have been saying all this time, Russians are babes and one babe comes from the same bus and helps me out to get the bus. I love you Russia. I don’t know how many times I need to say this and the best parts are yet to come. So I am on my way back to the city centre and using my male privileges, I am riding solo on a bus outside Kaliningrad at 12 30 in the night. I reach the centre and it is paaaaarty time. This was the last game in Kaliningrad and everyone was out to make sure that it would be one they would remember for years to come. This time it wasn’t two armies preparing for battle. It was bloody D- Day. An amalgamation of both set of supporters plus everyone else were out on the streets dancing singing and just living life. This was life, but as I said before, that unease had taken over me and I wanted to get back to the hotel asap. So I was waiting at the bus stop google had told me about.  And right now, since it was match day, there were a lot of traffic regulations. I had no clue when my bus will come. 

Perfect opportunity to ask a stranger for directions. And that stranger was Yekaterina. You speak English?  Asked the brown guy with an England flag on his cheek and the India flag hanging on his back. She said – “ My….Anglais…bad” 

Good enough.

She was little bit on the shorter side and making conversation was little hard as my gaze discreetly glances at her cleavage and she catches me doing that and pulls her tank top up. 

( For what she lacks in height…… you get me right :p). But she was a sweet bird and took out her app which gave better directions and better on ground info about Russian cities. Russia has an alternative for all apps we use. Yandex for google, Yandex taxi for Uber and then this 2gis for google maps. And she said I can come with her on her bus and she would show me the way. 

I dont know where this night I going, but I like the direction its going in.

Now I am on the bus following this bird to find a seat to sit next to her. And she sits in a corner. ( mixed signals). And to further add to the cock- blocking procedure, some drunk Russian dudes start talking to me, good guys, wanted to know a lot about India. But why now Machans? 

So, the bus takes us closer and closer to the destination and a seat clears up on the seat next to her on the corner here. She takes out her phone, puts on translate and asks. Do you need help getting to your hotel? ( aka if she needs me to come with me to the hotel). 

Before we go any further, I am confident she is above the age of 18 as she studies psychology in the biggest Uni in St Petes and that she likes tequila over vodka and that she was in the stadium today working as a cashier in the Bud shop in the stadium. And she is also from Samara. This is all I know about her. 

I being the Pavam Kochi Karan that I am, said ( Spasiba Nyet) “No thank you”. I know where the hotel was and I can walk towards it. 30 seconds later, it hit me. 

You idiot, you should have taken that interaction forward and see where it went.  

She was cute, but she was not the only Yekaterina I will see in my 34 days in Russia. 

I get back to the room, have a few drinks with the guys and watch the highlights of the Japan game. Japan became the first team to qualify based on fair play points after Senegal got eliminated since they had the same amount of points but one extra yellow card. Savage.

The best day so far in Russia has reached its conclusion, ( could have been better :p)

DAY 16 – ONE OF THE LADS

So let me introduce you to the Kochi bois. I was so glad to hear some Malayalam after like 2 weeks. The thirst for a syllable which no one else in the subcontinent can get their tongues around aka “ Pazham” is like a super- power down here, in  this small slice of land born out of a misguided  axe some hairy dude threw from the Himalayas. ( That’s the story of how our state got formed, better than the Baltics though). 

Kochi bois

 

So there was Bala. I knew him from the United fan circles in Kochi, Met him first in Chai Coffee and then in Kahawa ( Where we used to do our match screenings). CET’s finest. A lot of my CET ( Engineering college in Trivandrum)  friends know him cause he was really good at basketball it seems. A really nice guy and a big England fan. And always has a spare smoke on him. Right now working with Ernest and Young. 

Then there was Varun. Varun Desikan.  Tam at heart, but Kochikaran legit. He moved to Kochi the same time I moved to Chennai. A big Brazil fan and also a hardcore vegetarian.( Which makes life  difficult if you are travelling around Europe). He owns a business in Kochi and was one of the chosen ones who were fortunate enough to visit old Trafford the previous December. A great mate and the first person who got involved with the planning and ticketing process with me. 

Every firm needs a Major ( Green street Hooligans) , but our firm has a Mayor. Yes, thats what we call him.  I think his real name is Saddaquat. But he is the childish life of the bunch. He is married and has kids and is a proper family man. He is also a fan of England and was there to make sure the colours of MUSCK( Manchester United Supporters Club Kerala) was flying high. 

Then there were the two chartered accountants. JK and Arjun. These guys were slightly closer to my age, by slightly I mean like 24 years old. I had used JK’s winter coat when I went to Kasol and we both loved two things the most. MUFC and KBFC( Kerala Blasters Football Club). Arjun was the quite guy of the lot, but when he did open his mouth something funny always came out. They also worked at E&Y.

There was one more mate, Ashok. I had just met him there and he was a Chelsea twat but also a chill dude.

So it was match day. England vs Belgium. 

Bala had a spare England kit which he was kind enough to offer to me. Now I am full on geezer. 

Ok, so throughout this article, you might come across new terminologies which are a byproduct of the Lad culture which English society and more specifically English football have come to embrace. How did I come to embrace this?

The culprit is an English bird named Judith. She unsuspiciously put these psychological cues in my head where I get drawn into this fan culture where disparaging your opponent is the most fun thing after having a few pints with the lads. ( I Got played Juds, guess we are even  :p) 

So, she taught me a lot of phrases and chants which sort of makes me a geezer( self-attested). A geezer is someone who is English, drunk, working class, and always trying to create a scene. Also loves supporting the 3 lions :p. 


We are on the bus to the central square of the city. This is where things get exciting. It was like two armies setting up camp opposite to each other. Prepping their ranks for the big fight which was about to ensue. The English had laid claim to the marshes next to the Macdonalds. It was my first taste of travelling English fans. They are notorious for being a bit drunk and rowdy, but when your teams playing a world cup game, you have every right to be. Don’t you?

There were flags everywhere. From Crewe Alexandria to Everton to Nottingham. Every small club in England had their fans here with their club on the cross of St George. This was like they have invaded Kaliningrad. Mates had set up shop in an open air bar and were just enjoying the sun in the ground smoking a fag and drinking Russian beer with their shirts off.

