Bergit got out of bed as the faint buzzing sound in her ears had increased and she could not sleep anymore. Her head was pounding and she quickly gulped down a pill with water kept on her bedside table. The buzzing had increased lately and Dr. Fossberg had prescribed her a painkiller as there was no apparent reason for this sound in her ears.
It was four in the morning and Bergit was sweating when she heard the chat notification sound from her laptop on the table in the corner of her pale blue bedroom.
She got up and wore her glasses and saw the chat message. “Are you alive or dead? Just kidding…I know you must be sleeping but in case you aren’t, I wanted to say Good Morning.” The line was followed by a smiley emoticon and Bergit smiled. She didn’t reply but realized it would be 7:30 a.m in Mumbai and Anant must be heading for office.
Bergit looked out of the window and saw it was still dark and quiet outside. She went back to bed and tried to catch a few more winks of sleep as she thought of Mumbai waking up or did it? Anant had said once that the city never slept. Feeling drowsy, Bergit closed her eyes as she dreamt of Mumbai.
The cars were honking on the road from behind as Anant got stuck in the middle of a traffic jam and at this precise moment, the car ignition went off as he struggled to turn it on amidst louder honking and angry drivers who could kill with their stares. Finally, Anant turned on the ignition and sped off before he could be guillotined on the road.
This was an everyday occurrence when Anant travelled from Andheri West to East to his office and it was just 7:45 a.m. There was a small stretch of potholed road where Anant could speed off and he sighed as he thought of how Bergit was fortunate enough to be driving on those wide, open streets of Oslo. No traffic, no people, just a long stretch of road without any breaks, broken roads, dug-up constructions or the air of concreteness all around.
He imagined the colourful streets of downtown Oslo that would be lined with small yellow cafes with blue doors that ran into cobbled streets and if you walked on them long enough you would reach a row of pretty townhouses with prettier gardens, mowed, petted and pruned aligned with each other in a symmetry that lasted till your eyes could see.
He thought of purple lilies, red, orange and yellow leaves dotting the Oslo skyline in autumn…beautiful blue and violet skies with streaks of grey and painted with stars in the night.
He sighed as someone from behind suddenly honked and Anant realized he was on the wrong one-way street. He continued to drive, took a left, got off the one-way street and finally reached his office. This was his route everyday as the wrong one way street was a short cut to an otherwise long road which would cost him a half a litre of petrol and another ten minutes.
Anant parked his car and went inside.
It was 12 noon as Bergit parked her car and went inside a grocery shop. It had been ten days since she had quit her job and she was still trying to get into her new routine.
While inside, she saw rows and rows of veggies and fruits stacked up and picked up a cart and mechanically went to the canned food section and started filling it. As she saw the red apples and oranges and cherries and plums, she missed her father terribly.
Long ago, when she was a kid, they had gone vegetable shopping in the countryside. It was a treat to the eyes to see fresh vegetables and fruits lined up in myriad colours and Bergit had felt like she was in her own treasure island. Anant had sent her a photograph he took of a flower market in Mumbai in Dadar, one of the busiest and most crowded junctions in the city. It was the most “real” sight she had seen in ages.
She remembered rows and rows of marigolds, pink, red and purple roses and garlands hanging about so carelessly… There was nothing perfect about the place and yet it seemed so beautiful in its imperfection…in the spontaneity of the garland lady who opened her jet black hair just as Anant clicked her…the honest smile of the kid with a missing tooth and a missing shirt who stood and posed for Anant…a beggar with a begging bowl and a marigold garland around his neck asking for alms from a woman in a Mercedes who had stopped by to buy some flowers.
The contrasts, the colours and the chaos was so alive that Bergit wished she could just breathe that air right now when she felt so claustrophobic in this small grocery store. Bergit paid for her shopping and got out and breathed and walked back to her car.
In his office, Anant could not contain his excitement. His passport had just arrived and his visa to Norway had been approved. He rushed towards his laptop to inform Bergit of this latest development and on the way he told the ticketing agent in his office to book a return ticket for Norway and back for 16th July. He opened his laptop and wrote to Bergit
A: Hey there…gr8 news…got my visa approvd…d plan is on…
To his surprise, Bergit was also available to chat and she immediately sent a smiley emoticon to Anant and replied
B: Yayyyy….gr8 news indeed! Havnt bn so excitd in years…dreams do come true!
They both laughed and shared like long lost friends and remembered the first time they had chatted online. Bergit and Anant had met online three months ago when Bergit had commented on the photograph of a common friend on a social networking site. Anant had found the comment cheeky and had replied pertly until it turned into a verbal repartee between the two and friends asked them to take their comments on their respective walls.
