April fool day at Sakyamuni Buddha Gaya Temple, Singapore

Submitted into Contest #87 in response to: Write about someone who hates pranks and spends April Fools’ Day doing good deeds instead.... view prompt

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Friendship

This was in 1999 I travelled to Singapore on package tour of 15 days solo for the first time. The package was booked with a renowned travel company. Five Days each at Singapore, Mauritius and Thailand. Started my tour from Bombay on 28th March midnight and reached Changi airport early morning. The anxiety, excitement and thrill of a first overseas trip were slowly gulping on me. At the airport I saw Alicia my pick-up taxi driver, tall; lean lady may be in her early thirties waving at me with a broad smile. She had a play card with my name and since I was the only single lady it was easy for her to recognize me. It was a great relief to see a lady driver picking you from the airport with fairly good English speaking skills. She was friendly and quite demonstrative about the places that we passed through on our way to our Hotel on Orchard road. I was astonished to know that she was 55 yrs old and twice divorced with two grown up daughters studying in college outside Singapore. She was pursuing night study of Ph.D. after she finished with her taxi driver job at 7pm. She also visited the night club after her study and was having a steady boyfriend whom she met while studying for her Ph.D. She sounded full of life and had a great zest of enjoying life. Our journey from the airport to the hotel was about 50 mins and hence could gather about her temperament a bit. We got along like house on fire.

After having freshened and taking a small nap of about 20mins got ready to have lunch at the hotel restaurant. The hotel was a picturesque serene property with a huge garden and open dining area catering to 5 types of cuisine at a stretch. I opted for typical Singaporean buffet meal. Made some friends during lunch specially this interesting young guy Allan from New York who was posted on a deputation for 3 months in Singapore bank. I had to rush to my room as Alicia was expected to pick me up for sightseeing at 4.00pm. She was sharp at 4 at the reception desk, brought with her lovely flowers to greet our friendship and we headed to Singapore zoo and Singapore Botanic garden. She also toured me to Little India and China town where she took me to a lovely Chinese joint for authentic Chinese meal. She was a naughty woman at fifty and narrated how she teased and took John for granted when it came to shopping and dining. John was working part time with a bank. He joined us for dinner and we had a long walk on the Orchard road which was majestic and colorful and cozy. I was very exhausted and wanted to pick up some good sleep to have a fresh start next day, as it was to start early at 7.00am I walked to my hotel and left the lovebirds to themselves. I was thanking my travel agent for organizing such a wonderful trip with Alicia as a companion more than a taxi driver. She accommodated herself to be with me all during my stay at Singapore cancelling her other group customers.

Next day she was sharp at 7.00am at the reception desk with flowers and some cookies she had prepared at home. Since she started early from her place she could not catch up with her breakfast, we therefore had breakfast at my hotel and started for our sightseeing. Phuket was in the itinerary the exotic pristine beach simply irresistible. Lazed around the beach, swam, had lunch, did a bit of shopping, visited a bar and a discotheque. Returned at about 12 midnight to my hotel. She came to my room with to drop the shopping bags. Chatted for about 20mins and left. Exhausted I was, I just dropped in the bed like a log and was up next day at around 9.30am.

Incidentally, Alicia had not mentioned about the next day’s sightseeing plan. I therefore enquired with the reception desk if there was any message from Alicia. She had called about 4 times and that I missed them. I remembered it was April fool and doubted whether she was playing a prank on me by not visiting me at the hotel. In fact I decided to play a prank on her. Nevertheless, I gave her a call through the reception to speak to her residence but was given to understand by her help that I must come down to Sakyamuni Buddha Gaya Temple.

The hotel cab shall drop me there. Still not believing that this may be a prank I was assured by the hotel staff that it was directed by her to have me brought to the temple as part of my sightseeing itinerary. The temple was about 5 kms from the hotel. The hotel cab dropped me at the temple on Race Course road. A young Buddhist girl who was at the gate took me inside the temple. It was very huge and was crowded with tourists and Buddhists priests. I was taken to a room right in the interior of the temple where I saw Alicia and John grossly occupied in serving about 30 priests meals prepared all by her. It was small meals served in each bowl. After every bowl being served and finished another one (fresh) was to be brought. It looked like a tiresome as well as time consuming ritual. John and Alicia were extremely engrossed in the ritual and greeted me with a nod. They signaled the young girl to be with me and to look after me. I was taken to another room where lots of tourists were sitted on the ground and having temple meal on banana leaves. It was a very simple organic meal of raw vegetables, fruits, with rice pudding as a sweet. This was a totally different experience. There was continuous chanting in the room which was very soothing and absorbing. I was glad I had come to the temple and experienced a completely different temple ritual. After an hour or so Alicia and John visited me in the room. They sounded apologetic for not being with me as they could not leave the ritual half way. I was introduced to one of the head monk who blessed me and gave me some flowers and offerings as a blessing.

I did express to her that I was apprehensive about the day’s plan and was wondering whether it was a prank planned by her. She clarified that she didn’t deliberately inform her the previous night because she was not sure whether I would take it as April fool prank. Hence, decided to give me a call in the morning. She had to get up early in the morning to prepare the servings for the monks all by herself and hence left the message with the reception. This is the offering she religiously observes on April fool day. This is the day both her parents passed away in a car accident some 4 years ago. It was learnt from her family priest that April 1st is a cursed day for her family as some of her ancestors had cursed her family for continuous death occurring on this day. To avoid that she had to observe this ritual of offering meal to 30 Buddhist monks. The offering has to be personally cooked and served by her.

Nearly the whole day was spent at the temple. We took a long stroll round the temple area did some shopping. We came back to Orchard road and got into a club-cum- disco joint for some drinks and a cozy dinner, a treat by John. John was an interesting person full of life and zest.  Alicia and John had to go back to her place to complete a small ritual before heading to bed and hence she dropped me at my hotel and left for her home. It was for the first time that April fool prank was not played by me but I didn’t seem to miss it. In fact I was feeling more at ease and relaxed.

Next day I had planned to have the day spent with Allan the guy I met in the restaurant of the hotel who was from New York. An unforgettable day it was thanks to a wonderful company of Allan plus pleasant weather. We went for an opera in the evening with a rooftop cafeteria for dinner. An unforgettable cuchy-muchy evening to linger for long. Allan did accompany me to Thailand being a weekend. Lost touch of him remaining as a pleasant memory.

Alicia is in touch with me till date but now she is married to John with a son settled in Chicago where they run a small restaurant. Every April 1st she gives me a call and enquires about me. I intend to visit them one day once the pandemic gets settled down. In Chicago they still don’t celebrate April fool’s day but spend the day serving Buddhist monks in the temple.

For some, April fool is not a prank day, but like any other normal day. Whereas for some, a more meaningful like Alicia and John. Long to have more such delightful trips.

Miss Aruna Gohil

Email: arunaopa@gmail.com

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The author and poetess is Miss Aruna Gohil from India. Writing is her passion. She is a blogger, social media advisor, writes short stories, scripts for web series etc. print media in India. Her writing has always implicated change be it on women empowerment, climate change, human behaviour, fiction, romance etc. Her poems are published in the international Poetry digest.

March 29, 2021 09:37

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