Sunday serialisation – Knight after Knight, 16.2

Knight after Knight250

In Knight & Deigh, Hannice Knight suffered a back injury that left him without the use of his legs. Sophie Deigh, physiotherapist and recent widow, devoted herself to supporting him.

As Hannice’s body recovered, he became ever closer to Sophie, and soon they found themselves in a relationship they had neither anticipated nor intended and for which neither was fully prepared.

A bump in the Knight followed Hannice as he juggled business, hedonism, marriage and ultimately parenthood.

Knight after Knight is the third and final part of the Hannice Knight story. Starting after the marriage of Hannice and Sophie’s only son, David to Jess, the only child of Jason and Noelani Reeves of Hawaii, it traces the Knight family’s progression through the generations.

Knight after Knight. Chapter sixteen, part two.

Preparations for the trip took nearly three weeks and included arranging visas and other documentation, as well as the necessary health checks, anti-malarial measures and largely unnecessary but advisable vaccinations, particularly tetanus and tummy-bug protections and advice – more needed by first-time visitors to India, which meant everyone except me.

Partly as a precaution but mostly because it was something I hadn’t attended to after recent changes to my circumstances, I had a session with James Green, Joe’s son who is now taking some of the load off his father. Since losing Sophie, changing my relationship with KGT then losing Max, we felt that a refresh and rewrite of my will to incorporate all of the amendments and codicils would be a worthwhile exercise.

That having been done, I felt prepared for the trip. Henk spent some time tidying things up and lining up some publicity for the partnership after our return, in the hope of getting more business in, whilst Susie busied herself researching the business we were going to look at and boning up on commercial and financial law and practice in the country. Hannah? She was having a whale of a time trying to find the perfect outfits to take with her. Although she would never admit it, Jess was having a lot of fun helping her.

The sky was clear enough when we landed at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, but by the time we eventually arrived at our destination on the outskirts of the city proper, the air was thick with fog and had an unpleasant, acrid taste to it. Happily, our hotel was air-conditioned and its windows closed, if not sealed. Although not my first trip to India, this was my first time in the country’s capital and, despite all that I’d heard and read about the air pollution problems, I can’t say I was really prepared for the reality of it. I was, however, prepared for the hotel. As I’d noticed on my previous trips to the country, the standards of service and attention to detail are as good as any I’ve come across, and better than many, if not most. Henk and Hannah were also accustomed to this level of service and were able to take it in their stride, but I’m afraid Susie was somewhat nonplussed by it.

Although it’s not something I’m ever conscious of, it can be quite difficult for some people to be treated with what may appear, on the face of it, to be submissive servility. It does take a while to reach the point where one can accept it for what it is, whilst still treating the person giving the service as an equal. Sadly, it is something many people never learn, and it always distresses me to see people from wealthy backgrounds, be they business-folk or holidaymakers, treating hotel staff and others as inferior. I often wonder whether they’re the same with their own staff or lower-ranking workmates, retail workers and service providers generally, or whether it is, indeed, linked to their nationality or even to the tint of their skin. Many people in the circles I moved in whilst living in Dar-es-Salaam were very much in that mould, which probably goes part-way to explaining why I didn’t move in them as much as I might have.

I have to confess to being slightly in awe of those in the hotel who can arrange a small pile of towels in such a way that they clearly resemble a swan or even an elephant. And it seems I’m not the only one. I heard a knock on my door and a voice that I recognised as that of Susie Weston.

“Mr Knight,” she called, “would it be alright for me to come in. I mean, are you—”

“Yes, Susie,” I replied, “I’m in a fit state to receive you. Please.”

She came into my room, almost at a run. She saw the pair of ‘elephants’ on the foot of my bed and said, “Oh, they’ve done yours, too. Isn’t that clever? I’ve never seen anything like it before. Who does it?”

“The same person who cleans out your bath and toilet, Susie. The same person who makes your bed and tidies your room. To them, this isn’t a special skill, it’s just what they do. Just another way of showing that they want us to have a good stay.”

“Not special people? I can’t see that happening in the kind of hotels I normally go to.”

“The people of India have a proud history, Susie, and we forget it at our peril. According to the experts, India’s share of the world’s trade before British rule was nearly a quarter – almost the same as the USA enjoys now. It still ranks seventh but at less than three per cent. These are the people whose forbears were building massive, ornate forts like the Taj Mahal at a time when England was in the middle of its civil wars and not yet united with Scotland. English, Dutch, Danish and French settlers were forming small colonies on the north-eastern coast of North America whilst Spain was consolidating its hold on Central America and what is now the southern USA.”

“I knew about these buildings; I’ve seen pictures and so on, but I’ve never thought to compare it to what we were doing at the time. So how come they’re not one of the top nations now?”

“That would be an interesting thing to study, Susie, but it’s not something I can give you an answer to. I believe it had started to stagnate before we got involved, but whether we could have prevented its decline is something historians will probably argue about for many a year.”

“And what about Indian philosophy? Who can I talk to about that?”

“No me, that’s for sure,” I said with a laugh, “In fact, I don’t know who is.”

“Thank you, Mr Knight.”

“What for?”

“For taking me seriously. For showing me respect. Being blond and, well, pretty, I suppose, I don’t always get too much of that.”

“Will you be joining the rest of us for dinner this evening?”

“I expect so.”

“Okay. Meet us in the main restaurant lobby at seven.”

She went off happy. Her questions had got me thinking, though. There is a tendency, and I suppose I suffer from it to an extent, to think of missions like this one as Head Office showing ‘the locals’ how to do the job, as if they aren’t capable of doing it themselves. In fact, what we are doing here would be exactly the same if it were a department in the Head Office under investigation. I resolved to raise the matter over dinner, to make absolutely sure that we couldn’t leave ourselves open to accusations of colonialism or, worse still, racism.

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