When time is at premium instead of wandering around looking for special things, it is much easier to grab something at KFC, which is what we did. In the meantime, those of the vegetarian tribe had wandered off in a different direction, in search of stuff to suit their palate.
At the KFC outlet, very close to the Kremlin, we had to resort to mime to make ourselves understood. You see, the average Russian does not know any English. Not even at the airport shops do you find anyone speaking English. All the signboards everywhere in the city are in Russian, except duh KFC, McDonald’s and a couple of others plus the signboards at the airport, of course. What a vast difference from India where you find signboards in both the local language and English (and also Hindi, the non-rashtra bhasha which the right-wingers are trying to shove down the throat of non-Hindi speaking states). I guess when the English (the people) have not laid their covetous eyes on a country, there is no reason for English (the language) to enter there and make a case for itself.
Thankfully, the menu was in English, with pictures too. You could point to what you wanted, holding up your fingers to show how many of them you needed. The service personnel would then spit out Russian at you at the speed of a bullet train, and you’d nod and dribble in your Indian accented English back at them, each hoping the other has understood. When the bill is handed over, you heave a sigh of relief. Wonder of wonders, you both have indeed understood each other perfectly well.
As I took my tray and sat down to eat, they came, The Birds. Apparently, word had spread, that the bird lady from down south had come to their part of the world. Probably the starlings were the chosen emissaries. They boldly flew down to sit at my table, more like on the table. The sparrows badly wanted to, but they, being way down in the pecking order, only made short forays to the table, flying away quickly on seeing the more important starlings. The fearless starlings ate what I proffered, almost right off my hand too.
A pigeon was watching proceedings keenly and decided it wanted in too. May be they had refused the pigeons the emissary role. But it had decided ‘Hum kisise kam nahi!‘ (I’m not inferior to anyone!). It flew down and perched on the chair back. The starlings seemed jittery at the arrival of the bigger bird. Looks like size is the bugaboo in the bird world, the littler ones always scattering in alarm when they see a larger bird. There was a hooded crow surveying things, but it did not deign to come closer. Or perhaps it wasn’t hungry at all, having stuffed itself full already.
Believe it or not, when lunch was done (and the vegetarians finally reached the agreed meeting point) one of us went missing! We waited and we waited. Some of the group members soon started grumbling, insisting we move on. Latecomers had been warned enough already. So, yeah the decision was made to let the missing person find his way back to the hotel on his own and we walked down the steps and towards our next destination. The Kremlin!
© Shail Mohan 2019