Moscow Metro is an interesting institution. I call it an institution because like Mumbai local trains, Moscow metro too is a social phenomenon on its own. And unlike any other metropolis, Moscow Metro stations aren't just train stops. They are monuments built four storeys underground, lined with carved marble, bronze statues, granite motifs and mosaic murals! The metro stations in the Center are tributes to the superior accomplishments of another era, of the triumph of egalitarianism (since deceased) over a class-divided society.
Most of the metro stops in the center were built during the Stalin era and the best of the artisans of that time worked on the interiors. The result is a collection of tasteful, self-pampering excesses of the early Soviet exuberance. The metro stations are such a treat to the eye that enterprising tour guides organize Metro Sightseeing to the kodak-happy tourists and carry them through the legends embedded in those metal and stone edifices.
Moscow Metro also offers several interesting tales to the romaticist! Of racist attacks on defenceless foreigners, day-light robberies under the very nose of the disinterested Law, and public encounters of passion between lovers travelling in opposite direction. Someone told me a tale of a cheating husband making a rendezvous with his lover in a metro station far away from his house. While he was kissing and embracing his paramour, he turned his head to find his wife on the other side of the platform in the arms of another man at that very moment! Such is the size of this world, that in a city of fourteen million people and 193 metro stations, the chances of finding your cheating husband on the same platform when you are kissing your lover are.... um, pretty high, I must say!
When I came to this city, I was warned to stay off the Metro. "It's a rat hole built by these guys and God knows what happens down there!", exclaimed a concerned colleague, a foreigner himself, who travelled by metro only once in his life in extraneous circumstances, but not before he found the company of an ex-boxer friend! But I embraced the Metro soon because of the convenience, the low cost and above all, the fascination with the dark goings-on (and some of the urban legends.
The most interesting journey I made by Metro was in a Fairy Tale train running on the Koltso (Circle) Line. It is a train whose interiors were covered with coloured crape paper displaying brief extracts from a delightful collection of children's tales - of both Russian and Western origin. The tales spoke to me in a tone of voice that I only have distant memories of. Fascinating enough to draw my attention away from the shapely legs in stiletto boots sticking out of a shimmering silk mini skirt. I was so fascinated with the train that I travelled in everyone of its coaches until I read the last of the tales , 99% of which were beyond my comprehension because it was all written in Russian, a language I can only read but not understand much!
"Yemelya, Yemelya, shto tyi lezhesh pyechee? Paidyem k czaru!" say the villagers (Yemelya, Yemelya , what are you lazing on the stove for? Go to the Czar!)
"Aaa! I can't go. I wan't to sleep...." says the lazy boy Yemelya, sleeping on the top of the warm earth-oven.
"The Czar will give you a nice coat. And a nice hat and a nice scarf." say the villagers trying to shake him off his laziness!
"Uhhh! I'm warm enough on the stove here. I don't want any of those things......" says Yemelya again!
Hmm... I could connect with this boy's character a lot! I made an effort to pull myself away from the train and tried to remember the first story I read about the lazy Yemelya when I was a kid. Those were the last few years when children in India were growing up with the pretty, illustrated Russian tales as a part of their childhood reading. The cultural exchange was dying out in the 80's after warm relations for decades. And the left out stock was being sold on streets and shipped to nondescript book shops in smaller towns. Ofcourse the TV was rapidly taking over the young one's imagination, so the political fallout wasn't probably the only reason for the decline of Russian cultural influence on India.
The train brought back pleasant memories of an imagination-filled childhood! And I wondered if any racist attacks take place in this train. Would the hate-filled mind of a neo-nazi relent even for a moment remembering the innocence of his own past? Well, may be not. It would be stupidity to think that everyone had a nice childhood plastered in rose coloured wall paper! Nevertheless, Moscow Metro makes an attempt to change a few things in life, relentlessly chugging along the coloured lines on a map, pregnant with milllions of sullen faced children for whom the train's womb is but a mere means to another end. And a train stopped one of them today from getting away from it when his destination came, but to linger around for a moment longer to make a journey to a place not marked on the map!