As they say in old Hollywood movies, “You never know who you might meet in Moscow.” Well, I was fervently praying I would run into Dr Zhivago. Particularly since my beautiful Russian friend had taken us to the famous restaurant that bears his name. The traditional food served at this historic place was superb and all the waitresses looked like super models. But... there was no trace of Dr Zhivago. Moscow itself was glittering and preening for the FIFA World Cup.
A few years ago, my husband and I had travelled to St. Petersburg and it had not been a very pleasant experience. After surviving that, we were braced to face just about anything in Moscow. For the first day or two, we only ran into well-behaved millionaires and billionaires from India.
I met many other football enthusiasts from across India. Most of them were successful techies and dynamic entrepreneurs who had paid the top buck to attend what is undoubtedly one of the greatest shows on earth. I ran into them all the time and everywhere. But, it was my unexpected encounter with a desi, self-styled ‘tycoon’—in the elevator of the swanky Ritz Carlton Hotel in the heart of the city—that left the greatest impression during this turbo-charged trip. By the time this brief meeting took place, I had gotten used to the sight of every second person in Moscow strutting around with burly bodyguards while getting in and out of Maybachs with tinted glasses. Locals proudly told us Vladimir Putin’s cavalcade features eight bulletproof Maybachs. This may be why I didn’t pay special attention to the two heavies who tried to block our way while we were getting into the elevator taking us to the lobby of the opulent hotel after a super glam rooftop party.
I overheard a nondescript looking man standing next to me, firing off loud instructions on his cell phone in fluent Russian. I turned to the rude, inconsiderate person, and oh-oh—the guy looked Indian! He was Indian! He noticed me staring, held out his hand and introduced himself by name. No, the name did not ring a bell. I was blank. He seemed like a cute puppy, eager to make friends. He added he was originally from Delhi and the men with him were his business associates from London. Okay. Encouraged and curious, I asked him conversationally and most casually, “Are you an arms’ dealer?” His heavies moved in a little closer, and stared menacingly at me, awaiting orders from the boss. Gosh! This was so much fun! The boss looked stumped for a moment, then laughed. “I am a tycoon—not an arms’ dealer. Mining. I have mines in 49 countries.” Oooooh! Fancy! He whipped out his phone and asked for my number. I promptly gave it. My husband glared disbelievingly. His wife had done it again! The mysterious tycoon said how fantastic it felt to speak Hindi with Indians like ourselves, in this bizarre setting. “I am sending you my business card... you will understand everything.” With that, he and his heavies marched towards their fleet of limos. He was back on his phone, yelling at someone in Russian. Minutes later, he called to say he had enjoyed meeting us and we were welcome to join him in any one of the 49 countries from where he runs his empire. I made a few polite noises and thanked him for the offer. The minute he disconnected, I googled him. He was indeed a self-made, self-styled ‘tycoon’. How come he spoke such fluent Russian? I so wished I had spoken some more to the guy, who had given the impression that he was on buddy-buddy terms with Putin.
For now, I am still trying to piece Mr X’s story together. He came across as an upfront and brazen braggart. He wants to be understood! Or else those armed heavies listening intently to instructions on their ear pieces will make sure that there is no scope left for doubt. I liked the colourful Dilliwala tycoon. I get the feeling our paths will cross again someday. Till then—Nostrovia!