Atithi Devo Bhava: When the strength of my Indian values gratified me

 

Lufthansa’s TVC (shared at the bottom), made in celebration of India’s growing global influence, was playing on TV the other day and really got me thinking. Our unique customs, rituals, history and people are taking us into the twenty-first century, ahead of so many superpowers of the post century, and the world is sitting up and taking notice of us. Lufthansa’s video was a great reminder of how great brands like it are making sure that they keep reinventing themselves to celebrate India and Indianness, and this is why I am convinced that Lufthansa is #MoreIndianThanYouThink!

At the same time, India may be known as the next superpower, or the fastest growing economy or the country with the widest influence on the global stage, but for me India is and will always remain a culture deeply rooted in values. Traditionally a society of learned men, philosophers, inventors and enlightened men, India is a spiritual ground whose foundation is extremely strong. According to me, this is why even economic, financial and other developments have found it easy to take birth in India. For any building to stay stable, its foundation has to be rock-solid and this is what India is, and hence it lets its people flower uninhibited by giving them the grounding they need.

India is able to be where it is today because of its emphasis on values and traditions. Respect, family and brotherhood are extremely valued components of the everyday life of people in India. There are several founding principles or common values in Indian culture, the primary being:

  • Tyaga, which is renunciation
  • Dana, which is liberal giving
  • Nishtha, which is dedication
  • Satya, which is truth
  • Ahimsa, which is non-violence
  • Upeksha, which is forbearance

 

But more than anything, the one value that is a part of my culture and can never leave me is the endearing principle that says: Atithi Devo Bhava, or in other words: ‘The guest is equivalent to God’. From childhood, I have seen my parents give up their own comfort and needs to make sure that guests, who are the equivalent of Gods for Indians, are well taken care of. Though my father was busy with his job and my mother busy with her housework and bringing up so many children, they spent a lot of time instilling the Indian value system in their children. I am fortunate to be grounded in these beliefs and traditions that have always been unique contributors to my success as a wife, mother, woman and person. My ideologies, values and culture have invariably helped me navigate through every day as well as complex situations, and even if I have not known immediately how to handle certain instances, they have made the decision making very spontaneous and natural eventually. In fact, this is the beauty of the values, ethics, traditions and ideologies – they are so deeply rooted in us that we do not realize ourselves until there comes a situation where they show up in the most instinctive way and surprise us with the way they are ingrained in us. I remember one such instance where my Indian values and culture assisted me in traversing through a somewhat difficult event.

My sister’s daughter, Payal, got married last year. This was an extremely important occasion for the entire family. Payal is the first born daughter and a wonderful girl. She is loved and doted over by her grandparents, is the darling of her parents and all us aunts and uncles. The boy, Kamal, is respectful, educated and good-natured, who works with a big multinational company, and is from a nice family. My sister was extremely satisfied with the match and started preparing for the wedding more than six months in advance. In fact I accompanied her on the many shopping expeditions, buying saris for all women relatives, suit material for all male relatives and other gifts for the children. She and her husband booked a lavish five star hotel for the wedding, a banquet hall for the engagement ceremony and planned to have all other ceremonies at their home itself.

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A picture from the ‘rokka’ ceremony where the two families met and the relationship was fixed

 

Payal herself was most excited about the D day. She joined beauty treatments to look great for her special day, put together the best wedding trousseau and invited all her friends to join her on the most important day of her life. The cousins, including my own children started preparing dance presentations for the intimate henna ceremony at home, where we all planned to let our hair down before the more somber events began. Payal and Kamal met each other at times to get to know each other better before they became husband and wife, and really enjoyed each other’s company. It was all as perfect as it could be.

Finally, the wonderful and much awaited occasion arrived. The henna ceremony where it was just us from girl’s side was a great success. We decorated our hands and danced till late into the night. The engagement ceremony was even better. We dressed up in our best attire and enjoyed the delicious food cooked by the banquet caterers. The to-be-bride and to-be-groom also seemed to love each moment of the day and were seen smiling throughout the evening. Both sides of parents were happy and proud too.

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Enjoying the lovely henna ceremony at home, and watching some dances that all the cousins prepared and presented for the entire family, especially the beaming bride

 

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A lovely dance medley prepared by the doting and excited cousins!

 

On the wedding day, there was much action since the morning. We have some religious rituals that we complete in the morning and then the bride goes to the salon to get ready while the rest also do the same or get ready at home. We all reached the hotel by six PM and started waiting for guests. It was all decorated beautifully and the music was surreal. The spread of delicacies was to die for and everywhere there was a cheer in the air. Payal was ready and waiting in a room in the hotel.

