I’m sure most Indians understand the meaning of this phrase. It is a verse from ancient Indian scriptures which has become part of the code of “good” conduct. The entire verse is “Matru devo bhava, Pitru devo bhava, Acharya devo bhava, Atithi devo bhava” which is written in the Taittiriya Upanishad (source
). Literally, it means that a guest is a god. What it tries to convey is that we should treat a guest the way we would treat a god if they visited us - with respect.
When I said that most Indians understand the meaning of the phrase, I mean to say that we only understand the literal meaning and not the deeper meaning. A recent incident, two actually, which I witnessed triggers this rant of mine. I was at Auroville, Pondicherry for their annual marathon last week. I was there a day early and had enough time to visit the nearby beach as well. On the way I’d met a few foreigners who were working for a firm in Delhi and had come down to spend a weekend in Pondicherry. There was a girl among the visitors and she and I went into the water to bathe while the two other guys in the group stayed back to watch our things. While we went into a nearly empty strech of water, it didn’t take much time for random guys to wade towards us. My friend was not even wearing a bathing suit (having lived in India for a little while, she obviously knew better) - she was wearing full clothes and still this. She let out an annoyed groan and asked why these guys have to always do this. I did not have an answer.
The second incident happened to the Frenchman in the same group. He wanted to buy some of the trinklets being sold on the beach. The hawker obviously quoted ridiculous prices for them. The Frenchman finally didn’t buy any of the things after I suggested that I could not gurantee what was a good price for them. There was one pesserby who did however suggest a low enough price, the hawker got abusive at that. Of course, people want to make a little extra money from foreigners as they can afford to pay more and these prices would still be lesser than those back home for them. However, there should be some sense in how greedy we can become.
I also know of numerous incidents (personal accounts from friends) where female foreign visitors are grabbed, groped or molested on public transport. All this, categorized under ‘eve teasing’ of course.
If any of us really understood the meaning of “Atithi Devo Bhava”, we would not let such things happen. That is why I was impressed when I saw the Atithi Devo Bhava campaign
launched by the Government of India. It is trying to sensitise
the first contact points - cab drivers, tourist guides, porters, etc towards tourists. Although I believe that the general public should be sensitized as well, this is still a start. Amir Khan endorsing it is definitely a great thing too. I hope tourists are treated decently at least if not as gods.