Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ma Connexion Russe

Before setting off for Strasbourg, I had managed to meet most of my friends from Bangalore and Trivandrum, to say a long good bye and get their best wishes. But there is one conversation that I remember vividly till date from that phase of my life...

My Friend (browsing Facebook pages of some girl who was on the ISU 2013 group): Dude! This chick is should definitely pursue her.

Me (halfheartedly looking up to see whom he was gaping at so joyfully): Meh...I wonder which one is her...(there were two girls in the display picture, both in bikinis at some beach)

My Friend: Ha! Both are out of your league but you could still try lol... 

I shook my head in agreement to change the topic of the conversation and we continued drinking our beers and discussing politics, career and what not, like usual. I remember it was a good night... 

One Month Later in Strasbourg

It was my first day in Strasbourg, and I was roaming around the famous Cathedrale Notre-Dame with Pulkit, Robert and Vatsala. Pulkit had arrived a day before me so he happened to meet some other classmates who were staying in and around the city unlike us, who were at Illkirch Graffestaden. He had the phone number of just one person, a girl by the name of Leena Pivocrates, the same girl my friend back in India was so interested in. Robert concluded that she is Greek going by her surname. Meanwhile, I was cajoling Pulkit to call her and meet up with the rest of the space crew. Unfortunately, that never happened although Pulkit did call, but we got caught up exploring the beautiful neighborhood of La Petit France that day.

One Day Later

We had arrived in Strasbourg ten days before our term was supposed to start at ISU to attend French language classes. But I met up with few of my classmates a night before these classes started at 25 Cathedrale place, which housed three of our classmates namely Leena, Sam and Trisha. I was meeting them for the first time so I had bought a few drinks to carry to their place. The place was at the top of the building and the stairs up till there reminded me of the Cathedrale which I had scaled earlier that evening. It was winding and spiral, or in short - horrible! I was out of breath by the time I reached the door and promised myself never to be back at this place again. Our teaching assistant Nathan received us and introduced us to the people sitting around the living room. I do not remember who all were there except the people who lived in that place (except Trisha, who joined later). There she was, Leena Pivocrates, sitting by Sam's side who had her arm wrapped around her. I made a mental note to tell my friend that she was the girl in the left side of the picture (later on, we would joke that she was the one with the smaller boobs). Her black hair, deep eye shadow and brown eyes struck me as Asian features, and my guess was confirmed when she introduced herself as Russian origin-USA settled.
             To my glee, there was a sheesha in the house and I had to stop myself from grabbing the pipe from the person taking puffs. The introductions were pretty straight and formal, and I was amazed to see people from as far as USA and Australia sitting together in the same room. The only difficulty I faced that night was to participate in any conversations as everyone had a different accent and it took a lot of effort trying to understand each and every word that people spoke. I spoke the maximum with Trisha, since she took a place right beside me, and enjoyed the occasional sheesha that came my way. My memories of the first night out with my future classmates is limited to the feeling that people were trying hard to make an impression on each other. Hence, most of them were talking and participating in the conversations vehemently except Leena, who was more observant and talked only to the point. In my culture, such behavior maybe considered impolite but I had heard that's how normal Russian (and Chinese too) people interact socially. I had also heard from my seniors at ISRO that Russians seldom smile, and Leena soon became a living proof of this fact to me.
           By the end of the night, I had failed to make any impact on the people present. But the one positive thing that I took from that night was while bidding good byes, when I noticed that there was another person being as uncomfortable as me doing it the French way, and it was none other than Leena. I smiled to myself that I was not the only one...

A Week Later...

Attending the French classes together was a good social activity to begin the year. We all were from different countries and this feeling of being foreigners somehow brought us together. I had become pretty comfortable with most of my classmates, especially Robert and Trisha, with whom I spent maximum time (and I am not counting Pulkit here, since we knew each other from six years, a fact that never failed to garner those looks of amazement and at times shock whenever people came to know about it). I had missed the house-warming party at Jose's place since I was still mentally adjusting myself to the completely new culture I was experiencing. My last outing was at the "Language Exchange Bar', which was memorable but for all the wrong reasons. I was hit on by a gay guy, could not manage to continue a conversation with a decent looking German girl who had herself initiated it, ended up laughing alone at my jokes, was laughed at when I wasn't trying to make any joke (I was hitting on the pretty bespectacled girl named Alix, from Canada), and saw Leena being carried by a drunk Sam on his shoulders.
           My self esteem was at a record low, but I still decided to give social life at Strasbourg another chance and went dancing to this place called Barca Latino, which was basically a shabby looking boat serving cheap drinks and providing a decent (but in no way comfortable) dancing floor. My dancing skills are as good as Marlon Brando's singing, hence I abstained venturing to the danger zone while Pulkit and Raul (from Venezuela) rocked it. I spent more time chatting with this Spanish guy called Isaac, who like me was also not into dancing. I had met up with Leena and Co. earlier and she seemed pretty drunk. Also, her comment that her leather jacket was real and mine wasn't had put me off a bit. But there was something about this girl that kept me interested. Maybe it was her eyes that didn't give her away, or her 'devil may care' attitude at the bar where she kept downing shots  like I drink water after being out on a hot sunny day, or her sense of humor (she could be funny when she wanted), but the fact is till date I haven't been able to figure out.
         I don't know what happened that night (I had a bit too many shots myself obviously) but I decided to join the dancing group. I danced till I started smelling my own sweat, and that was when I noticed only me and Leena were left on the dance floor. Our friends had gone out for some fresh air, and one half of me wanted to do the same but I stayed back. Leena was grooving in a way I had seen only actresses do in Bollywood flicks. I wanted to dance with her and mustered up the courage (thanks shots!) to ask her to teach me how to dance with a girl. The next five minutes were a blurr as I followed her lead and had a gala time until she brought my senses back to Earth by saying she likes girls too during the conversation we were having while managing to move on the heavily crowded dance floor. That day, she officially became the first bisexual person I had ever known. We had a brief 'moment' together after this piece of breaking news and till date we haven't come to a clear conclusion of who was hitting on whom, but it clearly marked the beginning of our friendship. I admired her capacity to practically inhale alcohol while she may have realized I wasn't that much of a weirdo. I managed to find her precious leather jacket among the heap while leaving the club and I guess this gesture put me in her good books.

One Month After Barca Latino

The ISU crew had bonded pretty well by then, and we partied every weekend as if there was no tomorrow, with 25 Cathedrale being the one stop party shop. I was good friends with Robert and Trisha by then, and she used to spend most of  her evenings with us much to the annoyance of her room mates, especially Leena. The two American ladies then decided to rename me and Pulkit from 'The Indians' to 'Indian Boyfriends'. According to the 'nomenclature' and 'agreement', I was Leena's Indian bf and I used to call her 'crazy little russian gf'. Today when I reminisce about it, I feel amused when I think 'Oh! That's how we got to know each other...'

(to be continued)