 

 

 

 

If you cross the road and walk 50 meters West, you will see a burgeoning mass of red and black and yellow. The Belgians had taken over the central square, they were slightly more creative. They had dressed up as red devils and that Asterix dude from the comics. They even were dancing on the fountains. They had proper birds on their side unlike the English. I was revelling in this.

 

 

 

Two teams, two sets of fans and a hot day where you just feel like going around and talking to everyone and just get wasted. And that was the priority now. Get booze. 

Since the English had come, getting booze was a rather a challenging proposition. The line for the beer had grown very long. But the primary prerequisite to becoming a geezer is getting drunk and I was willing to sacrifice any amount of time for that. So on the line, the English were very happy that a dude from India had come all the way to Russia to support their team.  I even hugged a Man City fan( Something which under normal circumstances would be blasphemous,disgusting and unatural). They were kind of surprised I didn’t give a a fuck about cricket, being Indian. ( Proving one cultural stereotype wrong everyday since 97 :p). 

Two beers down and a couple of smokes latter I was buzzing and so were the English fans. So I went to the bar that they had held siege. They were on the table chanting. This is what I live for. Chanting with the lads, I joined in and thanks to Juds, I knew a few of the chants too. It was rabid. We were singing about a homo-erotic relationship with the coach of England ( Looking back to where we first met……)to how the RAF shot down German bombers( There were 9 German bombers in the air…). 

God save the queen. 

While I was chanting with the lads in the bar. I met two blokes, who, over the course of the day would help me experience the “ authentic geezer experience”. Meet Courtney and Tom. Both from Nottingham, but from the polar opposite sides of it in terms of football ideology. Tom’s  Nottingham Forrest and Court’s Notts county. But Court was wearing a Arsenal kit which, on a day like today was a bit of a bad omen :p.( They were kind enough to invite me to Nottingham to watch games there. Defo for the Euros lads, its time something came home)

 

 

  They were really good lads and again, the support from their colonial cousin  made them really interested. I showed them my stadium and my team (KBFC) and told them how football in India is moving in the right direction( maybe not at the required  pace, but still motion is motion). And the moment of validation from geezers that I qualify to be one, just made my day.

 

Now we make plans to get mental. We make our way around the place, joining in on any shenanigans we can find. A Russian media house interviewed me during this time. They asked me what I thought of Russia. I told them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That this was one of the most awesome countries on earth and that the people are pure babes and I absolutely love this place. He asked me if I was concerned about my safety before I came. To which my answer was a yes. The western media had made Russia look like it was Grand theft Auto played by a 11 year old coke-head who was racist and also had constipation every alternate day of the week. Which was further from the truth than anything else. The main culprits are BBC and the SUN and since I was drunk, I think I explicitly told that both of them wankers can go and suck themselves off. ( If someone finds that, please share it with me.)

 

 

Then came the birds, I don’t know if I have extensively wrote about birds in the blog yet. But birds here  ARE THE BEST IN THE WORLD.PERIOD. I know, this is my first visit abroad and all, but I don’t see how things can get any better from here. And these guys knew exactly what keys to turn with the birds. We were randomly approaching every fit bird we can find. It was so much fun, most of them didn’t speak English and most of them pointed at the ring on their fingers. It was so funny. We handed over the phone to a fit bird who was selling phone covers in the FIFA Merchandise store and wouldn’t take the phone back without her number. You should have seen her face become like a strawberry when she started blushing. It was insane. 

We met other English fans, but club rivalries were sending still prevalent. Court’s Arsenal kit made sure that every Spurs fan had a passive aggressive vibe every time we met them, these weren’t the run of the mill footie fans. These guys had tattoos of their legends on their back and looked exactly like the dude from Green Street Hooligans who kills Pete. Scary but also, respects. These are the people who grew up supporting their club with the kind of loyalty that can be compared to substance addiction or even worse -religion.  Then we found a crusader knight with a world cup trophy and we made sure we kissed it more than teenagers learning how to tongue. ( The trophy I mean) 

 

Now it was like 2 hours before the game and the lads were going mental. One mate jumped off the roof of the bar to a group of even more drunk geezers hoping to catch him, then the chants got more and more loud as people were slowly making their way to the stadium. A women randomly comes and gifts Court and me some gifts. Kaliningrad was or still is Europes largest producer of  Amber and the stuff is kinda expensive too. She gave me a flower sorta thing and gave Court a pyramid made of marble. Like I told ya, Russians were so happy we were here that they even gifted us stuff. I LOVE YOU RUSSIA. 

 

Then we made our way into the McD to grab something to eat. Then guess what,  all 3 of us are or were employees at some point of time at Mac. They were still working there and had their employee discount cards out. We made the cashiers so confused and it was so funny. I even read the name of the bird who was cashing – ALEXANDRA, it was written in Russian so brownie points for that. ( She gave a free catchup, what a babe (( In Europe, condiments are not free)) )

They said no discounts for McD employees outside Russia. Fuck.

So we had our food and was out of the joint on our way to shuttle buses which would take us to the game. We get into a bus chanting – “ Its coming home”. We were greeted( I’d say rather screamed back at ) by a rowdy group of Belgium fans like us. Now things get interesting. 

To be continued………

DAY 15 – RUSSIA, BUT NOT IN RUSSIA

Kaliningrad. 

Lets call it Kali from now on ( Bewnda mowne). It is an exclave of Russia situated between the Baltic Sea, Poland and Belarus. This is really interesting and bit of a knot since I needed a Shengen visa to travel through Lithuania if I were to use the free trains. So in the end, I ended up booking flight tickets worth almost 10 k for this. The best part is that, this city isn’t exactly Russian, but was converted into a Russian city after WW2 when the predominately German population was asked to fuck off and repopulated with Russians. So it is still know by its old name Konigsberg, which if you would think sounds familiar to something if you grew up playing Need for Speed, or have heard of a certain philosopher named Kant. This city was closed off to foreigners during the cold war days as it was where he entire Baltic fleet was docked during winter and it is also really cool as it was part of the former Prussian empire and it has got a beach too. All things which I don’t give a fuck, but the most relevant part for me is, ENGLAND’S FUCKING PLAYING BELGIUM HERE. NEED I SAY MORE.

