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Russia Tour Diary: Love brings India and Russia together

Zukhra Khasanov with her husband Ravil in Samara

Moscow, July 6: Finding people who speak English is a tough task – even the conductors (travelling ticket examiners) in the Russian Railways system RZD do not speak any word of the language. So when a woman muttered “it’s 42 degree Celsius like India” as the train halted briefly in Zvezda, a small quaint town west of Samara, you feel compelled to see who it is.

A Russian woman was looking towards me and smiling, tapping on the glass window to the weatherboard mounted on the station’s arch. Her knowledge of English was a welcome change to the Russian woman who was continuously gossiping with her co-passengers in our cabin.

Zukhra Khasanova, a 63-year-old journalist from Samara, took a break from her job to serve as volunteer in the FIFA Fan Fest of Samara. But her proficiency in English is not because of her job as a volunteer or writer – it’s got a lot to do with India and the state of Kerala.

“I have an Indian son-in-law,” Khasanova said as the train made progress to Moscow. “His name is Siddhu Warrier and he’s from Trivandrum.” Khasanova’s connect with the country is because of her daughter Galiya, who fell in love with Warrier during her study in a German university. Both married in 2009 in India and have a daughter Maya, aged four. They live in London.

While it’s unfair to expect Khasanova to say Thiruvananthapuram when many Indians themselves struggle to say it, the sexagenarian definitely knows what it is like in the Kerala capital. “Always hot there. It’s difficult for us Russians. But we loved your hospitality when we went for the wedding and since then, we make at least one trip to Goa in a year.”

The Indian wedding and the hospitality for guests surprised Khasanova and it’s because of that experience that she was overjoyed to see a couple of Indians in the train. “Wow the Indian food is so spicy and the food at the wedding with the banana leaf tasted so good! It’s quite different from Russian weddings because there is no meat or alcohol involved. Here, we drink wine and dance all night but we were strictly told not to drink and had to even hide our beer on a plastic cover in the beach. Haha, it was quite the experience and that’s why I feel Maya, my granddaughter, is the product of the two best cultures in the world.”

Maya (left), Zukhras granddaughter, plays cricket with father Siddhu Warrier

But the Indian connect doesn’t end there. “My grandson (son’s child) had travelled to India for the wedding. The immigration officials asked him for his name and he said 'my name is Aamir Khan’. The Bengaluru airport suddenly sprang up and everyone was looking around for Aamir Khan, your Bollywood actor. Yes, yes, I do know he’s a famous actor and that’s why my son Azat named his kid after him.”

Just then, the talkative Russian woman peeked into Khasanova’s cabin and sought to know whether I was travelling the country for the FIFA World Cup. Khasanova nodded and rattled on in Russian before turning towards me and saying, “she says the World Cup is a time of joy for Russia and we’re happy that you are in our country.”

But Khasanova’s face turned pale when asked what life will be like once the tournament concludes on July 15. “It will be sad,” she said. “Since June 14 (the start of the World Cup), the whole of Russia has been in a holiday mood. The state of normal citizens in Russia is not that good. My husband (Ravil Khasanov) is a Major in the Russian Air Force and everyone thinks that military men earn in millions like in India. But the truth is that we just have a normal apartment and a common car. We’re not rich.”

Like most people in Russia, Khasanova knows to appreciate the small things and to live in the moment. The smile returned as she spoke about her job and how the World Cup has helped Russia forget its problems.

“We, like everyone else, struggle to make ends meet and the World Cup helped us forget all our problems. We danced and celebrated the sport of football with the rest of the world. The FIFA Fan Fest, in Samara especially, is the biggest one in Russia. I guided people through and took many photos with fans from Mexico, Colombia and other countries. I love helping people out and that’s why I took a break from work and chose to become a volunteer.”

“The World Cup gave many, many Russians good jobs but it’s all temporary. It will get over in a few days and we’ll go back to our problems. I don’t want to think about it now.”

And as she said that, the train proceeded to the Ruzayevka station, where the time zone would change from Samara (one and a half hours behind India) to Moscow time (two and a half hours before India). It was indicative of the change that Russia would have to make once the FIFA World Cup ends. For now though, life’s a party, even in a train.

( correspondent Aravind S is in Russia, covering the event though from a typical fan's perspective).

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    Story first published: Friday, July 6, 2018, 22:26 [IST]
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