Thank You but NO Thank You

Trip Start Sep 08, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of India  , Bengal,
Friday, January 14, 2011

Our 19:55 train from Siliguri eventually left New Jalpaiguri station at quarter to three in the morning. We were both asleep in our upper berths by the time the train started moving.

We woke to find a meditation session in full swing beneath us - we were sharing the booth with two women from the Art of Living ashram who had been joined in their practice by the third, male member of their organisation - and the silent introspection continued peacefully on the lower berths for an hour.

The ladies were, when they had returned to this illusionary world, wonderful to us and insisted on sharing their food - which consisted of salty puffed rice with spicy crackers, ground cashew nut sweets, ghee soaked sugar syrup sweets, silver-coated ground almond sweets) and among other kind conversation, gave us a brief introduction to some of Hindhu's greatest gods.

The pinnacle of their generosity came when their colleague (who did not speak much English) disembarked at his local station, two hours short of Kolkata. As we were all expecting to have arrived at our destination by eight in the morning and it was now getting on for five in the afternoon, none of us had packed food for the day and by mid-afternoon, having come down from our morning sugar-rush from the sweets, were all beginning to feel in need of some proper food.

Knowing this, the gentleman had phoned ahead to his wife to prepare some food for his companions and when we arrived at his station, his son was waiting on the platform with cartons of vegetable curry, roti & chilli crackers which the women accepted in exchange for their friend. They then proceeded to dish up all the food onto four paper plates, absolutely insisting that we ate with them. To our amazement, it transpired that the man had informed his wife of these two 'international travellers' who were now part of the party and to make sure there was enough food for all.

Anyway, this is all a preamble to the discussion that followed our meal. For every plate of curry we were served, for every roti and biscuit and spoonful of seconds that was offered and accepted, we thanked our kind hosts. Not in an over-the-top display of eternal gratitude but with sincerity and, more to the point, as a habitual gracious and well-mannered response. As all well brought up English/Irish peoples do, we expressed thanks every time something was offered to us. Without thinking about it we said "Thanks" for the plate of food, "Thanks" for the second helping and the third roti, "Thanks" for the serviettes that were handed out until our hosts eventually asked us to please stop thanking them.

It is our duty, they explained. As it is our duty to look after our father, to look after our mother. It requires no thanks as it is the expected thing and in any case, to say thank you is a way of closing the deal. I offer you something and you say thank you and the transaction is complete. Closed. Whereas I would be much happier if you did not say thank you, if the transaction were left open and somewhere, at some time if I am in need of help and you are in a position to help me you will repay me in kind.

And I remembered, when we were crossing the border into Nepal and our French companions had a guide book with basic phrases and apparent in its absence was a translation for 'merci'. Of course at the time we did not miss the opportunity to joke that the French traveller could, with clear conscience, go around the world without thanking anybody but the truth was the word does not have the same cultural value as in English or Irish or French.

And surely a more sincere and profound display of gratitude is to have the graciousness to accept kindness when it is offered, and repay it in time - be that with your next gesture, or within the day, the week, the year, or simply when the next opportunity to do so arose.

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