India is a country with several thousands of communities based on language, religion and native region. In the modern Indian workplace, it is difficult to tell one community from another. However, pick a few sample individuals and visit their homes. The lifestyle they live at home says a lot about the community they hail from. Given the same level of household income, some communities treat themselves like royalty, while others intentionally deprive themselves, calling it frugality. They only loosen up when guests visit them.
The gap in lifestyle
Without naming communities, let me make my case. Meet Akki. Akki has a house which is highly functional, but not particularly decorative. Akki uses plastic and steel plates to eat her lunch and dinner. Her TV remote control is wrapped in a plastic cover, so that the remote doesn’t get dusty. But over time, the cover has turned grubby, with fingerprints and grime. So much that some buttons on the remote cannot be read clearly. Akki doesn’t watch TV, so she has no plans installed. Her TV airs only the basic channels that are free of cost. Her floor, shelves and table tops are moderately dusty. Her fridge doesn’t have much food. Only basic things like milk, curd, pickle and vegetables. There is no juice, no chocolates or sweets.
But Akki doesn’t live like that in what I call ‘Guest mode ON’. When a guest is due, Akki gets to work on her house and on herself. The dust on the floor, shelves and table tops get swept away. The grimy remote control cover is swapped for a clean, new one. She purchases a basic paid TV plan, so that guests get to watch popular shows or sports. The fridge gets stocked with fresh juice, cold drinks, chocolates and sweets. From a closet that is usually locked, out come glass plates and stem glasses. Akki changes from her round collar tee shirt and shorts to a gown.
Why such a gap?
Why so many makeovers for a guest? It’s common knowledge that we present ourselves differently to a guest than the way we really are in day-to-day life. Why do such gaps crop up? Here are some reasons.
- We know our guests and their preferences well. We want to meet their expectations so that they are happy when they visit us.
- The community’s culture says that certain things are appropriate / inappropriate. We usually don’t care about such appropriateness during the absence of guests, but do care when they visit.
But then, here are two more reasons!
- For some reason, we feel that our day-to-day behaviour / appearance is insufficient / appalling in front of guests. We actually find it embarassing.
- We have always wanted some pleasurable experiences, but deprived ourselves. We use the guest’s arrival as an excuse to fulfill those experiences.
There isn’t anything to be done about the first two reasons. It is just a conflict of individual or cultural preferences, as in case of Akki not preferring TV. Her behaviour of not purchasing any paid TV plans until guests are due is perfectly reasonable. She doesn’t like television, but wants to please her guests. Nothing looks fishy here.
Likewise, it is customary for certain communities to welcome guests with sweets. It would be a cultural faux pas not to. Wearing toned down, formal or traditional attire in front of in-laws and not wearing shorts or mini-skirts to a religious place or ceremony are also cultural compliance.
However the other two reasons may be because you are depriving yourself of a more fulfilling day-to-day life. For instance, cleanliness is something everyone deserves to have around them. Akki leaving desks untidy or the remote cover grimy are examples of her not paying attention to her own welfare. Likewise, if she loves chocolates, loves to wear gowns or loves to eat and drink from glassware, she doesn’t need a guest’s impending arrival to indulge. She can do that in her day-to-day life.
So, be your own guest
Look around you. Around your home. And ask yourself? If a guest were to arrive in an hour from now, what would you change? Make a list. Even trivial things. For example,
- Take the bathing soap out of its plastic wrapper and put it in a wooden soap case.
- Play ambient flute music instead of film songs.
- What if it is a guest with children? Ok, my precious china clay flower vase that I keep on my desk needs to be locked up in my closet during the visit……
….. and so on!
When you are done, classify the changes into two categories: An adjustment or an upgrade. In the list above, point 3 involving child-proofing your home is a temporary adjustment. You would love the vase on your desk, but the children may break it. After the guests leave, you will most likely shift the vase back to your desk.
However, if changes like point 1 are ‘upgrades’ in your own words, why are you gritting through a downgraded lifestyle? If your guests deserve upgrades, so do you! Why deprive yourself? Why wait for a guest to enjoy an upgrade?
Mind your behaviour too!
Material pleasure is not the only thing that we deprive ourselves of in the absence of guests. Sometimes we lose discipline in behaviour. Quite often, there are dramatic differences in a person’s behaviour in front of guests. People who nag their parents or spouses and order them around are suddenly docile in front of guests, as if their usual behaviour is unacceptable. Bachelor roommates often trash-talk each other and use abusive language or expletives under the guise of extreme friendliness and bonding. “That’s how we talk to each other. We are such good pals!” is their excuse. But what if one of the roommates has a parent visiting? All roommates suddenly change to gentlemen with polished talking manners.
If you think that nagging and trash-talking are unacceptable in front of guests, then they should be unacceptable in day-to-day life too. Guests or no guests, you shouldn’t let yourself get away with such behaviour.
‘Athithi Devo Bhava’ in Sanskrit means ‘Guest is like God’. This saying sums up how Indians are culturally obliged to treat guests. It is true for the rest of the world too. However, are you treating yourself well and enjoying the finer pleasures of life? Are you treating yourself as well as you treat your guests? If not, then it is time to be your own ‘Athithi’!