 

 

I slept off at the airport for like a solid 3 hours. Took a piss and slept again. Then finally got out of the airport and boarded a bus to the city. The Kochi boys were here. I will introduce them soon, but they were my mates from the Manchester United Supporter’s Club Kerala. Back in the day when I used to be in Kochi, I would go to a screening almost on all weekends. It was the best part of a week for me. But then Chennai came and the supporters club there is full of wankers and I rather stream from a pornsite than pay to eat fries that look like a old women’s wrinkled cheeks( ass or otherwise) and drink sprite from a shot glass. But I booked the cheapest hostel I could find there. And when I got there I found out I was enough of a dimwit to look at the price and jump at it like it was free Biryani and not realise that particular booking was for a women only dorm. What a cock up. ( Irony, I know). And the Russian bird in the reception’s grasp over English was not too great. We had this really awkward conversation over Google translate where google literally showed this – “ I am sorry, this room is not bleeding for you today” 

I was like, OK, if you want me to leave, fuck off would have been just fine. So I asked to use their WIFI for 10 minutes. I ended up staying 2 hours and then a fitter bird came and her English was as fine as she was and made me understand the situation. By this time I had made the Kochi bois talk to their hotel and had an extra bed for me. Yaaay. But I had to wait till evening to meet them. So I decided to keep all my shit in the railway station locker room and explore the city. Which is what I did. The way these European cities are build, it is really easy to find your way. There are these blocks and if you were to follow a particular direction, you are more than likely to find where you need to go.

 

Its insane. If there is a river, then forget about using google maps, just go where the river flows and you will find what you want. ( Still haven’t found that Russian bird though.) So I start exploring, went to the cathedral and where Kant was laid to rest.

 

 

 

 

I asked someone to tag my Western Philosophy prof and someone did and that dude made a comment which was neither funny nor comprehensible. ( If I am drunk enough, I might reply to that, so if I am near you, STOP ME).  After that there was the city centre with these canals flowing through it. There were these big boats and then just a walk down the road was insane.

So much details and so much architectural beauty. First time I landed, it used to give me a boner, but now I have gotten used to it, but still the amount of work put into just about anything is insane. I find a victory park again and there is this big u-boat put up like its the USS Enterprise ( Star Trek) about to be launched into a time warp.  

I made my way to the fan fest. I had planned to watch the Mexico vs Sweden game. Cause Mexico fans are absolutely wild. But when I got there, slightly to my disappointment, it was the Germany Korea game.

 

 

And at that point I was like, fuck, its the Germans and you know that Germany at least reaches the semis before getting knocked, so for me the result was a foregone conclusion. ( But this wasn’t any world cup was it , this was RUSSIA) So I made a lot of mates during that game. Two mates from Finland, a mate from Belgium and a few English lads too. Guess what they all had in common? – They all wanted to see the Germans get he boot. So did I :p . ( Its true I was with the Germans in Brazil, and at one point I knew enough of the nation anthem to sing with the team, but when you lose Klose, Shweini, and Lahm, its not Germany anymore) and at half time when I went for a smoke, I saw this dude who looked so familiar. He had an England flag with the Arsenal insignia on it, my instinctive reaction was- “ What a wanker”

 

But I knew him. 

 

  • “ Mate, aren’t you the dude from Arsenal fan TV?” 

And he was like – “ bloody right I am fam”

It was troopz, mother fucking troopz. 

Incase you are not aware, every time Arsenal lose a game, Arsenal fan TV goes on a rant about the team, the manager, the ref and how Brexit made it easier for Bayern to trash Arsenal in the round of 16. Its like a script played out to perfection. So if you are not an Arsenal fan, its absolutely hilarious. And every morning, If arsenal had done an arsenal the previous night, first thing I see is Arsenal fan TV. Its like “ mans not hot” absurd, but it makes you feel good. So many fams and bluds. Its amazing. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJSkhd42NT4&t=6s

He even had a message for all gooners in India. 

Insaaaane.

 I met this Belgian dude who at that moment looked like was smoking a joint. But he told me it was rolled tobacco. He thought I was English and bought me a beer. What a lad. Kind of surprised when I told him I was Indian. When I am two pints down I tend to talk like a lad cause thats the first sign motor skills of my tongue is going :p . His dad was there too. By this time Sweden was leading 1 nil. And Korea was attacking with intent. And the German attack was lacking tooth. As of now Germany are going out cause if Sweden wins, they are in. Korea are playing for nothing but pride, but they are doing a great job at it, cause they really making the Germans sweat. Soon, Sweden scores again. Mexico score an own goal. Germany can expect no favours from Mexico now. They have to win or they are packing. The atmosphere in the fan zone becomes electric, from what looked like a routine win for Germany has turned into the Germans fighting for the very right to stay in the cup. Everyone, but the Germans were buzzing. Then the Koreans score, wait, was it offside, VAR is called in. German fans are on the edge, refs called it off, but technology can tell the truth. Replays are shown and German heads sink. He was onside. Football bloody hell. Korea are ahead.

 

 

Now its the dying moments. Germany send everyone forward. The English Lads have started to sing- “ Your going home, your going home, Germanys going home”. I’d so not want to be a German fan at that moment. Then Neuer, the keeper goes forward. A throw in to him and he makes a mess of it, the Korean defender squares it into an open net where the striker had it served on a platter for him. The 2 seconds it took for him to score, you could feel the German hearts being broken and the everyone else reveling in that exact feeling. It was insane. And goal. Germany are going home. The English fans didn’t try to contain their delight and started chanting. It was so savage. And I enjoyed every moment of it.

 

 

 

  A distraught German fan even gave me a German scarf, that thing is quite expensive. ( Sorry, I am giving it to my cuz)

 

I ran into the Kochi boys there. I say good bye to my Belgian friend. His name was Alex and I am on my way with the Machans.

They show me where the hotel is and we split. I go to the station to get my shit and they are moving to the hotel. Soon enough I was there and we call it a night. We had a few shots of vodka and caught up with things. It feels so long since I left Kochi. All these mates have moved along so much. We will talk about them tomorrow. 

