Athithi devo bhava … A guest in an Indian home is equated with God. And yet, Indian hosts are among the worst in the civilised world. Seriously.
I’ve learnt the hard way. After too many visits to the doctor, too many lost work-days, too many times when I had to rush my aged parents to the hospital, and far too many times my blood pressure went sky-rocketing because of inconsiderate remarks by arrogant half-wits, I finally learnt to say NO.
There are social situations that you should not get into – and hosts you should walk out on. And there are guests you should not allow into your home. Host or guest, there are lines that are not crossed, our traditional Indian hospitality notwithstanding.
The five hosts you should avoid:
The host who imposes his dietary choices on you: Forcing sweets and sugary treats on a guest who has diabetes is not ‘hospitality’. It is a deliberate act of homicide.
For many years, in one social event after another, especially weddings, I would repeatedly request the hosts not to force sweetmeats, payasam and other sugary stuff on my diabetic mother. And each time, I was scolded for being ‘offensive’ and a ‘naastik’ for not obeying some esoteric ‘sacred tradition’.
What the F ! Is it also ‘sacred tradition’ to rush an old woman to hospital after eating that sacredly traditional sugar-laden crap?
I have two stents in my heart. As a result, I have dietary restrictions (that are actually quite easy to follow). Plus, I cannot tolerate spicy food. This is due to a very nasty gastric infection that I survived a few years ago.
That doesn’t stop me from having my share of fun, but I do need to watch what I eat.
These are my dietary choices, based on sound medical advice. I expect my host to respect my dietary choices, not mock them. If I have any reason to believe that the food on my plate can endanger my health, it is my prerogative to refuse that food.
Only in the recent past, have I learnt to boldly walk out on hosts who make fun of their guests’ dietary choices. And so should you.
One man’s payasam is another man’s hyperglycemic coma.
The host who imposes his religious choices on you: India is a democracy. Your religion is your choice, not your host’s. The host, or any one else, has no business questioning your religious beliefs – or lack thereof.
It’s a party, not an Inquisition. As a guest, you should not be held accountable for whatever form of religion you practise (or do not practise). And as a guest at a purely social gathering, you should never be forced to participate in any religious activity that you are not comfortable with. As a host, one is expected to respect that.
If your religious choices are not respected – you walk out.
The host who forces you to ‘perform’: What are you, MTV or Comedy Central? Have you been invited to amuse the general public?
Unless you are a professional performer who’s being paid, or unless you really enjoy making a middle-aged spectacle of yourself, or unless you are Hema Malini in Sholay trying to save Dharam’s life, you should not be forced to sing like Rafi, dance like Shammi, or re-enact some dumb-ass comedy scene from Amar Akbar Anthony, or whatever.
Unless everyone else joins in. That’s different. If everyone is willing to make drunken asses out of themselves, then actively encourage them – and sit back and enjoy. And quietly disappear when the cops arrive.
Recently, I was obliged to attend a family function. Apart from the unhygienic food and apart from holier-than-thou uncles and aunts who kept berating me for not knowing anything about our glorious ‘sampradaya’, there was one ancient great-grand aunt who, for some reason, wanted me to sing. She kept insisting, and I kept politely refusing, for a very good reason – I cannot sing. The old lady got really cranky and stubborn, and all those uncles and aunts joined her in support. At which point, I walked off.
I was later told that the old lady in question felt ‘hurt’. I could not care less. The blame rested solely on the host for making a public buffoon out of his guest, in this case, myself.
The host who pokes into your personal matters or allows his guests to: This is self-evident. It is the ultimate expression of bad culture. It is sheer bad manners. And yet it happens all the time, whether it’s a wedding or a birthday party or even a condolence meeting.
You are there in the party to relax and socialise … not to have your innards ripped open by gossip-mongers and self-appointed moral guardians. If this happens, then no matter what the event is, you do not hesitate, do not think twice, do not even take a seat. You walk.
The host who forces guests to drink: Do you really need to be with people who would force hard liquor down a teetotaller’s throat? Even he happens to be your boss, you are well within your rights to walk off. There are corporate laws against this sort of harassment you know.
I did this to one of my former employers. The MD of that company was (and still is) a particularly boorish character. He was notorious for forcing his subordinates to drink and make a fool of themselves for his entertainment. At the annual sales conference, he forced me to drink. I didn’t. He locked me in the hotel toilet as punishment. I called up the hotel security from the intercom, had myself released, walked up to that Anus who was my boss, and told him on his face – I quit.
Ten years later, I was sitting on the purchase committee of a pharma client, negotiating with vendors for a biotech lab contract, worth half a million dollars (Rs. Two and a half crores, to be precise). The Anus was one of the vendors. He lost the contract, obviously. Poetic justice, eh?
If you’re being forced to drink at an event hosted by a dear friend, then it’s worse. However, a host who doesn’t understand the word NO, doesn’t deserve you as a guest. If he’s a personal friend, then you don’t need such a friend. Walk out.
Your health, physical or mental, is your responsibility. The personal choices you make in your life are strictly yours. There is no compelling need for you to allow anyone else to make your choices, and thereby endanger your health, your loved ones, or your career, just to fit into a social circle that you think you should fit into.
In truly developed countries, there are laws that protect you as a guest. In India, alas, all that you can do as a hapless guest is to walk.
As Dylan Thomas once said while leaving a bad party, “And now gentlemen, like your manners, I must leave you.”
Cheers … Srini.