Atithi Devo Bhava
March 25, 2009
In India there is this thing that it’s rude to let your guests go. Nevermind that they’re dead tired, wasted or battling meningitis: you just don’t let them go.
Well, I for sure do. I throw them out. But I guess such shocking manners are tolerated from a barbarian.
Of course, not letting your guests go comes from a sweet intention.
Atithi Devo Bhava – Guests are Gods.
And indeed, it sometimes makes my jaw drop, how hospitable Indians are.
I used to accompany my former and extraordinary flatmate Nina on some of her charity-related field trips. The NGO she worked for organized health camps by the railway station slum and she dragged me there.
We got to know the kids quite well, and after a few months, we’d know the parents too. By this time, we were looking after a good twenty kids, from 4-month to 11 year-old. I never really let my heart melt for the kids. Maybe I knew that if I allowed that, I’d be fucked.
Because, where do you start? Where do you stop? When you see a 5-year old little girl being smacked in the head with a wooden bat? When a mother, her eyes blank, her face covered with knife-scars, hands you her 6-month old to wash? Or when a 10-year-old is sold away to a pimp?
It’s too much misery, too much sadness, too little hope to take in. I went along and loved looking after them, but I never let it crawl under my skin. I’m not sure I completely succeeded. There were moments when I just wanted to whisk them home, away from hell.
On the last health camp, Nina and I took my younger sister with us. When we finished with the kids, drenched in sweat, one little boy brought us to his hut.His parents were there, weaving baskets under a plastic sheet they shared with their four daughters and son.
They made us sit in the shade and sent their son to get Pepsis. Pepsis. They didn’t even have water to drink. I fought and refused and threatened and stood up to leave, but there was nothing I could do. We drank the Pepsis to the last drop, mortified by the expense we had caused. And simply amazed.
So yes, guests are gods in India, and you don’t know what it means until you’ve been treated like a princess by a family of beggars.