Good night. And Auf Wiedersehen :p

 

DAY 14- ZERO DABS, DECATHLON RUSSIA AND JULES

After the whole Mariana episode, I get on my train to Moscow. I put down the cycle in the luggage compartment and I am comfortably sleeping for hours in the train. I had two moms and 3 kids for company. Every station the train stops, everyone goes out. You think the entire train is emptying itself, but then 200 cigarets are lit in unison to signal the coming of the nicotine spring. Then they all come back. Those mom’s even though they didn’t speak a word of English was genuinely concerned about my well being. They offered me water, food and even helped me get my linens and stuff. Russians are my favourite people in the world right now. Absolute babes they are.

Now, I was on the phone texting Julia. She was kind enough to let me stay in her place again. I would be coming at like 3 am in the morning and I said to her that I will chill in the station till the metro starts and then I will come down to her place. She was like, no, that is not right. I will come down to the station in a cab and pick you up. I said NOOOOOO. It would be too much trouble and  you have a meeting tomorrow. Please don’t let me fuck it up for you. But one thing about Julia. She is a determined bird. So if she wants something, ( like helping  this stupid guy) she would get it. I reluctantly obliged and then finally I went to like 13 hours sleep straight after that. I woke up, or more like got pocked by the conductor who, going against the trend, was a dude. So, I meet up with Julia, get on the cab and am soon at her apartment. I ask her to sleep ASAP as she needs to get up for work tomorrow. I told her I’d wake her up at 6 tomorrow. 

Which I did ( She said she wanted to kill me for that :p). Then I went back to sleep, woke up, did some cloths and then ate some stuff and was all ready for my penultimate group stage game.

FRANCE vs DENMARK at the LUZINIKI Stadium

But before that I had to make a stopover at the epicentre of the Decathlon operations in Russia.

 

 

 

 

I had to handover the keys to Julia and also get a pump for my cycle. Here Decathlon employees get a bus coupon that takes them to their place. Its insane. And finally I see the store. A behemoth  of a structure on the Northern outskirts of the city. Its huge, even bigger than Kalamaserry and it is more like a chill space than a sports store. There is this cafe like set-ups where people just come to chill or do work and inside, when you see  the range of products that are there. I was dumbfounded. There are a few brands for winter sports which I haven’t even heard of before. Its out of this world. It took some pictures of things which I thought was interesting and could be used in our store in Teynampet and send them to my coach. After that I met Julia and handed over the keys to her. I called up Andrei and he came up, he was genuinely happy to see me. He was such a muthwe( babe) and he showed me around the entire store. The place where the brand does it works and introduced me to the country leaders of hiking and trekking, my sports. I felt so much out of place. Cause if this was India, I wouldn’t even get a coffee cause thats how low on the hierarchy I am in the company. Here, I am give a personal tour on everything that goes all around. Before entering a room, I am like- “ Andrei, you sure I can come in here?” 

It was something else really. Then Andrei made me coffee and I even met an Indian dude there. Showreya, He worked in Delhi and then he came to Russia. ( Decathlon can take you places). After that I peaced out to the game.

I was really excited for this game. Before I followed my heart and decided to follow Argentina( Thank you Juds for that :p), I have been following France since the Euros. They have a hunger this time round after losing the final and I know they will be in the finals for sure. But first they would have to beat Denmark. 

So as usual, the metro journey to the Luzniki and again, the underdog fans turn the place upside down. I got into a compartment with drunk Danes all around and I am reveling in the chants and booze laden dance. The scenes reminded me of the Mexico game.

Outside the scenes were colourful. It was a lot of Danes and small pockets of French people. The Danes had got their shit together. They been chanting all the way and had crazy props and a balloon train that was almost a 100 feet.

 

 

Their birds were fit and their booze were a hit, even though their team was shit :p.

 

 

 

 

The French were also in the mood, a lot of Zizou shirts combined with a lot of Pogba united kits made me wanna fall into the side of Les Blues.

 

 

There were a few Napolean hats too. (Bout time he arrived in Moscow.)

 

I make my way into my seat and next to me was a lone Dane and a lot of Brazillians to my left. Then we wait for the kickoff. In terms of atmosphere this was the tamest so far, from my experience. If there are no Latin Americans, you cant get the party going. This was the best example of it.

 

 

 

Then came the heart break. When the lineup came out, you could see exactly what France was doing. They were resting the best players. Pogba, Mbappe, Lloris or Umtiti. France were group toppers and didn’t have any incentive to play to win. Same for the Danes. A draw would be enough to get through, so they also didn’t perform at their best. The game was the most boring of the tournament and I kind of regretted getting this fixture. But at least I saw Kasper Schmichel and Erickson live, proper premier league players. 

 

 

 

The game was so tame until Mbappe came on and then some life came into it. But overall it was a drab affair and from the 85th minute, fans collectively started booing both the teams for playing like twats. This is half my month’s salary for 90 minutes, at least fucking try to score. 

When this game ended, I walked out and found a big dude with an India flag. It was a dude from Bangalore and he made me chant Sachin Sachin. Which being a KBFC fan is something we are not proud of ( With all due respects to the great athlete that is Sachin Tendulkar) cause all our rivals give us the piss over that. Now there is two Indians singing “ Sachin Sachin” in the Moscow metro. I was like Saaa..yaah.  Then two more Gults  guys joined us and I proposed we sing “ Hum Honge Kamayab “ (Thank you Bhavans :p)cause at least it means something than repeating the name of a cricketer no one outside the 12 cricket playing countries would have heard of.  And so we did. ( 2026, mark the date boys, India is going to the World Cup )

 

Now it was getting late, I had to get to the airport before 1 to catch my flight to Kaliningrad. When there Is a deadline, time just goes on nitro and hours feel like a forgetful wank you have before bed. But I had to get something for Julia. She was one bird who actually enjoyed football. Every time we were there it was either the game or the highlights which was on the telly. So we gotta a proper footie girl here and she deserve something to do with the game. ( The last paragraph is a direct consequence of spending too much time with England fans) So I decided to get her a Russia scarf from the FIFA FAN STORE. It was the last one in stock and I was lucky to get that. Then I make my way back to her place. ( I had forgotten my credit card at Decathlon and lucky for me, Andrey found it and gave t to Julia, I am such an irresponsible bellend )Did the last bit of packing and had these delicious dumplings Julia made for me. ( She didn’t call it dumplings, but something else). I gave her the scarf and told her that I believed Russia could beat Spain and make it to the quarters. She didn’t. But I told her to hold it on for good luck. She realised that the thing I ate the most in her kitchen was the cashew nuts and she gave me the whole packet. She just knows doesn’t she. She is like a mom. She would be a great mom. She was flying off to France in early July and I don’t know if I would see her again, but I would love to just hang out.  We high fived goodbye and I made my way out. 

