Our home in Pune is just 500 Mts away from our local perennial river the Mula Mutha, which is actually the outcome of two rivers, the Mula and the Mutha having merged into one just about two kilometers upstream. Along the bank on our side of the river, we have a protected bird sanctuary which hosts migratory birds every winter as it has done this year too. This year however has been particularly unusual in that we have a very uncommon visitor who normally breeds in North-East China and Japan. Perhaps the climate there this year is not favourable, but for whatever reason, the Grey Headed Lapwing (Vanellus Cinereus) which normally winters in India’s North East and parts of our East coast decided to come over to our patch of green. Bird watchers, the regular kind, not my type, are all excited and the visit has earned wide coverage in our local media.
Had I been an enthusiastic Ornithologist, I would have disappointed Grannymar who chose this week’s topic with a post on all the visitors who come over to Pune to winter here every year. That would include many Caucasians who come to the Osho Ashram across the river from us, where my type of bird watchers can be found on sunny days. Sadly, I am not and therefore, let me write about something quite different but perhaps more appropriate.
One of India’s Upanishads, says “Matru devo bhava, Pitru devo bhava, Acharya devo bhava, Atithi devo bhava”. Means One should worship Mother, Father, Teacher and Guests as God.
In the Indian contest, a visitor is not differentiated from a guest. While admittedly the difference is subtle and more dependent on usage, in the particular context that I wish to approach the subject, I would like to treat a visitor as a guest.
This is the traditional way to welcome our guests into our homes. The gesture has been explained by me in my post “Hands”. The gesture is accompanied by the words – “Aapka Swagat Hai.” When Inida’s Prime Minister visited the USA in November last year, President Obama welcomed Mrs. and Mr. Manmohan Singh with those words and won a billion hearts of Indians.
Indians poor or rich take hospitality very seriously because of the brain washing that they receive from childhood that the guest is equal to God. They may go without their own meal but would insist that the guest partake what there is at home or prepare something for the guest even when the guest arrives unexpectedly and unannounced. I quote from the Wikipedia – “India is one of the oldest civilizations on earth, and like every culture has its own favorite stories including quite a few on hospitality. That of a simpleton readily sharing his meager morsels with an uninvited guest, only to discover that the guest is a God in disguise, who rewards his generosity with abundance. That of a woman who lovingly cooks up all the Khichdi she can afford, for everyone who is hungry… till one day when she runs out of food for the last hungry person to whom she offers her own share, and is rewarded by the god in disguise with a never ending pot of Khichdi. Most Indian adults having grown up listening to these stories as children, believe in the philosophy of “Atithi Devo Bhava”, meaning the guest is God. From this stems the Indian approach of graciousness towards guests at home, and in all social situations.”
Every culture has similar attitudes towards visitors and guests and I have been very fortunate to have experienced some exceptional hospitality in many parts of the world. As a visitor to strange places during my Indian and Globe trotting days, many individuals opened their homes and hearts to me to make my visits to their places memorable and cherished. On my return, I used to tell anyone who cared to listen that throughout the world, “Atithi devo bhava” is a universal value though may not be expressed in the same way.
Now for the punch line. I treat my blog as my home. The people who visit my blog posts are Atiti for me. Like in real life situations, I extend the warmth, affection and respect to my blog guests with equal fervour. As a visitor to many other blogs, I consider myself a guest there and try and do exactly what I would like the guests to my blogs to do.
Do I hear some approving noises?