We travel, and sometimes we travel to far and beyond. Life and work brought me and family to a city in North Russia closer to a place where Russians believe is "dom d’et marose" or house of Santa Claus. And even closer to someplace an erstwhile czar was sent, when ‘banished to the north’.

Not all travel is to one of the 10 cities in the highest latitude of Earth. As I crossed the many miles away from homeland India, it was also a journey within.

The journey within;…….. I never realized that until the transportation finished. It took 4 flights and 48 hours in the age of jet and supersonics. The point of the journey within,…… is something that dawned much later, much much after we set up home and started the everyday. There was a certain charm to the magnanimity of the experience. This travel is credited to the friendship between nations. So what part do I play, I thought?

… the answer was simple.. Being ME. I represent just that ME (Ya if you want to say it in Russian) and this memoir is erudition ce severa- learnings at North. I am an intellectual, “specialist po financiam” by education and Mom.

My first experiences revolve around buying food for the family. I have to share, it is an experience that gets down to simple laws of nature,….. The law of nature where “ mother feeds the young”. It is what all mothers are wired to do! Feed the family! That meant venturing out on my own, and starting to make sense of things around!

To stand outside, home and look around, this was a place which had a forest on one side, I could see soft water waves if I peered through the trees, there were a lake nearby and buildings. You could walk on the lake for part of the year. For some reason, the outside also felt like inside and it took a while to agree this was a city like any other. The city often does not show up on Google!

A city NOT very full of signage. My first impression of the signage and doors….. and that is an experience to date is;……

`‘it looks like a door with signage on top,

I have to guess if it is a shop or not,

just walk into the door below, I cannot say,

Since people don’t understand, the cat just may’.

Doors under the signage on long long concrete blocks. …….

When curiosity took over me and my partner in the curious quest, we would open the door, and get greeted by … MMMM…. well let’s just call them interesting responses … And we leave it at that.

The responses will make a whole new story.

Unfamiliar and quiet……… Quiet not only because there were fewer cars compared to the homeland. Also because anything written or spoken was just a form of art, words were sounds and written text were, shapes. Deciphering the art is a path that I continue to tread upon.

A very pretty little city spoke only Russian, Life started on a clean slate.. Oops, actually whiteboard, only that the white was a few feet of snow! It was time to start making; home away beautifully.

Very Soon the word ‘pradukti’ became familiar and that door under the signage when it said pradukti was a more confident swing open… Actually not so swing open.. The last time dealt with a door that strong was of the vault, in a bank I worked at.

Behind the doors, the first erudition or learning was that there is an innate relationship between food and mobile phone! Until now phones were things that connected people and the smarter ones disconnected people. One of my first doubts was if I had picked food that was for pets. It was the translator on the phone that came to rescue and thus the connection. Shopping me and phone grew an intimate bond and the battery life of the phone was as important as taking the wallet. Going to pradukti first few times alone felt like going on an adventure. The second learning was that we as humans learn and adapt really fast. Within a few visits to the pradukti, and shopping in general, graduated from pure guesswork to exuberance of having got it right.. …..Yeaaa!!

All is good till it was pick and pay. The next adventure was trying to explain. A bigger adventure was understanding. With no knowledge of what is being said or how to say … there should be a book written on interactions when language does not offer common ground.

A funnier one would be about incorrect understandings when language is not common ground. l have some rib-tickling hilarious experiences of endeavours with trying to say and trying to understand.

A sixth sense developed with time. Some words started to make sense, what was being said in total started becoming understandable. Erudition se severa, we can survive and do well speaking very little.

Language is a fantastic common ground. Not the only common ground

A different common ground is body language. I would want to tell my B school friends that we did not learn enough about it. Erudition se severa A big learning at servernia has been that nothing transcends all odds like the human connection and animated by body language.

There is a natural attachment to a language you understand, and immense affection towards people who speak a language you know. When I saw more English signboards than what I saw 2 years ago I have mixed feelings. Maybe a feeling that will resonate with some of us here.

That also introduces how similar we are.

In this very quiet place, the everyday narrative switched to one of seeking. Seeking and exploring the north with what it could offer regarding my dreams and wishes. The fact that you could read nothing and thus immune from what many criticize is the onslaught of marketing. It became a conscious effort to seek. A daily every day which is otherwise full of influences, advertising, people talking and telling, and the effort of being heard.

The advantage was that you never fell to the scoffed monster of commercialization. With almost nothing written or spoken made sense, your inner calling was a lot easier to hear. Then crept in inclination to what is a personal preference.

Mine is food, amongst others. Did I mention; I am a vegetarian. So food that I could not find, Bez Meyasa bez riba, bez kuritza became literally an anthem. It is not often that I find beaz meyasa beaz kuritza , beaz riba beaz peachee, .. vegetarian but had to add beaz ukrop to my list of beaz! On some days beaz sladki .. and bez yetso… Bez in Russian means “with-out” My quest got us more interesting reactions I can now tell you which restaurants serve the best quality food, I have eaten, pretty much the same dishes at many restaurants.

When I was first introduced about this place it was a classical definition of what was spoken about in fairy tales of far and beyond. I was going to a place 4 flights, then a journey by road and will live on an island. The mental picture was ‘ where in the world is this place !!” I now can say for certain that fairy tales are just that. They are stories. This place was warm and most importantly patient. It was patient to a foreigner as she tried to figure out how to make that daily everyday comfortable for herself and her family. It is what so many of us here do every day. To see the kids chase pigeons and feed the ducks is something that will make us smile no matter where in the world you go.

This and so many such similarities in each one of us that dissolve the distances between homelands. So to me, this place is not far from home. It is a place that taught me more about myself and a little bit about Russian. The Russian language, its art forms, its weather. What I will take back in memory is patience and respect.

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