By now it was sometime around 9 30 and the last train to the airport was at 12. If I miss that I was fucked. I had to change two metros and most fucked up part was carrying the cycle all the way to the metro station, it was easily 1 km from the apartment and carrying the cycle on my shoulders with the clock running against it was too much of a risk. If I miss my fight I am capital FUCKED. I put up so much money into flying to Kaliningrad, which is not even in Russia. It is a small oblast of an island stuck between Poland and Belarus. I had to make a call. 

And making calls is something which I am good at. Decisions which can alter a lot of things which you planned and have repercussions in the future. (Like taking science after 10th :p, worstu decision ever). I can either struggle on with the cycle and increase the chances of missing my flight OR I can keep my cycle in Moscow and jeopardise the plans of going cycling with Amar in Murmansk. When the thought of jettisoning my cycle came across my mind, I was like, you son of a bitch, how can you even think like that. 1 minute later having dragged 17 kg on one shoulder, I decided it was time to make a hard call. I messaged Amar what I was doing, he wasn’t online then. I went with my gut and started assembling the cycle. I locked it into a fence inside Julia’s apartment complex. It was hard that, but sometimes desperate times takes desperate measures. 

Now, I can move again, I ran towards the stations and got back just in time to board the aero- express train to the airport. It was the last train and I got in just by the skin of my teeth.

(15 mins). At the airport I reached at 12 35. The flight was at 1 30. So I had to get my boarding and all sorted. Fuck all, I had to pay an extra 2k cause my luggage was over-weight. Fuck it. Do I have a choice. Then somehow, I got to my gate as it was boarding. A 10 minutes delay wold have made things go anal. Now I am on that flight to Kaliningrad. Middle seats. Fuck. 

I get these early morning, the cops search all my documents and I go to sleep in the airport. I had travelled one time zone to Kaliningrad. I was in the land of Kant. ( For people who don’t know, he’s a cunt) 

To be continued….

DAY 12 (II)- CAST AWAY WITH A BOTTLE OF VODKA

Man, I dont feel shit. This thing is so smooth compared to the thing we get back in Chennai. True Communist pacha ( green).

10 minutes later

Macha these mosquitos are out of jurassic park freake. Fuck Jesus, I can feel the wind in my bone marrow, I think the geopolitical situation in Syria is due to lack of free Wifi, I don’t deserved to be loved, Jeeva- call Sushma Swaraj, I love Russia, Is that a bear? I can feel  the urine all the way from my kidneys, will life have meaning after Russia?, I love you Amar, Should I call mom now?. 

As you can see, that thing got me tripping balls. 

Continued….

We walk down to the Pier and then there was Danny’s boat. The guys so lucky he’s got his own boat. Before that, we had stocked supplies for the night. Potatoes and Lays, Danny’s girlfriend ( a fit bird )translated all our questions for us. It was trivial, generic questions like, “ Will we die?” ,” How close is the nearest hospital?”, “ Do the snakes come inside the tent?”. You know, the stuff you read off a coffee table book. Once we got our reassurances that we are as further away from civilisation as we can be, with proper phone network. We decided to camp.

The ride on the boat was insane, cold winds blowing on us and I start shivering and then the Kizhi cathedral in all its glory passes us by and soon we are in the middle of the lake.

Titanic could be shot here as thats how big this lake is. Danny offers a smoke which we refuse cause if our hands come outside our pockets, we would get frostbite. And we finally see our island. Our own Russian piece of land in rural Russia which is going to be inhabited by two brown guys from the South of India. ( We should have hoisted that India flag there). It had a pier to dock boats and a run down shelter to camp during rains. Also the remains of a camp fire circle and, to give us some courage, a pole with all the emergency helpline numbers. ( In English). We set up camp on the pier cause at least if the snakes come, we will see them coming. 

Then Danny brings out this bottle, this makeup kit and takes two small particles of condensed particulate matter( charas) from it , and then puts that on a cigarette until it smokes up. Then he punctures the bottle using the cig and let the smoke build up until the bottle is filled with it, and then “ Boom Shiva, Har Har Mahadeva”. It actually felt a lot like tobacco smoke, but when it hits machane. U will realise how awesome it is. I send a lot of audio clips to my mate Jeevan during this time and he would tell you how rad things got. I send him our location and also asked him to call Susma Swaraj if something bad happens. I will try to attach some voice clips to this.( Second thoughts no, its too embarrassing)

 

THE STEPS TO NIRVANA ( Its not that steps are missing, I was just so wasted)

 

 

For the first time, I felt like I was living life. I was breathing in air ( non THC infused), at a place that no one could imagine, with a mate and our faith completely in our hands. No weight of the past, no anticipation of the future. Just living at the present. It is a feeling I very rarely get, but when it does happen, I wont forget it for life. It was amazing.

