Saturday, 8 July 2017

A Brush With The Supernatural


Gentlemen, I do not believe in the supernatural. But what happened to me during my stay in Russia one autumn night is inexplicable. I want to dismiss it as a matter of chance or an accident, but for the world of me, I cannot do so.

It happened in a city that was called Leningrad in the Soviet days and is now called by its original name – St. Petersburg. I was studying in the Film Institute in Moscow and all the foreign students – Arabs, Africans, Germans and a guy from Iceland (I was the only Indian among them) – were taken on a trip to that city.

photo courtesy: Pinterest
It was in autumn. Of all the seasons in Russia, this was my favourite season. Like in Kashmir, leaves turn golden in autumn and the landscape is transformed into a fairyland. But in St. Petersburg the autumn is special. It is called a “golden autumn”. And it is to be seen to be believed.

photo courtesy: SPEG

St. Petersburg is close to the Arctic Circle if not in it, and one experiences what they call “white nights” there. The sun comes up at two or three in the morning and goes down very late. it never gets fully dark. There is twilight all night long.

We were staying in a hotel and I was sharing the room with two fellows from Iraq. And there was a lady teacher called Marina Nikolaevna, who was in charge of our group. She was in her early thirties, had the figure of Venus de Milo, and the whole class was in love with her, yours truly being smitten the most. She used to teach us, of all the subjects, “scientific atheism”!. I wasn’t too interested in the subject but attended her classes regularly just to feast my eyes on her face, figure and her ethereal presence. She was uniqueShe looked like an icon from one of Russian’s frescoed churches.

photo courtesy: taginstant

One evening in St. Petersburg we were all taken to the Kirov Theatre to see Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet “The Swan Lake”. Either it was because I was madly in love with Marina Nikolaevna, or because she was sitting next to me in the hall, or perhaps because our elbows were touching one another’s (my initiative entirely – she didn’t move her elbow away but pressed mine even harder, sending me into paroxysms of ecstasy), whatever the case the Music of Tchaikovsky and the ballet itself had a profound effect on me.

photo courtesy: danceviewtimes

When we got out of the hall, I couldn’t get the music out of my head. It rang through the corridors of my mind so loudly that it began to disturb me. When we reached the hotel, we had our dinner, went into our respective rooms and, after chatting for a while, we changed and went to bed.

But I couldn’t sleep. The music of “Swan Lake” rang in my ears full blast and there was no getting away from it. I tried my best to go to sleep but to no avail. It was well past midnight and I was still tossing and turning in bed when suddenly, on an impulse, I decided to go for a walk, get some fresh air and get my mind off Tchaikovsky. It was cold outside. I put on my overcoat and went out on the street.

Those were the days, as I have said of “white nights”. It was well past midnight but the sky wasn’t dark. We were in the twilight zone of the “white nights”. I walked around aimlessly hoping I would tire myself and then hit the sack. But, strange to say, the music grew louder and louder in my head. By now it had begun to irk me.

I walked on till I heard the sounds of a distant choir. I was surprised. A choir at this time of the night! It must have been around one in the morning.

photo courtesy: istockphoto

I followed to sound of the singing till I reached a church. It was well lit. I went in and sat there for a while. The singing was beautiful and so was the church, as all Russian orthodox churches are. A midnight mass was underway. But the choir music clashed harshly with the ballet music ringing in my head. I walked out of the church.

Just opposite the church was a graveyard with an ornate iron grill around it and some old, beautifully carved gravestones.

photo courtesy: wikimedia commons

I had my sketch book with me and decided to go into the graveyard and do some sketching. I think I still have some of those sketches with me.


However, by now I was tired. It had started drizzling and become bitterly cold. I walked around aimlessly and then decided to take some rest on a bench in one corner of the graveyard.

I sat down and closed my eyes. I was tired and sleepy. But the music in my head wouldn’t go away.

Just then I heard some commotion to my right. I opened my eyes and saw a policeman coming towards me. He was closely followed by Marina Nikolaevna and one of her junior assistants. The Policeman was furious and asked me to show him my documents. I had my Institute ID card with me and pulled it out.

Marina Nikolaevna was livid.

“What the hell are you doing here? Your room-mates reported that you were missing so we had to call the police!” she said.
The Militiaman (as they are called them in Russia) smiled.
Cop: “You are from India, they tell me”
Me: “Yes”.
Cop: “Nehru, Tagore! Indians are good people. We like them. But what, may I ask, is the reason for you to be loitering around in the city at this time of the night?”
“The reason is Tchaikovsky!” I blurted out.
Cop: “What has Tchaikovsky to do with this?”
Me: “I can’t get him out of my head!”
The Cop looked at Marina Nikolaevna questioningly.
Cop: “Is your Indian student is OK in the head! I don’t understand what he is talking about! He looks like a harmless fellow. Get him checked by a shrink. I think he is a bit daft. However, I am leaving. You deal with him!”
Saying this he left.

Marina Nikolaevna looked at me with the sympathetic smile of a nurse tending a sick patient and then sat down on the bench next to me.
Marina Nikolaevna: “Now what does that mean, ‘I cannot get Tchaikovsky out of my head?’”
“I cannot get his music out of my head Marina Nikolaevna! It is driving me crazy!”
“Who told you to come here in the first place?”
“No one!”
“Then why of all the places did you choose this one?”
“I don’t know! I just walked out of the hotel because I needed some fresh air. Then I heard the choir in that church singing the Midnight Mass and went into the church and after that, on an impulse, I walked to the graveyard because I saw some beautiful grave-stones in it”.
“Do you know where you are sitting?”
“I am sitting in some godforsaken graveyard, where else?”.
“Are you sure you chose this place to sit without knowing where you were sitting?”
“Where am I sitting? And what’s so special about this place?”
“Look what is in front of you!”
Till then I had been sitting there with the Swan Lake overture ringing in my ears and not noticing anything around me. When I looked up I was shocked out of my wits.

photo courtesy: Oberon's Grove

Not five feet away stood a tall gravestone with the bust of Tchaikovsky on it! I was stunned. I stood up and walked up to the gravestone. I saw the name PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY engraved below the bust. I looked around and got another jolt. Next to Tchaikovsky’s grave was the grave or Mussorgsky, another Russian musician who was my favorite. And close by was the grave of Glinka, another master musician. I was standing in a corner reserved for the great musicians of Russia! I had wandered and inadvertently sat down right in front of the grave of the man whose music was ringing in my ears!

“You said you came here inadvertently?” Marina Nikolaevna asked.
“Yes”.
“Oh my God! This is uncanny!”
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” I quoted Hamlet under by breath.
“What did you say?” Asked Marina Nikolaevna.
“Nothing! I was just talking to myself!”

I haven't understood this phenomenon to this day. 
Soon after this something else happens that baffles me to this day. But about that some other time...

1 comment:

  1. Parikshat Saab - I stumbled on to this blog when I was reading about your eminent father. I like your blog and your treatment of various issues. I like your openness and the honesty with which you write. This incident is proof of the adage that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading more blogs from you. - Hari

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