a russian rendezeavous


We were accommodated in the Gastunishta (guest house ). In Russia, that time, all the Hotels and Guest houses are called by the same unromantic name Gastunishta irrespective of whether it is a 5 star deluxe hotel or a run down rickety dump. Height of standardization? Same applies to shops. You wont find shops with equivalent signs like ?Gupta General Shop? or ?Jaiswal Kirana Store?. A shop is simply called a Magazine (shop) since they all were owned by the state and almost always stock up the same stuff. However, a small concession has been made in that some shops have signs like Frukti (Fruits), Riba (Fish) , Produkti (Products) etc. so that you know what you can expect inside. The salesman or the girl ( 90% of the times, since Soviet Union lost millions of men in the 2nd World War) behind the counter is least interested in selling since he or she is paid the same salary irrespective of the business generated.
And of course the legendary Soviet 3 Q systems was at work that time . In this system, there will be invariably three Qs inside these shops. You just stand in the first Q even when you don?t know what is available. When your turn comes you select the items and the sales girl makes the bill for them. You move onto the next Q where you pay and join up the 3rd Q to pick up your items. You really don?t have a choice on the quality of the stuff you buy. You take whatever is given. If a defective item is picked up you can return it then and there and sales girl will nonchalantly toss it into a heap of defective items already formed in a corner. Like in India, you cant just go the doodhwallah and pick up your daily requirement. In Russia you rush to him whenever the stocks arrive (could be once in 4 days or week) and stock up whatever you can. Each house has a store where you dump sack loads of potatoes/onion before the start of the winter which should last for the whole winter. Re supply in between is simply not available!

Author: giridhara mallya- India