But the best part is yet to come, my motor skills were in question after the hit and somehow Amar guided me to edge of the pier and made me sit. Then the big daddy comes out. Amar was Smart enough to get a bottle of Vodka. Russian Vodka. It would be our first time affirming Russian stereotypes and getting fucking wasted. The last time I had a shot and a drink, I threw up from the 8th floor of a friends apartment. They said it looked like a work of modern art, the image which could be viewed from the top. And each of the balconies of the 7 doors below had something to wake up to in the morning. He got evicted and fined 10k the next day. ( I feel so depressed and feel like laughing at the same time). So I didn’t wanna drink too much and end up sick on a deserted island. So me and Amar ended up drinking till sundown( Which is 0000 hours). We were watching a Mexico game I think, I honestly don’t remember. Amar went to bed and the mosquitoes forced me to make a undignified retreat into the tent. Then I slumbered off,

I remember being awakened by Amar when it started raining. Drunk Amar had this idea that we should go for a swim. I was like, Macha. You are the sensible one amongst us, don’t scare me. And then we woke up the next day. Multiple times, I remember video calling Rajjapan, my coach at Decathlon and then Amma and you know what the best part was. Danny wasn’t pickup up his calls. I tried calling him a few times and he didn’t pickup. There was the lingering thought in the back of my mind that we were fucked. But I didn’t tell Amar cause I didn’t want to worry him. But he came back. When we heard the sound of that Yamaha motor from inside the tent,  “ Moonlight Sonata” wouldn’t have been that melodic. It was insane. And we packed up, and shifted to the boat. We were wearing our sleeping bags on us for the boat trip. The cold wind would have fucked us up otherwise. 

And when we landed, guess who was the first person we met. 

Tamara. And I am not making this up, but these were her exact words -“ Oh, you are alive?”.

Loosu Koodhi, ( Crazy cunt) was our instinctive reaction, but we are forgetting that this women’s type of sarcasm was our teachers type. So we said fake thank you and got back on the hydrofoil back home. ( Had the worst soup of my life on the way )

It was the most insane experience of my life.

DAY 12 (I)- MISSING THE FERRY

When we stepped out of that train, it was almost the entire police department were there to greet us. So actually there were these two guys who were not in uniform who asked us something. I said nyet( No) thinking it is some sort of porter or something. 5 seconds later, like 5 guys in uniform surrounded us with kalashnikovs and then we sorta got the gist of what was happening. 

“Passport”

“Fan id”

“Ticket”

“return ticket”

“Adhaar card” ( ok maybe not that)

They fucking made sure we had all the docs that are needed. I was expecting a strip search next, but they let us off when we told we are going to Kizhi islands. It was really impressive that they knew exactly in which compartment we were even before the train stopped.( The secret police works good here). We get our cycles and now we are in PETROZAVODSK. ( Or something close to that.)

We go out to eat something, but that is when I see something on a magazine shop. No, no way.
But it was, I been searching for you for more than 10 years, and I finally found you, in Petro? The small Russian town near the Artic circle. But I finally found you. Shit just 130 rubbles, you are coming home with me.  ( I am getting ideas on how to decorate my room next semester)

Petro has this beautiful river flowing through it. Its almost like a wallpaper. ( No I int kidding you, you can use it as a windows wallpaper).

So if you cycle straight from the railway station. You will reach the river. Then you can see a wilderness on the other side, like vast untouched lands where bears and yetis run wild. It was the most beautiful natural scene I had scene so far. It was just far enough from civilisation where you would see this iconic image and also a sex shop 1 KM down the road. So we cycle down the road with the river next to us until we find the pier with the ferry to Kizhi Islands. We go in and find out our over spending spree is not over yet. The ferry service costs like 3k both ways. It was insane, but since we had come all the way down here for this, we had to pay up. And when we got in  the ferry, it was fast, unusually fast. I almost started thinking how it is possible for a boat to go so fast. ( I would soon realise that it was a legit question). 

This was not our ferry.

So as with any mode of transportation which doesn’t involve peddling or pushing with my feet. I fell asleep. Fast.

And Amar was on the deck of the boat watching everything. Like fucking everything. So when we reached kizhi, he came back and I went out. 

 

KIZHI- (Poyi)

Let me tell something about Kizhi. It is literally an island which is a museum. So there was this medieval church from the 16th century there. Which looks like nothing I have ever seen before. So they decided to move a lot of old buildings and structures from the same era to this island and charge 500 rubles for an entry. Smart. So we had other plans in mind. We were carrying our tents. We wanted to set up camp here and spend the night in Kizhi islands. ( We bought tents and sleeping bags from India, I know, crazy) and when we put this proposition to Tamara, she was like “ I am sorry, but this is a museum, we do not allow outsiders to stay here.” 

 

So let me tell you about Tamara. She is the Russian women in the ticketing office who speaks great English. She looks a lot like granny from the Looney Toon show and she is a very sarcastic( I dont know if she realises that or not), but also sweet and kind and the way she talks reminds you of your English teacher who explains things so sweetly but leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. Like, “ Yadu, if you play Fifa and not study, it might be fun, but you wont get a job and no one will love you” ( In a tone which is supposed to make you feel better) Same way Tamara said – “ There are a lot of snakes here, they might be small, but are very venomous.” 

OK, that was one way to say it. 

So since she told we cant be illegal immigrants in an island with a population of 40, we decided we would go back on the last boat.We showed her the time table and she said yes, come back 30 minutes early, the last boat is at 1900. ( I WANT YOU TO MARK THIS)

So, we start exploring. It is exactly has she had said it was. It was a museum which was an island. You would find a lot of middle age structures from windmills to barns to houses and at the centre was the grand attraction. This cathedral which looked like a castle. It was somewhat depressing, but beautiful. Like those gothic chicks who wear all black with black lipstick. It had a charm, but something drawing it towards the dark side of the force.

 

 

When we went in, I saw Jesus. ( No really, I saw Jesus) and heard the most Melodic music I have ever heard in my life. It was the priest and the choir ( They are not catholic, guys, so no worries) chanting. And the wooden floor and the walls resonated this sound so much, the base voice could be heard camping inside my ear. It was so beautiful. I am defo listening to this after I get lifted to a higher altitude. 

This is sort of what it sounded like, but much better when you listen live.

I video called my mates back home. They were having biryani together man. Oh how I fucking miss Biryani. The things I would do to get my hands on a biryani. ( The first place I am going from the airport is to that Tattukada in Edappali and gone start of with the traditional beef deep fry and porotta and then a biryani to take home and fucking treat myself)

So we spend the entire afternoon exploring the island. And found this small mart where we sat down for a beer and Mars ( Trust me machane, its a great combo). Then we were joined by the people who everyone warned us about. Drunk Russian dudes.  I could smell  the vodka from a mile away and then one dude came near me and then began this conversation in google translate where he threatened us for insulting him ( It was totally googles fault), sort of racially abused us( in a funny way, no offence) and named a Bollywood movie that even I haven’t heard of ( Sita, Gita or something like that). The conversation ended by us buying him a beer( More out of fear for our safety than anything else) and us bonding over our love of Manchester United. His name was Sergei. 

