Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

A Sunlit morning in Helsinki

Navtej Sarna

IT’s Sunday in Helsinki. The fact seems to be written all over the sun-splattered city. The streets are virtually deserted. The people have gone away to their country houses leaving the loaded shop windows to be stared at by the jauntily dressed tourist with a camera.

I walk down the charming cobbled streets seeking distractions which are not there. The tram-lines criss-cross each other and occasionally a sleek, colourful tram swishes by. Inevitably I reach the jetty and stand staring at the gleaming blue waters of the Gulf of Finland. On other days this jetty is the scene of a busy marketplace where people sell and buy fruits, vegetables, berries and fish. Today a few toddlers in perambulaters find themselves being bumped around on the cobbled stones and one can peacefully watch the boats headed for Stockholm on a merry journey of dance, drink and music. I run into some friends. They are hurrying to catch a boat to an old naval fortress on one of the dozens of wooded islands scattered around the city. They buy their ice creams, climb in to the boat. I turn away.

An old Japanese couple are studiously taking photographs of each other, Serious-faced and impressively solemn, they pose in stark contrast against the gay monument of four seals spouting water onto the sculptured from of a young maiden.

The tree-lined esplanade is flashing colour. Red and White umbrellas mark an open-air café. There is the clearly demarcated self-service section and the exorbitant area of table-service. A young Finn joins me at my table, a mug of sparking beer in his hand. He smiles easily and our conversation is comfortable. I ask him what I could do on a Sunday morning adding quickly that I would not like to step into some museum.

“I’ll have to think about it,” he says and promptly passes off into a serious reverie. After a few moments of thought and half a mug of beer, he comes up with an idea: “I think you could just sit here and watch the girls go by.” I find the thought not entirely disagreeable.

For lunch he suggests a students’ restaurant: “I was going there myself but it opens only at eleven. And since it was only ten minutes to eleven I stopped here.” I understand. It’s a Sunday morning and he has earned it.

I turn to watch the seagulls coming in from the sea to perch on the statues. Almost every statue has a seagull melting into its structure. The young student begins to explain that they have four species of seagulls…. I reluctantly leave him to his second frothing mug. There are things to be done…a suitcase to be packed, a room to be vacated, a journey to be made. All on a sunny Sunday morning.