Staying away from home can be a delightful experience for the first few months. As the days fly by, the burden of a dreary and lonely life piles onto everything you do. At times you ask some thought provoking questions to the almighty – “Why me? Why is it that I need to go through this ordeal?” which further pushes you down the abyss of self pity. To restore sanity from this ordeal, it is essential to have new ways to entertain yourself, to keep the momentum going. The momentum is to be maintained till your day of redemption – of going back to your home, family and country comes good.
Having friends around is surely a way to keep you safe from your own thoughts and influence. It helps you defocus from your mundane life and delve into topics of conversation and images in the mind that you couldn’t conjure in your loneliness. This Saturday evening, I had a friend down to my place for dinner. I had cooked a light meal of mixed vegetables – sauted in a backdrop of onions, tomato and some Indian spices. My laptop conspired with the Bose speakers and youtube to fill in the room with some light music – typically old Hindi movie songs from the 70’s and 80’s. The smell of freshly cooked curry, background music in the air – the stage was all set for us to catch up on our lives as we downed two swift pegs of Bacardi white rum with Sprite. The conversations varied from personal to professional, life back home to life in this place and the lives of other common friends around. The background music also became a conversation topic and we exchanged notes on our views of the music and the movie it was from. As we exchanged those notes, each one of us in our own thoughts imagined how our life was, when we had first heard that song or seen that movie. Take for example the old hindi song “Aaye Meherbaan” from Madhubala. I have never liked such old songs from the black and white movie era as a rebellious teenager. With the 30’s kicking in and having seen life from different shades, I have succumbed to enjoying melody with meaning than noise with head banging. The other song that further drowns me in the well of human existence, especially with a peg on my side is “Musafir hoon yaaron, na ghar hai na thikana”. With age, the idea of finding true meaning to life and our existence becomes an interesting thought which can keep your engrossed for lifelong and still not produce any tangible result. Coming back to ur present state and downing that last peg of Bacardi white rum, we headed to the kitchen and shared a Nan bread with the curry. Through with dinner, the clock struck 12.40 am and we decided to go down to “Cardinals” – one of the pub where a common friend was part timing.
We broke through the chilly breeze on a Saturday evening in Stavanger, marching through cobbler stoned pavements. There was an air of authority in the background – stamped by kids who are about to graduate from school to college. It’s a famous tradition during the months of April- May in Norway. This is the time when tenth graders march through the city on late nights –especially Friday and Saturday, blowing whistles in the air and march wearing similar red pants. Its almost like they are comrades in arms and have just come back from a hard fought war. It is a sign of throwing caution to the wind and announcing to the city and people that “Hey guys, we are graduating to go to college. Take us seriously in life from here on. We are no longer kids!” and there goes a whistle that pierces through the air and making your ears cringe in faint approval.
Luckily, we did not have to wait longer to get inside the pub. “Cardinals” is supposedly the second best pub in Norway and 35th best in the World. The music is not loud, there is no dance floor and the entry is restricted to ages 24 and above with a huge seating area spread across two floors. Its almost a perfect setting to keep away people who are yet not serious with their lives from ones who are and are ahead along the maturity curve. The traditional serving area of the bar is impressive with the bar counter arching across a corner of the room there by separating the demand and supply side – the customers and the bartenders. The bartenders and their armor of shining glasses, bottles and gallons of golden and transparent colored potions on the supply side indeed looks mesmerizing. In the surroundings of the dimly lit lampshades, the yellow light striking on their faces makes them look like the Messiahs being specially sent by the Almighty to pacify us earthly human beings with their magic potions. Seated on high stools on the opposite side, the customers are all willing to gulp down their choice of potions in between conversations with others or with themselves. After me and my friend got settled into a similar high stool and were comforted by our friend who was working part time, we settled in for a Newcastle beer. It was one out of the 400 different choices of beer available at Cardinals. Ain’t that a cardinal sin in life to have limited your options to Ringnes, Kingfisher, Chakra, Tuborg, Carlsberg, Budlight and Corona?
