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.


7 Responses to “Atithi Devo Bhava”

  1. grand paradi Says:

    bravo pour ton blog, que je découvre. Déjà, écrire en anglais (et si bon anglais), ça m’impressionne, mais en plus les textes sont supers! à bientôt
    vis tu à delhi? (je n’ai pas encore tout lu, c’est pour ça…)

  2. jasmineandtheelephants Says:

    Merci merci merci!
    j’adore le tien – et je t’envie parfois de vivre a Bombay. Je vis a Jaipur, qui est moins fun mais…on a moins d’embouteillages!

  3. Vancouverblogreader Says:

    moi aussi, je decouvre ton blog et j’aime bcp.
    J’ai ete tres emue par ton article.

  4. jasmineandtheelephants Says:

    merci mille fois! ca fait chaud au coeur de lire des petits mots comme le tien!
    moi aussi j’etais emue de repenser aux enfants. je les croise souvent, et leur gout pour la vie m’emerveille…

  5. Sunny Side Says:

    Oh I am so happy Grand Paradi visited your blog !
    I am very afraid to go there, my mind can’t figure it, I mean it must be such a shock ! I will do it one day. The first time I arrived in airport Bombay, I almost faint outside … the heat, the smell … I really don’t know how my heart could react. And I really understand your point of view. I knew such a situation with Ceylanese people. No money and one incredible meal to share ! They are prince and princess of heart !!!

  6. jasmineandtheelephants Says:

    Hey Sunny Side! You are one sunny reader indeed!
    I can imagine how you felt…both at the airport and with the people in SL. It’s tough, it’s overwhelming and to sum it up: it’s difficult to deal with.
    But it’s important to look at it in the eye, don’t you think?

  7. Sunny Side Says:

    YES important to look at it in the eye ! I don’t know myself in that kind of situation … i will tell you when it happens !

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