Labours of a festive Orthodox Easter day
It’s Easter Sunday here in Russia. I am a little melancholic and ruminative, contrary to the general mood of euphoria that is sweeping across the country. May 1 is celebrated as the day of spring and labour in a big way. Will the date coinciding this year with the Orthodox Easter, it is an even bigger festival. I am a little melancholic because of the realization that I am away from home when everyone around me is celebrating with family. The absence of your presence is so palpable.
It is common in Russia for people, even for me, not withstanding my Indian blood, to look out of the window when one wakes up and, on days like today exclaim, “Kokoi chudesny din!” What a lovely day! Yes, the Russian word for day is the same as Hindi.
Russian belongs to the same language group as Sanskrit and there are quite a few common words. I will get around to writing to you about it one of these days. But for now, let me not digress.
What a lovely day it is today! We learn to value the gifts of God like sunshine when we have less of it. Abundance makes us unappreciative, just as we are unappreciative of sunshine. It is spring here but not every spring day has been bright this year. Some days are damp, cold and windy. So,looking out of the window first thing in the morning, one can’t help but exclaim at the soft morning sunlight that bathes the tree tops.
Yesterday morning, we painted eggs and created little masterpieces of our own which, ideally, one is supposed to take to church for blessing. Then you gifts eggs to friends and dear ones who gift you an egg from their own kitty. Children hold egg battles by striking their egg against their friend’s egg. Whosoever’s egg ‘wins,’ by not cracking, confiscates the opponent’s egg. And the game goes on until there is one winning egg. Then everyone sits happily at the festive table and proceeds to eat the eggs and a special sweet raisin bread called “kulich”.
My friend Tanya asked me where I had found stickers of ancient cities for my Easter eggs, not realizing that they were hand painted. So, I am quite satisfied with my handiwork, even if I may say so myself.
Today is also the day of spring and labour and the central streets of Moscow are bustling with parades. Students of professional colleges participate with processions to mark the importance of their line of chosen work on Labour Day. Others join in with artificial flowers to celebrate spring. The joie de vivre is somehow reminiscent of the Brazilian carnival in Rio de Janeiro. After the parade, people proceed to parks and continue the celebration until late evening. These are ways in which the common man celebrates life in Russia. Today perhaps the day will include a visit to the church for believers, considering that it is also Easter.
The Government plays no small role to ensure that the celebrations take place smoothly. Each year millions of dollars are set aside in the state budget to ensure ‘good weather’ on important festival days in spring, such as Victory day and Day of Slavic Literature and culture.
Russia, like India, is culturally diverse, but these festivals serve to unite the nation into one enormous whole. Much care and planning goes into ensuring that the day will be bright and sunny and encourage people to come out on the streets and unite to celebrate together. There is impeccable law and order on the streets and, despite the large crowds, there are no drunken brawls or damage to public property. The sky is ‘cleaned’ to drive away clouds and allow the sun to shine through. Among the aircrafts used in this ‘aerial cleansing’ is the Sukhoi-30, a name familiar to my Indian ear. Granular carbon dioxide, a special cement and liquid nitrogen are used as reagents in this cleaning process.
I have said earlier, that to be culturally sated and happy in Moscow, one doesn’t really need money. With the commencement of the summer season, especially in the joyous months of May and June, with festivals like “pretty maids all in a row”, the parks will be witness to a village fair like atmosphere. Various stalls, concerts, dance workshops, acrobatics, most of them free, will be open to the public. Many Muscovites plan to spend weekends in the city parks, where there are specially marked spots for barbecue. The air will be ripe with the appetizing smell of open fires and distant strains of music.
Honestly, I sometimes feel the pressure to celebrate. With the advent of spring, there is so much happening that it seems a sin to sit it out. The Russians sure seem to have a large appetite for celebrations. As for me, I am beginning to feel the need for a holiday from all this holidaying. I went for a pre–Easter contemporary folk concert with a dear friend on Saturday evening. The ensemble is aptly called ‘Rooskaya Pesnya,’ meaning the Russian song. Remarkable, as the music was in the Nadya Babkina Teatre. What was even more remarkable was that at this small concert in this huge megapolis, I met a friend I had lived next–door to during my M.Phil days. She had then moved to Germany and we made weak promises of catching up, but paucity of time did not quite facilitate the rendezvous. And there she was – sitting in the row right behind us. I was so delighted to run into her and meet her lovely family. And as if one chance meeting wasn’t enough in one evening, I ran into two sweet Indian Malayali doctors at the concert. How strange it is for there to be three foreigners at a Russian concert, all of whom were Indian. I guess, such is the Indian love for Russia and its culture.
All said, I miss those long languorous Indian winter afternoons and late summer evenings. Moscow is always moving and with it I am in state of perpetual motion. Sitting down and just breathing the air appears like an ill-afforded luxury. Once again, I am rushed. Friends are already calling to firm up Easter plans. By next weekend, Victory day fever will have caught on, and we must plan for that too.
More on that in my next.
Waiting to hear from you,