One of the perils of being on board a cruise ship for any length of time – a mere week in our case – is that you cannot escape from the enticements laid out to lure you into splurging. Even as sensible passengers in their hundreds would leave the ship at port after an early breakfast, my family would appear content to stay on board. Cleaver, our Peruvian cabin attendant, would knock tentatively to ask, “No go port, nice sightseeing?” I’d assure him that we would be on our way as soon as everyone was up, had brushed their teeth, and balanced the previous night’s accounts — because Diwali, it seemed, had already arrived in our alternate time zone.
“How much did you lose?” my wife would ask our son. “Less than you, Mom,” he’d mumble — yet, apparently more than his sister who, though not a winner, was at least a cautious loser on board the ship’s casino. Not once did our family of losers enquire how much someone might have won, for apart from my having gained from a couple of martini-soaked wagers on the first night, no one among them seemed any closer to the jackpot. I’d had only that one flutter at the casino, apart from the dollars lost on the slot machines every time I walked in to check which member of the family was bleeding money by the hour. My daughter, though, was taken by an Italian housewife who stayed glued to the poker table throughout the cruise. “Inglese no comprendere,” she’d said by way of introduction, though she seemed friendly enough, and appeared to have an indulgent husband who turned up every other hour with dollar bills for her to convert into chips that she squandered with astonishing regularity. “I want to be just like her when I grow up,” my daughter said, imagining a life lived out in chips as she cruised around the world.
Since I was the one funding their indulgences, I had to find ways to rein them in. I set a limit on their craps and roulette and poker stakes, which they soon exhausted. Thereafter, they pleaded for advances against their shopping money, borrowed on credit against my cards, swiped the on-board charge account and converted it into chips, and nicked any leftover change from our port trips to try their luck at the slots. If my daughter was missing from the swimming pool when the alluring World’s Sexiest Man contest (incidentally, claimed by an Indian dancing to a Bollywoodian Jai Ho!) was on, you could be sure she was deciding at that very moment whether to go for a straight flush or not. If my son had torn himself from the dubious delights of Ms Bikini Abs, it was because the blonde croupier who kept calling him “champ” while he kept spending, offered more beguiling fare.
After losing for three days straight, my wife decided she wasn’t going to play any more, “not for love or money”, she declared — illusory words, for I found her with dollars sneaked from my billfold that she’d managed to find hidden in my shoes in our cabin, but already the property, alas, of the casino management because she had recklessly decided it was her winning afternoon. Having found ways to slip out at night, in between formal meal courses, or en route to the washroom, but with little to show for it, my wife insisted I had reason to be glad, anyway, “because Diwali, at least, darling, is still a few months away”.