N Madhavan, senior associate editor, is travelling with the Indian delegation to St Petersburg. In his latest diary post, he takes a peek at the prime minister's working style and goes roaming in the beautiful Russian city.
It was a summit within a summit, as it were, as President Vladimir Putin and US counterpart Barack Obama took the G20 leaders' meeting - officially discussing global economic growth -made separate statements that showed their contrasting position on the Syrian crisis. The magical ambience in the island of Strelna was in ironic contrast to the bloody civil war rocking the desert nation in West Asia. The palace where the G20 leaders held their talks is in the middle of a large patch of manicured gardens, which in turn house trendy, European style chateau-like chalets. An elegantly parked boat by the quayside became the Press Lounge, and local rock and folk music stars entertained the diplomats and journalists struggling to meet deadlines across the planet. The mellow sun does not set until 9 pm in one of the world's northernmost cities. That does leave one with some time for unwinding.
Talking of summit within summit, there was also the BRICS group meeting the other day on economic issues, not officially but informally. They remind you of Matryuoshka (nesting) dolls, of which more later.
St Petersburg, once famous for czars and their opulent, decadent lifestyles and artistic pursuits meant to impress the rest of Europe, is stunningly beautiful with its canals and stately avenues, but has seen much trouble in the past century. The October Revolution in 1917 brought Leninists to power and the city became Leningrad. Hitler's army later lay siege to the city during the Second World War, causing deaths by hunger as the city was sealed off for 900 days, says a friendly Russian guiding media at Strelna. While the city has moved on to globalised capitalism, Lenin's statues dot the city here and there alongside Czar-era symbols and onion-domed churches that glitter with their golden tops.
Try changing dollars for roubles in St Petersburg, and you may get a story free. While symbols of globalisation such as Louis Vuitton, Pepsi and McDonald's dot the city that still has a charming tram service, attempts at getting the counter clerks to work faster may be a tough task. The language barriers may be compounded by a sense of caution that would remind you of the Soviet era. They count the notes again and again. And the commissions you pay are hefty.
And yes, St Petersburg is the hometown of President Vladimir Putin. A vibrant university and a confluence of European cultures also make it a city of cafes and politics, perhaps. Tourists looking for Russia's doll-within-doll-within-dolls, called Matryoshka dolls, may be pleasantly surprised to note that not all dolls are in traditional village motifs. Football star dolls can also be found - as also Putin dolls. So you get a Putin within a Putin within a Puttin. But they don't talk as spunkily as Putin does.
(This is a journalist's diary. The views expressed are personal)