Kremlin has always been the final destination for the master spy in the novels – if the double agent is worth his salt, he must have a connection in the Kremlin. In many of the novels, though, the denizens of Kremlin turn out to be more benign than the power-mad top bosses of Langley. During my visit to Kremlin this winter, I was not able to resolve the matter of whether the bosses at the CIA or the KGB are crooked-ier, but one thing was clear, the place lives up to the hype. It has the right ‘atmosphere’.
Being in a situation where I was inside the Kremlin Palace for almost a full day, I snooped around, taking in the pictures of the Tsars, who have changed from ferocious to benign over the centuries. The majestic pre-Soviet era churches and the palaces still look forbidding and mysterious, maybe more so in the winters.
The first thing to understand about Kremlin is that the word means ‘a fort’ and hence it is something like our own (Delhi) Red Fort. Only, it remains the centre of power after all these centuries. The red square at the gate and the huge fort walls make sense only when we realize that it was, and is, a fort.
The next thing to notice – not that anyone can miss this one – is the hugely colorful Saint Basil’s Cathedral. It is a curious piece of architecture. It takes one ages to understand that meaning cannot be derived out of the structure – it is a relic of the bygone age, when powerful Tsars, happy at having defeated the invincible Mongols, told their architects to do something sensational – and the architects got down to really hard day-dreaming. In fact it was Ivan the Terrible who got it built in 1560 to celebrate his victory over the Khans of Kazan.
As we move inside the complex, there is the Great Kremlin Palace, the Terem Palace and the Poteshny Palace. The Senate building (which is now the President’s official residence) and the Armory (which houses the collection of Tsarist artifacts including jewels, clothing and weaponry), are in a compound that has numerous majestic Cathedrals and bell towers. Inside these buildings, the carvings and the atmosphere are authentic Soviet era – very forbidding.
For a modern spy novel writer, there is no place better than the Kremlin to go for inspiration. The expressionless guards look menacing – unlike those at the Buckingham Palace, who are cute and cuddly. The visit to the place does restore one’s faith in the mystery/spy novels. It is like one constant in an ever changing world, where we cannot even rely on James Bond to give us the chills any more.