Diwali on Board the Viking Sky

(Essay)

Upon hearing about our plan to take an ocean cruise towards the end of October 2022, the first thing almost everyone asked was if we are going with any friends. Our answer had been “It will be just the two of us.” When I mentioned this in my Spanish-speaking Meetup they asked if it was a Luna de Miel (Honeymoon).

We think it is fun to travel with your friends, but sometimes there is a sense of adventure in going solo. Going solo presents an opportunity to meet someone new, someone from a different part of the world or different states in the United States, and get to know something about their region and lifestyle. Small talk does not make you lasting friends, but sometimes you remember the unique personalities you meet. All it takes is a smile, a hello, and some small talk.

Our cruise was the Ancient Mediterranean Wonders aboard the Viking Sky. We asked a couple of our friends if they were interested, but due to other commitments, they could not make it.

On the cruise, we met people from Canada, England, Georgia, Colorado, Alabama, and Texas. The gentleman from Georgia gave a detailed discourse on why he reads books on political philosophy. He appeared to be of a liberal bend because he said many of his relatives, some with PhDs, still support the GOP. He recommended Why We’re Polarized? by Ezra Klein and American Nations by Colin Woodard for us to read. But when it came to his planned vote in Georgia’s mid-term senate election, he was undecided between Herschel Walker (a Republican) and Raphael Warnock (a Democrat). This we didn’t understand. The couple from Colorado had spent many years in India. The husband’s father had been stationed in India. They talked about their shopping trip to Varanasi. The person from Alabama was with his cousin. He recommended that we watch Velvet a Spanish drama and Black Money Loves and Intersection on Netflix. He was very passionate about these shows. We decided to look into these.

During breakfast in Cappadocia, we shared a table with a couple who lived just north of London, England. 

“What’s happening with your PM?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied the lady. “Gone within six weeks.”

“I hear Johnson wants to come back,” I said.

“I hope not,” was her reply.

Her husband interjected and said that they will have a new Prime Minister by the end of the week and he correctly predicted that it was going to be Sunak.

Besides meeting people like these, the one striking thing we noticed was the crew on board the ship. On our earlier cruises, the crew had been predominantly from far east Asia, from areas such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Bali. This time a majority were from India. They were not in low-level positions but many were supervisors. The General Manager of ship operations was a gentleman called Mukesh Kumar.

On our first day, we visited a restaurant called The Restaurant. Our waiter, Jeet, turned out to be from Mumbai. He spoke with us in Marathi. Then there was the wine server, a lady pastry server, and a lunch counter supervisor all from the suburbs of Mumbai or Pune. Word spread around that a Maharashtrian couple is on board and some other members of the crew started talking to us in Marathi, and they were so excited to be doing so. Mumbai and Pune are major cities in the state of Maharashtra. The dialect of this state is Marathi which happens to be our mother tongue.

“Auntie you have to come tonight. We have a great selection of Gelato.” Anju, the twenty-something young pastry server would say when we walked past her counter.

One day we were having lunch at the World Café buffet restaurant. The lady who brought us tea was from India but did not look like a Maharashtrian. She was from Nepal. Jeet happened to be walking by. He approached us to say hello and to declare that the tea server was his fiancé. They were engaged. Just the night before Bharati and I were talking about the possibilities of these young people meeting their life partners here on the ship. They were young, away from their families, and in proximity to each other every day. Jeet’s announcement proved that this was indeed inevitable.

A day before our departure to Cappadocia we were worried about how we can take our luggage on a local flight. We visited the Guest Services. Two of the three advisors were Indian ladies. One of them, Vidya, was from New Delhi. When the gentleman we were talking to was having difficulty explaining something to us Vidya noticed it. She approached us and asked, “Hindi main boloo?” (Can I talk in Hindi?). She didn’t want to upset the person we were talking with. And she did a great job in making us understand what Viking was planning to do about our trip to Cappadocia, how Viking will transfer our luggage to the hotel in Istanbul and we need to carry only two days of necessities with us for the local flight. We were relieved.

It was October 21st, the first day of this year’s Diwali. That day we wished “Happy Diwali” to any Indian crew member we came across. Divya was overwhelmed by our wishes.

“Oh my God,” she said with a cracked voice. “Nobody has wished me Happy Diwali here. Thank you, thank you, Auntie and Uncle.” 

She half bent to touch Bharati’s feet as is the Indian custom when one meets elders. But Bharati stopped her and hugged her instead.

On the last day of our cruise, we visited the World Café to have a light dinner. The next day we were going to disembark on our way to Cappadocia. The Café was not busy as it used to be. Perhaps people were getting ready for the disembarkation the next day.

We finished our dinner and were having tea when Rishi, the main chef, approached us and started talking. Bharati asked him for the recipe for the chicken she had liked so much. He gave elaborate instructions. As he finished and was leaving us to talk with other guests, we wished him a happy Diwali.

We continued enjoying our tea and hoped our trip to Cappadocia the next day would be a trip to remember. Then something happened that we would not have imagined. Rishi reappeared. He placed a small plate of freshly prepared jilebi in front of us.

“Happy Diwali,” he said smiling. “Enjoy.”

We had never tasted a jilebi that good. Who would have expected a Diwali treat on board a cruise ship?

(Except for Mr. Kumar I have used fictitious names in this story to protect the privacy of the individuals)

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