Now we are back on our feet towards the pier to board the boat.( Which we realised was a hydrofoil, we saw it fly away while we were on the island.) Tamara comes rushing out. – “ You are late” .Gommale, exactly like all my teachers who made me stand outside the class for being late. Exact same vibes. ( I am pretty sure she was a teacher at some point). I am like, no we are 30 minutes early. Then she said the last boat left like 30 minutes earlier and she made it sound somehow like it was our fault that she misinformed us about the time. 

Shogam. 

DANNY THE SOLUTION (SOLUCHAN)

So now what, we are stranded on an island where we are not allowed to stay. So Tamara proposes an alternative. She said there is a boy here who will take you to a deserted island where we can pitch the tent and spend the night. We were like- “ This is karmic justice bitch, we got what we asked for and now you look like a little punk”.

Then she said we would have to pay 1500 rubbles and we were like, 

shit.

 

But there comes a time in a guys life where the money is a factor, but not THE factor. ( It doesn’t mean you should spend 10,000 at a strip club which is just 10 minutes from your hostel, but you cant go, not due to morals but due to lack money. ( IF ANY BENEFACTOR WANTS TO SEND 10 K SO THAT I CAN GO TO A STRIP CLUB AND WRITE ABOUT IT, YOU MY FRIEND WOULD BE DOING THE WORLD A FAVOUR) 

So, we decided to go ahead with it. Then she called Danny. I know an Otha( fucker) when I see one. So when I saw Danny I realised this was a dude on the same wavelength as us. His English wasn’t too great, but we got the message across. He asked, “ You do Mariyajuana”, he said it the same way you would expect your Mallu mate from South Trivandrum to say it. We were like – “ da”.

And that is when I knew it was going to be a night to remember and also a night I have to be careful writing about due to legal reasons. But fuck that shit, 

Kids let me tell you a story you would have wished you lived through.

TO BE CONTINUED 

DAY 11 – NEYMAR’S RAINBOW

Saint Petersburg


Kick off – 1500 MST

Current time – 1340 MST

Location – Saint Petersburg railway station

Situation -fucked

We were so much  in regret over missing that train. We would have had enough time to chill, we could have had a few drinks before the game and most important of all, we wouldn’t have had to pay over the limit for something which we already had. Fuck. 

We were a little bit tensed as the train came to a halt, we had to deal with a lot of shit and of that the biggest pain are our cycles. While on the saddle, its an absolute pleasure, but when we are transporting the cycles on our shoulders, our efficiency is reduced by some 10 times. Its fucked, I am pretty sure my right collar bone will need an x-ray by the end of July.

Russian Train tip

In Russian trains if you were to carry around something big and a pain in the ass like, lets say a cycle, there is a way to keep it in a separate luggage compartment. All you gotta do is go get a Dakk( ticket) for the luggage. It is based on the distance how its is going to be charged. Once you convince them that it is what you want using google translate, then the ticket will tell which wagon you should keep the stuff. Find it, give it to the pretty lady conductor and then have some peace of mind till the journey is done. We didn’t know this at first and they ripped us off by 10x what it would have costs.

So while we took it out of the baggage cabin, for some sacred reason a guy with a big ass trolley arrives. Praise Jesus, we might just not miss the game. The guy said over the top money, again, but did we have a choice. This is what I am talking about, if they sense you are in a rush and desperate. The will ask you to spread your legs, period. So we finally get some wheels on the stallions and are in locomotion towards the cloakroom. This is where we ended spending even more to keep all the shit while we went to watch the game. Again wasting money cause we missed that fucking train by 5 minutes. Sometimes I wish the punctuality of Russian train were like India where you could get away with a 5 minute delay. But fuck man, these guys down to the wire when it comes to time. Like literally every second counts.

Then we jump into the metro. This one looks older than Moscow’s. And finally we are on our way to Zenith’s stadium. Every Russian I know has told me St Petes is more beautiful than Moscow. And Moscow was literally the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life, so St Petes has a lot riding on it. But, I would literally have only hours to spend in St Petes. Hours, which is sad. Our next train was that night. But putting those negative thoughts behind us, we decide to get out at the station next to the stadium. Macha, This stadium was literally a fucking spaceship. I mean a fucking spaceship. It was out of this world.

Imagine this scene, there is this gigantic futuristic bridge on top of you going from one end of the river to the next, the sea is washing in foam at one end, there are 3 huge cruise ships towards the west of it and there is a hydrofoil ripping through the water at 70 kmph and then the freezing winds from the gulf of Finland blows salty moisture that you can taste at the tip of your tongue.

This was exactly the scene when I stepped out of that stadium. Forget the fact that there were so many fans chanting. For the first time, the football got drowned in just how much awesome St Petes is. ( I still haven’t explored St Petes yet, sad) So we are running towards our pavilion. There are Brazil and Panama supporters in equal numbers. Its insane. Then as always you will find Mexicans who are just everywhere. Amar is impatient, this is his first and only game, he doesn’t want to miss a moment of it. He has been preparing for this for a while. Reading stats, watching old highlights, trying to learn all the lineups and identify players by sight, he was putting insane effort to feel like part of the Yellow and Green. And when we finally cleared security and went in, we were right on time to watch kickoff. I don quite remember, but it was Coutino who kicked it off.

Yes, we made it. We fucking made it, It might have cost a lot to get to this game, but it was worth it. I am watching Jesus, ( No, not the hairy one) Neymar, Silva and for me the best player on the pitch, Marcelo. Absolute privilege. Grateful is an understatement.

 

 

 

We were sitting between two hot zones. Two hot Costa Rica chicks to my right and 1 slightly milfy Brazil fan towards my left. The Costa girls were getting it on. They were the loudest in that row. Respects. Both teams created a host of chances. But couldn’t convert. Rica’s defending was really good. (Something all small teams seem to be doing really well of late.) first half ends on a frustrating note for Brazil. They should have put one in. Neymar looked a lot like how my friend Surya from back home looked while he played. Minus the spaghetti hair. Second half Brazil were choking Rica. The Rican girls didn’t budge, they got louder than ever. The milf Brazilian started abusing in Portuguese.

