I don’t know why he chose me for comfort and advice. It all began like this.
‘Sir, I hope you don’t mind me asking you’ he said. I said. ‘certainly will not’
‘Sir, I don’t know why Mr. R doesn’t like me?’ I asked him how does he know. ‘Yes I know, I heard him say, I take cut from the shops I take you people to’. I asked him, ‘Santo,’ have you ever worked as a cook’?. This question took him by surprise. He must have been wondering what cook has to do with the problem he has come to discuss with me. He said no, he has no experience as a cook. ‘Supposing you worked in a kitchen as a cook, will you not taste the food? Now he brightened up a bit. He said,’ yes sir I will, otherwise how I know food is good? I said, ‘the same thing is true with tour guides. They must taste the items they make the tourists buy’. Now he was visibly happy. ‘Sir you really think so? I said yes. But still he lingered on. ‘But sir, he thinks I take money. I told him it doesn’t matter which ever form one tastes. ‘Sir I cannot do it, I am Buddhist’. I said Buddhist or no you are a guide and you must first taste the food before you make us eat’. ‘Thank you sir for your advice’ and he left.
Another day he came to the room,’ sir I have one more problem. I asked him what it is now. ‘Sir that old man [all of us are old but he singled out one] Mr. P asks difficult questions. I said we tourists don’t know which questions are difficult and which are not. But sir, ‘it is not once but many times,’ today he asked me why Buddhists don’t follow family planning? I told him,’ sir there is no state policy’. He says state doesn’t say when one has to have sex, it is individual’s decision, you are a Buddhist you should know. ‘Sir how can I answer this question?’ I said,’ you be quiet and don’t answer such questions. ‘Sir I did, but he won’t leave me. ‘Santo, he tell me, why are you quiet? You not answered my question? ‘What did you tell him?’ I asked him. ‘Sir I told him I don’t know about Hindus but we Buddhists enjoy sex’. I came to like Santo. I asked him what he [Mr P] said to that. ‘Sir he became quiet but I see he not happy with the answer’. I told him I was very happy with the answer. Santo appeared pleased with my response, but ‘sir,’ I cannot upset people’. I told him not to worry.’ Mr. P will be secretly happy, any way old men of our age just talk about sex where as you guys actually do it’. A very pleased Santo left me.
‘Sir another problem’ Mrs. K thinks that the store where we went this morning sells fake jewelry. I told him all costume jewelry is fake. ‘Why sir, you too think so? I said the jewelry sold is not made of silver or gold, they are all plated. ‘Aaah,’that kind of fake,’ that everyone knows’. ‘But Mrs. K doesn’t’ I told him.’ she must have heard that in Srilanka jewelry is cheap and she must have been disappointed to find it is cheap because it is plated. ‘I will be careful hereafter and tell all Indian women tourist that the jewelry is plated, they will not blame me for taking them to a fake store’ Santo said before leaving.
Another day another problem, Sir that man who always has a serious face; he found it difficult to remember the name. I told him he is Mr. S. ‘Yes, Mr. S,’ he says why is it raining here always? You should provide umbrellas to all’. ‘Sir, he continued, do I make rain? I said no. ‘That too not in season?’ For this also I said no. ‘Then why sir, this gentleman wants umbrella at all times?’ I told him, ‘see Santos, why some people wear a coat at all times? Even when it is hot? He said he doesn’t know. ‘That is because it is a habit. Mr. S carries an umbrella all the time when he is in Bangalore and that is why he wants you to provide an umbrella and because he cares for others he has included all of us’. But sir,’ giving umbrella to all 21 is difficult, but still I will tell the company for future [he made a note in his diary]. From umbrella he jumped to another topic. He said sir,’ I am also a sportsman’. I became interested and wondered why he was telling me this. I asked him what sports he plays. He said,’ I play Billiard’. I said,’ very good ‘[felt the game suits his paunch] ‘Sir, you play billiard?’ I said no. ‘Sir Billiard is also like golf, you put ball in the hole, but area of play is small, not like golf’. He waited for my reaction. I said.’ Yes Santo,’ but Golf is easy.’ No sir,’ golf very difficult,’ in golf you have to walk all over, get wet, hit a small ball with a long stick, get leg pain, then sir you have to drink beer after you finish’. I agreed with most of what he said but not the last part. I told him drinking beer is not compulsory. We drank beer because Srilankan beer is very good; He beamed with this appreciation of Srilankan beer. ‘But sir there is one gentleman, Mr. P who drinks only Srilankan Arrack, not good for his age, you are a doctor, you tell him not to drink like that’. I told him, ‘Santo that Mr P can drink a bottle of arrack and still play a round of golf’.’ OK, then sir don’t tell him, let him drink Srilankan arrack, only two days left [for the tour to finish] you know’.
Another day. ‘Mr S, he don’t like me. ‘Why not, I saw him with you talking and laughing this afternoon’ I said. ‘Talking yes but no laughing no sir’. ‘Why does he not like you?’ I asked. ‘Not liking, not in that sense sir, he does not like me sitting with you yesterday at dinner table. I think he belongs to superior caste. In India, I think you have this caste superior and inferior, I have heard’. Santos, I said, ‘You are a Buddhist, you belong to the most superior caste and you have right to sit at the centre of any table’. ‘Sir then why he told me so?’ Santos asked. ‘See Santos, that Mr. S, he is big businessman, he wants to talk business and if you sit with him he cannot talk business, but only about tour, that is why he told you not to sit at the table’. This placated him. ‘Oho so, but I will be careful [another note in his diary].
‘Sir, Janak thinks you all are very good people’ .This unasked for compliment from the bus driver took me by surprise. I asked him how he has classified us thus. He says,’ all of you wish him before getting into the bus ’. If being good is just wishing then the whole world would have been of good people. I kept quiet. ‘But there is one person, Mr. S who has not wished him so far’ Santos complained. I asked him, ‘why are you telling me this’. He said,’ I must tell for your future reference’. What it meant I don’t know.
On the day of leaving Santo came to see me one last time, He said,’ sir this tour was very good, you all are such good educated people, your wives also’ he added as an afterthought. I asked him, ‘but you had so many complaints’. He said,’ sir that is for my education, last tour group had only Germans, I suffered so much I cannot tell you, your group very good’
On that salutary note our Srilankan golf cum sightseeing tour ended.
[Some facts and lots of fiction]