Today, I am reminiscing about a country that perhaps occupies a small place on the world map but occupies a large space in my heart because I experienced a big gesture of magnanimity in this country. You may forget places, yet one never forgets kindness meted out by strangers in a foreign land.
The year was 1988. I was sitting in a small, cosy restaurant in Surinam, enjoying lunch along with my indian journalist friends. Soft music was floating in the air. Although the language of the song was unknown, yet it sounded familiar, as if connected to India.
We called the owner of restaurant to solve the mystery. He explained that language of the song was Sarnami. It is a dialect of bhojpuri, spoken by indian population, who form over 22 percent of population of Surinam. Ancestors of these indians were brought here about hundred years ago by the British as indentured labour to work in plantations of sugar cane, coffee and other crops. They spoke bhojpuri which had evolved into sarnami over a long period of time.
We finished our lunch and asked for our bill. We were told that our bill was already paid. By whom, was our question? The owner pointed towards someone sitting in a corner of the restaurant. We walked up to the stranger and said we appreciate your fine gesture but we would like to pay our own bill. I still remember the name of this kind soul. His name was Ramesh and his ancestors were from Bihar. There were tears in his eyes and he pleaded that he should not be denied this small privilege of looking after brothers from home land of his forefathers. All of us thanked him, hugged him and left. It was a beautiful Moment and is etched on my heart.
We were in Surinam as part of press party accompanying vice president Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma. He was on a three nation tour of Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and
Surinam is a small country on the northeastern coast of South America defined by tropical rainforests, Dutch colonial architecture and a melting point of cultures with a population of just over 578000.
Ram Sevak Shankar was president of the country. His fore fathers came to Surinam as indentured labour. Grinding stone and black iron tawa brought by his ancestors to Surinam were still in use at the residence of Ram Sevak Shankar. Indians are second largest group comprising over 22 percent of population Of this country.
Gurudev Rabindra nath Tagore, wrote a beautiful poem expressing anguish and longing of indentured labour to return home.
Back to Delhi, Dr. Sharma invited us over a cup of tea. Talking to us, the vice president mentioned that he listened to AIR spot light programme last night which highlighted emotional content of his Surinam visit. He said he liked the programme. I raised my hand and said it was my script Sir and thanked him for liking it.
Dr. Sharma advised journalists to highlight human and emotional angle in such stories. My fellow journalists, present on the occasion congratulated me saying, Guru, tumhari to nickel padi. Friend, you are lucky. Vice President has noticed and appreciated you.