Girls, piece of advice, a man will love you if you abuse the Refs mom in the most prolific way as possible. Its like rubbing the ear lobe, triggers a switch, its crazy. Then in the 89th minute it happened. We all knew it was coming but Rica’s wall collapsed, and a flood of Brazilian jubilation send the small meso- American nation into shellshock. They were playing so well, they had contained Neymar and then this happened. ( A moment of magic as Neymar beat a defender using a rainbow near the corner flag, this is exactly what you pay to see) P. Countino taps one in. Then 3 minutes later as Panama commit all their midfielders forward, a devastating counter attack made sure that the island nation would be flooded with tears. ( I am sure they are gonna charge more toll for all Brazillian ships from now on). And when the whistle went, it was a yellow frenzy. Neymar started crying. And the two Panama girls were holding back tears. We took a pic with the milf and we told the Panama girls that they were amazing and that Panama deserved more.( Which was true.)

So we leave the Zenith stadium. I will see you for the Semi finals my friend. We need to get to know each other more. Again it was a race against time. We needed to get back before 6, otherwise the clock room guy will fuck us up and ask for more money. Shogams. And we get back to St Petes railway station and get our shit in time. Now having learned lessons from the previous train debacle, we decided to take tickets for our cycles early. So we met this jovial young girl who was working as a volunteer. I didn’t catch her real name, but part of her name is Svet, so I call her Svet( No wonder she didn’t reply on Instagram, when you look at in retrospect). She wanted to be a politician and wanted to change the perception that Russia is a dangerous country and it is not paradise on earth that it is. Crush triggered. There is nothing more attractive than a strong independent women on a mission. ( Also her bikini pics on Insta helped). Svet helped get out tickets, then we had a lot of time to kill. So I started working on the Mac using the Wifi RZD( Russian railways ) were generous enough to provide. It was fun, and finally one smoke later and we were on our train. Our cycles safely stowed away and with a peace of mind that everything would be chill. 

NEXT STOP PETROZAVODSK

We were sharing the cabin with a dude who could speak good English, it was fun learning about the things we were going to see. But even Russian think we are crazy since we are going to Murmansk. Should we be worried?


 

DAY 10 – NO EXTRA TIME FOR A TRAIN

We woke up late, I don’t know how late, but Julia was gone. We were just chatting with Toniya and preparing to leave. The train was at 13 50. Ideally enough time to get there. But, and thats a big but, our cycles were still at Andrey’s. So we had to go back to Andrey’s, get the cycles, pack em up and then leave for the station. It was a race against time. And remember the part about the apartment complex being so big, yah. That sorta fucked us, but we were saved by Morat, your friendly Kazan-Russian who helps strangers carrying Google translate( But on a serious note, these people love helping out strangers)

 

 

By this time, we had learned to read enough Russian to atleast know which platform the metro was going to come. So we saved some time and was able to reach Andrey’s and get our cycles. We took it to Novey Cheremunshki and dismantled it. Now we can dismantle it in 5 minutes flat, guess we gotten used to it. Now things were getting tense. We had to change stations and we were carrying this big bag, not so much fun, but fuck it, we had to get there somehow. So we carry it, get one train mixed up ( Guess our Russian is not as good as we thought it was.) Then finally it was 3 minutes to 13 50 and at that point we sort of gave up on it. Breaking our collar bones on a train which we are sure to miss isn’t worth it. Fuck.

Now things were going to go on a different trajectory. We had to get to St Petes cause we have a game tomorrow. It is Amar’s only game, he defo has to get there. This is a perfect chance for me to explain just how awesome the organisation for the world cup has been. Trust me, there is something everyone of us can learn from these young Russians.

So, we keep dragging our stuff and we ask a volunteer, “ We missed our train, we need to book new tickets for a train to St Petes and what should we do.” He told us the way to go to the ticket office. Then he offered help in the form of a man who could possible be as old as my grandad. He was also a volunteer( The volunteer program for the world cup didn’t have an age cap, and even differently abled people had a role to play in some verticals). He told us that the octogenarian would help us out. Usually, asking a guy who is that old to help us out is something which we wouldn’t do, but right now, the situation was against us, so we accepted. He walked us through the gates until he found an English speaking volunteer for us. And when I was talking to her explaining what the situation was, he was no where to be seen. Yadu you piece of shit, you didn’t even thank that old man. ( If you are reading this my friend, I would like to say, its people like you who leave us in awe of what a beautiful country you have and the beautiful, kind people that live in it, it was a privilege meeting you and your actions wont be forgotten and would inspire a lot of other people.)

Then, we ended up overpaying for tickets to St Petes and turned the station indian style by dumping all our luggage in one place and then sitting on the ground in front of it. We were joined be people from all across the world in that endeavour. I opened up the laptop and started to watch the France game. Soon, I was joined by 3 Nigerians( is showed them Sudani from Nigeria trailer- they weren’t Impressed), 5 Moroccons and a couple of Russians. It was like an impromptu match screening where everyone was enjoying a game of football. True world cup vibes.

Then it was evening, time for my La Albiceleste  to put away the disappointment of drawing with Iceland and win something. For Messi to show the world why he is the best and for me to finally feel vindicated for supporting Argentina over France. ( Heart over brains) 

 

 

 

2 hours and 3 beers later.

Amar- “ Yadu, dont cry,”

I have to give it to Croatia. What a performance. And Argentina, myre

Our next train was at 3 something in the morning, we go in with the cycles and that is when we learn that there is a specific compartment to keep all the oversized baggages. Bullocks, so we take it there and they want at ticket for it. A ticket? Fuck. When we asked the people in the railway station they said it was chill, now what? 

So we ended up paying well over the counter money for it. When we get back we realised we payed 10x what the real rate was. Corruption runs across all lines. But the train was fine, until I took my feet out of the shoes. Then we went to sleep hoping we would have enough time to get to the game cause the train only reaches St Petes like 1 hour 30 minutes before kickoff. 

Lesson for the day-

In Russia, there is no extra time for a train.