Thursday, March 13, 2008

Athithi Devo Bhava

At a casual dinner table discussion with some of my Spanish colleagues, I was impressed in the way they spoke of tourism in Spain, as a major contributor for their annual GDP. Quite understandable from any Indian's point of veiw.(Don't many of us fantasise of that golden honeymoon at Spain!) What is interesting is that the seriousness with which many tourist dominated countries , look at their tourist guests from other part of the world. This seriousness is a result of a very candid understanding of the nature of the business itself. Tourism in that sense is slightly different from that of other service businesses. Tourism is not just about making available "places" for people to visit, its about making a tourist feel like a king. Its about the people who make him feel that way.
As I get down from my bus at Bangalore KBS at 4 AM , returning from my trip to Vijayawada, I am greeted by a flurry of Auto Rickshaw drivers (the capital 'A' is out of respect), waiting at the door of my bus, compelling me to accept thier services, often quoting favourable phrases like "pre-paid" "meter only" etc. I dont feel like a king waiting to be served by a million Auto Rickshaw drivers.I feel like a guinea pig, waiting to get experimented on by smart, sinister cunning Auto Rickshaw drivers, and only count the seconds before I fall prey to the devious plans of somebody waiting to cheat me. If this is the way touting makes me feel, I cant imagine how abused a tourist from a distant country is bound to feel. Surely not like a king at all!
Touting leaves a bad taste on everyone. I hope somebody understands this. I understand the competition to catch the unknowing tourist from a foreign country (read as white skinned idiot!) I realise that the taxi drivers in the Airport, Railway station or the tourist guides in front of the Taj Mahal or Charminar or the beggars in MG Road are all waiting to make some business. But little do they realise that touting may make them money in the short run, but in the long run they are themselves burning their own business. The disturbed tourist is not likely to speak well of the Charminar or MG Road, to his friends back home. The chances that he chooses India for his next holiday,is that much reduced.
India has a huge possibility of a much increased tourist revenue. But that can be possible only if a few things are to be taken in serious interest by all of us.The most important of all those things is to respect and recognise tourist as a guest. Tourists come to India because they think of it as the land which has welcomed millions of cultures open heartedly. We need to appreciate the cultures of our guests , and demonstrate our open heartedness towards guests. We cannot afford to depict a closed mind towards tourists.
The government and the private sectors have already identified tourism as an important avenue for revenue. A lot of investment is already underway to realise this hidden potential of ' Incredible India'. But all these investments will only make better places for tourists to visit and enjoy. What is more important is that we as Indians make ourselves better people to meet and get to know.
As a closing note I want to tell you about a Swedish passenger , with whom I travelled once. He was 52 years of age! After he realised I was an Indian, he struck into a very incredible conversation with me. He said that he loved India and he loved Indians. He said that he saved money working for 10 months a year (without any leave) and then travelled to a village in North Rajastan to spend the remaining 2 months of his year! He looked like a satisfied tourist. He didn't come to the Taj Mahal, or the Charminar to see India. He straight went to a remote village in the North of Rajasthan to meet the Indians he loved. The Indians who open heartedly allowed him into their village and made him feel like a part of the family! Made him feel good about having to come here every year. I am sure , we city dwellers have an important lesson to learn from those villagers in North Rajastan. A lesson India is supposed to have taught the rest of the world from long long ago. The lesson is simple. 'Athithi Devo Bhava' .

4 comments:

vijayan said...

Don`t tell your Spaniard friends that there is a Tourist place called
Goa.

Sita said...

Harassment by auto drivers is a serious problem faced in many parts of our country not only by tourists, but also by the local people. I think you can get one of the worst experiences of travelling in an auto if you are in Chennai, where the "meter" has no meaning at all. The Auto Driver "dictates" the price to a destination and if we protest, he brings a whole load of supporters to defend him. In many instances, we have to give in to their plots and schemes due to lack of time on our part to argue or fight. I can see many other cities also following the footsteps of Chennai--Bangalore, Mumbai and many more. However, there are still places where the auto driver respects you and your money. This I have experienced in Kerala. In Trivandrum for example, the auto driver by default turns on the meter when you get inside. If it is Rs 18 on the meter and you give Rs 20 to him, he returns Rs 2 back to you. You can never dream of such a situation in Chennai or Bangalore.

You are very right by saying that toursim provides one of the major incomes for our country. It brings in a lot of foreign exchange also. People visit our country for its rich heritage and culture. They like our people and the way they live. Such being the case, it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to protect them. We should do our country proud by taking care of them.

It is not only the Auto drivers who haunt the tourists, but also the local people who cheat them by pretending to be "guides" or "swamijis". There have been many instances wherein foreign tourists have been raped and killed in our country. Foreigners are very vulnerable as they do not probably know the darker side of our country too well. Two weeks back 15 year old Scarlett Keeling from England got raped and killed in Goa by a drug mafia. Such cases are repeating again and again and inspite of ringing the warning bell many times , nothing seems to be done. If we allow such cases to recur, we may not have any tourists willing to visit our country.

I believe that the police alone cannot do everything. Each one of us should take up the responsibility to protect our tourists. If we see any of the foreigners being troubled by scheming auto drivers or localites, we should intervene and make sure that they are guided properly. As a responsible citizen of our country, it is our duty to do so.

"Our Guest is like God".

People should start practising this right from our homes. A guest who comes home is usually made to sit down, made to relax and given some tea/snacks. This is the custom followed in many families. If such good virtues are inculcated right from our own homes,then,it will not be too difficult to implement it outside

Arundathi Acharya said...

Nicely written!! I believe if your swedish friend decided to spend his precious holiday at a small village in Rajasthan, he must have already heard much about the "good" experiences foreign tourist have at famous destinations ;) Awareness among the locals is the key thing required to solve this problem.

Hari said...

Nice article. There many places in our country Some of my experience when I was Young some interior places Barkakana near Jarkand Or Parakadau in Kerala I felt the hospitality. Such places scenario is different from urban. But again some visitors from western spoiled, which made Tribal to re act good writeup keep it up.