Pride and PrejudiceT. SHER SINGH
We were on a cruise in the Caribbean.
As the ship sailed out of Santo Domingo’s harbour the first afternoon, we were apprised of details of our itinerary, as well as the protocol to be followed while on board.
The ship would be out in the sea each night, sailing to the next port of call. It would arrive there in the early hours, and we would have all day to explore the island on our own. We were free to stay on board to enjoy its facilities, but if we went on shore, we were to be back no later than the assigned time, shortly after which the ship would head out once again to the next destination.
Dinner every night was to be a formal affair. One could opt out of formal dining, however, and eat in one of the many restaurants and cafes that were sprinkled around the floating city.
We opted for the fine dining, which meant we had to rest, wash up and get ready within a couple of hours after we were back on board. Business suit and tie, and evening dress, were the minimum requirements for entry into the dining hall.
Four couples were assigned to each dining table, and we would be dinner companions every night for the entire voyage.
The first night went off well. My friend and I introduced ourselves to the other 6 at our table.
The couple to our left was a honeymooning couple from Toronto - her third marriage, his second. Joannie Squires was chipper as a songbird, and never let things get dull at our table. Steve, a pleasant chap, deferred to her and followed her lead.
The couple to our right were from Mont-Joli in Quebec: Gils Martin, a gentleman farmer, Marie, a farm-wife. They spoke English reasonably well, but Joannie, who had been brought up in Montreal, often engaged them in French. The bilingual element added a nice dimension to our lengthy evenings together.
While the six of us were in the range of 45 to 55, the couple across from us was certainly older. They were more reserved. But polite and courteous at all times.
They said very little, either on our first night, or on any of the nights that followed. “Jim” and “Hilary Davidson“, their table name-tags revealed. “From Kitchener, Ontario” was all that Hilary volunteered when one of us pressed for more information.
That got me digging for more, since Kitchener was but 30 minutes from where we lived. “Retired” is all that I could get out of her. He merely smiled, or nodded or shrugged in answer.
The days that followed were perfect.
In Guadeloupe, we shared a day-long rented car with the Squires and pottered around in the countryside.
We got together again to do the same in Antigua, to uncover its colonial history.
In Sint Maarten, the Squires and the Martins joined us, first for lunch and a stroll through the shopping district, and then for a lazy afternoon on the beach.
However, no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t lure the Davidsons into joining us ashore even once. In fact, we realized before long that they never left the ship. They just weren’t social.
To each his own, we muttered to each other, and didn’t give it much thought.
We did persist for the first few nights in trying to draw the Davidsons into our dinner banter but they proved as tough as nails. He would mutter a few inaudible words and a smile, or she would offer a short answer, and then they’d clam up.
My friend and I spoke about it between ourselves a few times. Both of us knew the type well: the reserved, aloof air of those who still carried baggage from their British origins. We recognized it as the sad remnant of a colonial mentality. Both of us, in our respective experiences, had learned to live with such an attitude by showing it indifference.
Once we had pigeon-holed it, we filed away our diagnosis in our minds, and didn’t talk much about it anymore.
At dinner, the Davidsons remained aloof but polite, and we humoured them. And we managed to pass our time through the voyage without an untoward incident or an unkind word. After all, we were all on vacation and each of us seemed to be adept at not letting anything dampen our spirits.
The days flew by. Seven islands and seven days later, we were back in Santo Domingo.
It was time to disembark and be driven to the airport and be flown home to Canada.
The exodus was well organized. There were several exit points on the ship.
My friend and I were in line, waiting our turn to get us into an elevator which would then disgorge us onto a gangplank, which would then deliver us to the waiting buses.
We waited patiently, as did all in our line; a second, parallel line beside us wound its way to a second elevator. As I glanced around, my eyes caught those of Hilary Davidson, standing beside her husband. She nodded and smiled. I smiled back. Jim turned and looked at me and smiled. I smiled back.
My friend and I turned to each other and blinked a silent and resigned “Whatever!” to each other.
I felt a tap on my shoulder.
It was Hilary. Jim was straggling behind her.
“Can we have a word with you?” she said softly.
“Sure,” I said.
“Can we sit down somewhere, please? Jim wants to say something. It’ll take only a minute. But somewhere quiet …”
We had time. We pulled out of the queue, and retreated to the other end of the floor where we found a cluster of sofas.
Jim held my arm and gently motioned me to sit down next to him.
Hilary sat on the next chair.
I turned to Jim. He was looking down at the floor, as if struggling with his thoughts.
“Yes?” I was getting impatient. It must have shown in my voice.
Hilary leant over, and said, ”Jim wants to say something, and he wants to say it himself.”
I stared at her. “Sorry, Sher,” she continued, “Jim suffered a stroke a few months ago and therefore can’t speak easily. So, he’ll be slow. Just give him a bit …”
I looked at Jim. He looked at me and smiled. And nodded.
And then slowly, syllable by syllable, word by word, he whispered:
“I follow your weekly columns in the Record. I am a big fan of your writing. I just wanted to say, ‘Thank You!’ “
It seemed to drain him.
Hilary continued: “He has his favourite columns by you stuck up on the fridge. And he mails them to our daughter in Winnipeg to read. He’s been wanting to say this to you all week, but you know, this stroke has left him helpless. He can’t carry on a conversation any more. I am hoping this week in warm weather will help.”
We said our goodbyes. I didn't say much.
I stayed seated on the sofa after they left. I asked my friend to go with them, I'd follow.
I sat there for a long time, staring at the sea.
A steward finally came and said that I had to go or I’d miss the bus.
* * * * *
First published on May 4, 2012. Republished on April 21, 2017.
Conversation about this article
1: Harpreet Singh (California, U.S.A.), May 04, 2012, 9:56 AM.
"fareeda khak na nindiye/ khaku jed na koye/ jiwendeyan pairan taley/ moyan ooper hoye". This is one of the toughest shabads to implement in day-to-day life. Although, prejudice isn't exactly nindya but it is a step right before that. Once we form an opinion about a person, it is very easy to fall into nindya. This is why Baba Farid reminds us to slander not even dirt ... I am truly moved by this post. Not because it's a great story. Quite honestly, being a regular reader, I knew there was a catch as to why Jim would't speak. I am moved by the story because you stand way taller than me as a Sikh. You have publicly acknowledged your shortcoming. May Waheguru bless you with naam simran so that you can fight the five demons every day ...
2: Ashmeet (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 04, 2012, 10:25 AM.
Another fine example of how first impressions aren't always right. I myself have had experiences where what I thought was 'attitude' or some sort of reservation to open up turned out to be something totally unrelated, sometimes even shocking!
3: Janice Murdoch (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), May 04, 2012, 1:57 PM.
You've made me cry.
4: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), May 04, 2012, 7:01 PM.
What a great finale! ... Without interaction, we never find out!
5: D.J. Singh (U.S.A.), May 05, 2012, 5:14 AM.
I am speechless.
6: Nav Kaur (Australia), May 05, 2012, 5:49 AM.
T. Sher Singh ji, I always gain something from your articles, you always leave me moved. Thank you for sharing!
7: J.D. Ghai (Chandigarh, Punjab), May 09, 2012, 1:22 AM.
It's a very good read. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
8: Jasbeer Singh (New Delhi, India), April 26, 2017, 10:59 PM.
Thank you! Re-learned it again the other way!
9: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), April 27, 2017, 5:02 AM.
What you see may not be what it is. Thanks for the unusual and beautiful lessons to be learnt from it.