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The decorated entrance of the hotel hall

 

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The lavish setting, ready to welcome guests

 

When the baraat (Groom’s entourage) arrived, we all hurried to welcome them. There were the necessary rituals and much fun too. Kamal went and sat on the stage to wait for Payal. That’s when the unthinkable happened. Now if you’re familiar with how some north Indian weddings go, you know that sometimes that groom’s side men consume alcohol to celebrate while they are on the way. This is not something we appreciate but as long as it is within limits and does not disturb the ceremonies and celebrations, it is all accepted in good spirit. This time, the groom’s father’s younger brother, or the groom’s uncle, was the one who had consumed alcohol but a little beyond manageable quantity. It started with a few laughter sounds which were louder than normal in decibel levels. We just thought it was happiness about the great occasion and ignored it. Then followed abuses hurled at a waiter for not bringing snacks that were hot enough. This was heard by many guests but again we let it go. Next was expressing displeasure at the décor and guest list and food. This was expressed to me.

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Slowly guests were trickling in…

 

Now, if you just read this without any contextual understanding, this series of events would not strike you as odd at all. It would be a case of a misbehaving guest or employee to be handled appropriately. But if you place this incident in the context of the importance that weddings and marriages hold in the Indian culture, then not only would you gather the complexity of this situation but also really be able to empathize with what we in the bride’s side were going through in that one hour. Marriages, and that too of a girl, are pretty much the most momentous occasions for an Indian family. Parents take loans, mortgage their houses and save their entire lives to marry their daughters in the best way possible, give her new family gifts that are cherished by them and make this entire occasion the most memorable that they can. The stress levels, anxiety and anticipation cannot be imagined by somebody who has not been involved in the marriage of one’s own daughter or the daughter of somebody really close to them.

So with that context, you can understand how awkward the situation had become, our stress levels and anxiety at what the situation could potentially turn into. And when he uncle started complaining about the wedding and preparations itself, we were petrified. After pointing out the supposedly lackluster décor and the bland food, he started complaining about the people who were or were not invited. Though I was at the receiving end, by this time pretty much everybody had noticed that something is wrong, on both sides of the family. To give credit to Kamal’s parents and a few other relatives, they were openly surprised and embarrassed but this was a grownup man and very close to the groom, so it could not be handled without the required tact and grace.

Soon, Kamal’s father came to know of his brother’s behavior and that’s when hell broke loose. He demanded that his younger brother be sent home and not be allowed to take part in the ceremony because of his bad behavior. Being the head of the family, Kamal’s father’s word was the last. Nobody could convince him otherwise. Steps started being taken to escort the uncle outside by his own son and another relative. On our side, everybody was unsure about what to do. We were glad that the nuisance was being asked to leave but also a little sad that he could not be part of the memories. Finally, I was the one who stepped up to the occasion. I have no idea what happened to me that time. This was the first time I had witnessed an incident like this and so it is not that I had prior experience in this matter. I was slightly shaken myself too, worrying about my sister and brother-in-law. But I can only give credit to my strong Indian values and ideologies for guiding me smoothly in handling this situation in a very satisfactory manner.

Remembering Tyaga, Dana, Nishtha, Satya, Ahimsa and Upeksha, I felt like a solution forming in my mind automatically. I told the others to leave the matter to me and they also seemed to understand that I would be able to manage it. I went back to the uncle and apologized if he had really found the food bland. Meanwhile, I asked the catering manager to bring a few food items prepared with additional spices and flavors. The uncle was still inebriated and not really listening to me, but I wanted to grant him forgiveness and practice nonviolence in my own speech and so I was patient. He felt a little better when he ate those special snacks and seemed to lighten up slightly. I also tactfully made him have some lemon juice that diluted his hangover. By this time, a few more relatives on both sides had joined us and we have moved the uncle to a spare room on one side. Any time he wanted to say something, we would cleverly change the topic and crack a joke that would make him laugh. After an hour or so, the situation had changed dramatically. With a little light tact from our side and little strict messaging from his own brother, the uncle had sobered completely.

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The tension dissolved, everybody had a wonderful time! How could I miss the opportunity to dance and celebrate the joyous occasion 😉

 

You may say that this was a special occasion that almost demanded forgiveness, nonviolence and Indian values, more in the interest of the momentous occasion of the wedding, but given the stress-induced tempers that fly on the occasion of a wedding, things could have gone either way. We from the bride’s side could have acted up and expressed our displeasure and it would have been taken well by the other side, because they had themselves witnessed some of the drama. They could have just escorted the uncle home and the wedding would have proceeded smoothly without any further intervention. But instead, what we chose to demonstrate was our dana by giving forgiveness, ahimsa with the nonviolence in our speech, Nishtha, in the dedication to resolve the situation; but most of all in our strong belief of Atithi Devo Bhava, or in other words: ‘The guest is equivalent to God’ – an integral and vital part of the “code of conduct” for the Indian society, the ethos of Indian culture.

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Finally, the wedding ceremony went beautifully and everyone returned home with amazing memories and stories 🙂

 

Thank you Lufthansa for giving me this opportunity to express my heartfelt emotions about this important memory from my life. I feel that you too embody “Atithi Devo bhavah” wonderfully in the way you treasure your guests. I really want to share the TVC here for you all to watch as well! Truly, Lufthansa is #MoreIndianThanYouThink.

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This entry was published on April 23, 2017 at 10:24 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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