Lately, they had begun to feel like two drifted souls who had met again in this lifetime. Bergit once remarked,
B: It cd be pssible dat v were a part f one soul in our last birth n in this lifetime, v
drifted apart and dat’s y while one half wnt to India, d othr half came to Norway.
A: Vry profound. Bt I think my soul got a raw deal…while I gt to smell opn
drains, u r smelling d freshness in d air arnd u.
B: LOL…U r crazy. At least there is life brimmin right under ur nose. U
live in the middle of life, breathing culture while I only hv History books
to fall back on.
A: Cnt argue with that… Mumbai does hv life brimmin in every corner.
Cockroaches, rodents, pests and insects f all kinds n evn ppl sleepin ovr
footpaths n yes culture… v hv a concrete culture here…f buildings being
constructed in all four directions around my building and the sounds f
construction machines have become music to my ears. Dunno wht u r talkin abt.
Bergit tried but she could not make him understand that however dirty he felt his surroundings were, he could not imagine leading a lonely life in Norway. She could not explain to him that her streets may be clean, the quiet of the surroundings impermeable and the sound of silence constantly ringing in her ears that had grown lately and she did not know how to stop it.
She felt that the life and the buzz that she had seen and heard about India…that din of people, machines and clutter might somewhere drown out the noises in her ears that she could not take anymore.
And that is the reason both Anant and Bergit had decided to live in each other’s houses for one month.
Bergit was supposed to fly to India on 14th July, 2011 and once Anant had settled her into his house, he would fly to Oslo two days later to spend a month in Bergit’s home. This exchange of cultures, and lives, they felt was much better than travelling to these cities on a holiday which would give them, at most a tourists’ perspective.
They both wanted more…they both wanted to feel the difference between the two cities and countries in each pore of their bodies. Bergit wished to feel the Mumbai monsoon in its utmost beauty and Anant…he had always wanted to see the Land of the Midnight Sun since he had read about this magical land in his childhood.
Bergit had laughed at this remark and said,
B: sorry boy…bt u wd hv to travel further up north fr dat…in Oslo we dnt get t see d midnight sun so much…
A: yeah…jst as u wd imagne seeing the snake charmers in India in every nook and corner…trust
Me…there r none here…
They both laughed at their perceptions of their countries and promised to write to each other once they were back living these perceptions and accepting or rejecting them.
It was 13th July and Bergit had almost finished packing while the TV was on in her room. Suddenly she heard panic, commotion and a lot of noise on TV. She rushed to the TV set and was shocked to see the international news.
‘Triple Blasts rock Mumbai’, screamed the headlines, all in the vicinity of Dadar, the busiest junction in Mumbai…the area of the flower market, Anant had clicked.
The phone lines had been disconnected and security at airports and stations had been increased.
As more news followed and pictures of the blast sites revealed, Bergit clutched her green scarf to her chest and watched in amazement at the colours of the fire, the contrasts of dead people and the dogs lying mangled and the chaos of the entire scenery.
Her heart was pounding and she had tears in her eyes as her heart laughed inside at her foolishness.
Bergit realized that however much she had wanted to escape her peaceful surroundings, she did not wish to be a part of this danger… this threat to her life and she wrote to Anant.
B: Hope u r ok…heard abt d blasts…shocking! dnt thnk its a gd idea t travel rt nw…its unsafe…
B: plz dnt feel bad…i knw its nt ur fault bt cnt risk my life in ths fashion…maybe sm othr time…
Bergit looked out of her peaceful window and for the first time thanked God for the serenity that she had been blessed with. She realized that however much she had thought she was different than the other tourists; she was not as adventurous as to have risked her life.
The streets of Oslo might be boring but at least they didn’t stop her from living. And what else mattered more? Bergit felt at peace as she closed her eyes but there in Mumbai, Anant felt betrayed.
He knew that for the next four days things would be on high-alert in the city but after that, the mass of people, jobs and daily routines would bring everybody back to the same grind. Life never stopped living, not in Mumbai. It teemed out of every corner and isn’t that what Birgit had wished to witness? He felt cheated as he got his tickets to Oslo cancelled and did not speak with Bergit until that fateful day.
On 22nd July, 2011, there was a bomb blast in the heart of Oslo right outside the Prime Minister’s office followed by a shootout in the island of Utoya where at least eighty summer campers were killed. Anant was in his office when he heard.
It was pouring outside in Mumbai and the bombings of ten days earlier were relegated to the third page news in the national dailies. But this news…this was something else and Anant shocked to hear this, rushed to his desk, forgot his anger as he typed away.
A: Hey Bergit…u there? Hope u o.k? heard the news… Were you at home? Answer me…plz…
But Bergit never replied. She could not hear what Anant was saying. The only thing that she could hear was the din in her ears. She knew now what the sound was. It was the sound of silence after a massive sound of explosion.
It was a continuous monotone of stillness…