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The Merry Host

T. SHER SINGH

 

 

 

He was the friend of a friend of a friend.

We were to visit him briefly on our first day in Ireland, on way to a two-week jaunt around the island.

We landed in Belfast (Northern Ireland) and drove to Derry to see John, en route to Donegal (in the Republic of Ireland).

We first spent the day looking around town and marvelling at the wannabe Darth Vaders who were everywhere in the streets … in jeeps and armoured cars, regaled in full combat gear. Young boys with virgin chins and toy-like guns, pretending to know why they were there. Ready to kill and be killed.

The city crest in Derry / Londonderry, displayed everywhere, appropriately has a skeleton on it, in memory of historical trials and tribulations.

We fled to the country-side. Crossed the border into Eire -- as the Republic is called in Gaelic -- and found John‘s villa and a note and key, as promised. He was gone for the day to preside over a regatta. Would be back in the evening. Pick a room, any room, he and his wife had said, and make yourself at home.

Jet lag and the memory of the morning in the war zone helped us to make up our minds instantly. We settled in and fell asleep.

And woke up with an explosion of sound and commotion. The door burst open without a warning and our merry host entered with full-throated song and unadulterated mirth. From what I could hear -- I had been sleeping on my stomach  -- he’d had a good day, it was obvious, with due justice done to the Guiness brew.

The next thing I know, I feel him land on my legs. He begins to bounce on the bed, with pleas of “Wake up! Wake up!“

“Finally,” he bellows, “my Sikh friend is here! We’ve been waiting for you forever! Never met a Sikh before, y‘know. So, get up … get up. Let‘s not waste any time!“

He knew he was our introduction to Ireland. And despite the fog in which he remained and carried around with him all day, he took his role seriously. He ladled out history, poetry, mythology & lore, gossip, politics -- non-stop -- and we let him.

We were rested by now, but not yet ready to jump into animated conversation. So he talked, we listened. Occasionally he would stop and ask questions about Canada, about my turban, about Sikhs, about our itinerary, and we would get in a few words. But mostly, we listened. 

In the evening, around 10:00 though it was still light outside, we marched off to a neighbour  -- neighbours here are a mile away, at the very least!  -- for a barbeque. It turned out to be a party for the sailors from the regatta who, like John, had continued to celebrate as the day had progressed. Everybody was happy and garrulous.

Way past midnight, John and I found ourselves on the porch, under the stars, and he continued to educate me. As the stars travelled above us, a blend of history, mythology and politics poured out of him. Somehow, everything made sense.

And then, with no rhyme or reason, he burst into song. And poetry. I must have told him at some point in the day that I had studied Yeats. He seemed to know everything Yeats had ever written, by heart, and recited endless passages, one flowing seamlessly into another. He sang of queens and fairies and giants, of country fairs and dances, revolts and famines and wars, of leprechauns, and of love and betrayal …  

Suddenly, he grabbed my hand, and looked at me, intense and earnest.

“I know I’m drunk,” he said. “I know I won’t remember a thing by the morning, so I’d better say it now.”

I looked around to see if I could yell for help, just in case I needed it. But the rest of the crowd was indoors, gyrating to the music that filled the house. Not knowing what to make of his transformation, I remained quiet.

He wasn’t looking for a response. He simply carried on talking.

I feel you’re here in this land, searching for something, he said.

I said nothing. But my thoughts did meander away a bit: it was true, I had secretly planned to look for an Irishman who had taught me 30 years ago in India, someone I had lost touch with, but had no idea where he lived, even if he was still alive. I hadn’t even told my partner about it, or anyone else, because it looked like it was going to be an exercise in futility: the only clue I had was his name and that he was Irish. Period.

John couldn’t possibly have known of my plan … which was more of a hope, actually. So, I drove the thought away and turned my attention back to him.

We were still on the deck, with us leaning on the fence, staring out into the darkness. He was still talking …

I feel you are troubled by some things. You want to do some things, you worry about whether the direction you’ve been taking is right, you’re searching for direction …

I stayed quiet. What could I say?

He continued … “Keep on course …!”

I shrugged my shoulders. I remembered that someone had warned me that the Irish are all poets and prophets.

He continued, oblivious of me, as if. Certainly not waiting for me to acknowledge or respond.

By now, he had moved on to the subject of The Troubles, as the sectarian violence in Ireland was popularly referred to.

“Fools, all of them,“ he was saying. “Killing for nothing, and destroying everything. But it can’t go on for ever now. The English are running out of money. The Irish are running out of young men. The economy is bad, and they need the hundreds of millions they spend on us for their own problems. They’ll be gone. Soon. Soon as they can find a proper excuse. And a way out. They’ll leave us swimming in our own soup. We better get our act together …”

We left the next day, to discover the magic of Ireland, both in the north and the south.

John had spent the morning giving me a quick tour of the neighbouring sights. Surprisingly, he was as chipper as ever.

As we bade goodbye, standing outside on the driveway, he bent over and picked up a small rock from the ground.

“From our home, to your home,” he said. “Just a token, to take to Canada with you.”

It seemed to be the perfect gift.

We drove away, somehow knowing that it was going to be a special holiday. Ten days later, through a string of startling coincidences, I found my 67-year old teacher in the south … in Tipperary.

I look at the rock which I brought home with me. It’s sitting on my desk.

For the life o’ me, I can’t remember whether John is Catholic or Protestant. [Did I ever know? His home was in Derry; the villa we’d stayed in, in Donegal, was a property his wife had inherited; it served as a vacation property.]

But one thing I knew for sure: I had indeed met a poet and prophet in full, true Irish form!   


February 2, 2015   

Conversation about this article

1: Kulvinder Jit Kaur (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada), February 03, 2015, 5:03 AM.

Interesting travelogue. Good idea to write down one's observations and experiences of different lands visited. Thank you for sharing.

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