Finally me and my friend were into that space of time where we didn’t have much to converse. To add to it, the background noise of other conversations was overpowering any attempts we would have wanted to make to strike a conversation. A gentleman seated to my left hand side then gently tapped my shoulders to strike a conversation. He started to exchange pleasantries in Norwegian. Once I politely requested if he could speak English, we had an amazing conversation for the next few minutes. I have always only imagined this in my life – being in a pub, seated on the high stool and striking conversations with a perfect stranger. It was all happening on this Saturday night in the April I spent in Stavanger.
The gentleman was a citizen of Faroe Islands, which is somewhere near Iceland. It’s an island country of not more than 50,000 people and apparently is under the control of Denmark. People in Faroe island speak Faroese, apart from Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Norwegian. The gentleman was in this city for the same reason as I was – for work. What was similar is that we both were not directly from the oil and gas industry, which makes us more exotic in one of the worlds most famous Oil and Gas hubs. He was a “Roof layer” by profession, thereby laying roofs for various houses and buildings in Stavanger. Working ten hours a day for six days a week – he surely rubbished any first impressions my mind formed about another blessed individual with a relaxed work pressure, which is very common in the Nordic countries.
The very struggle of him being in Stavanger and working long hours was a testimony to the limited opportunities that a small island like Faroe could provide to its residents. Still, the ability to go beyond the confines of the shipbuilding and fishing industry in Faroe Islands to make fortune in the nearby country of Norway was testimony to his ambitions in life. If the long hours laying roofs were a way of fulfilling his ambitions, so was being worldly aware and socially intelligent. We exchanged conversations on a variety of topics. Topics such as the top five countries in the world by GDP , the invasion of the Mongolians and the impact of the same on the world and his intelligence about India as a nation with nuclear and IT capabilities and the gift of freedom from Gandhi. He had never been to India, but was appreciative of Indians and thankful to an Indian teacher he had. Yes they had Indians in Faroe Islands too. We Indians are everywhere and we did not leave even a tiny island in the North Sea, which almost looks like ink droplets (No offence to Faroe Islands or other small places on earth) on a map of the world placed on the table! Conversations revealed that Faroe Islands had close to 50-100 Indians and they also had some Indian restaurants. Not bad for an island where the total population was 50,000?
Though he was apologetic for his English, I never felt he struggled to speak English. He knew India was literally the biggest English speaking nation on earth – thanks to the British. After the India adulation from a complete stranger that humbled me, one of the last few conversations we had was about the races. The fact that Europeans and Asians were a part of the Aryan race and further on we spoke about Genghis Khan and his pet projects which resulted in 1/16th of the world being his descendants – directly or indirectly! As we spoke more of the Mongolians, he began describing about a book he had read which talks about two sects of people – Mongolians with the flat eyes and flat noses and non Mongolians. The book was based in Afghanistan and had a character name “Hasan”. I immediately knew he was talking about Khaled Hossneni’s “Kite Runner” that even I had read about a month back. He was excited and glad to know that even I had read that book. After exchanging appreciations for the way the author had written the book, we overheard the bartenders politely requesting all folks to step out as they were closing .We wished each other good luck and decided to part ways. I got back to my two friends who were almost forgotten for the past few minutes since I was talking to the Faroese guy. After exchanging a few notes and hugs, me and my friend bade farewell to our friend who was part timing – thanking him for the hospitality, discounted beer and more important for the lovely time.
We stepped out into the cold breeze of Saturday night in Stavanger. In the midst of teenagers and adults heading back from various pubs with a background of roadside guitar players strumming light notes into thin air, I was happy to have met the Faroese guy. Hope he does well in what he does. We never exchanged names, but he had pretty much defined his personality. He was a roof layer but could converse like any of the intellects on a range of topics, which were a delightful surprise. He will do well in life for sure. As i head yet another day closer to my day of redemption - of leaving this beautiful city and country back to my homeland or Mother India, i can be rest assured that Stavanger city definitely has more to it than oil and gas professionals. The Faroese guy and i testify that.