By Dr G G Saxena
Mrs Nirmala Prasad is engrossed reading an invitation from Prof (Mrs.) Shruti Jha, wife of Major General (Retd) of Indian Army, SK Jha. With a wry smile on her face, she reads the last line of the letter again, “Arre Mrs. Prasad! India is not unhygienic anymore, give India another chance and this Diwali, when in Delhi stay with us to witness a hygienic India first hand”. Mrs. Prasad was surprised that Mrs. Jha had made it her obsession to prove her that India is not unhygienic and people are not indifferent in their behavior anymore. What surprised her even more was that Prof Jha would put her convincing skills to maximum use for Mr and Mrs. Prasad’s mere 10 day visit to India that would occur in a span of 2 years.
Born in Deegh, Gaya in Bihar, Mrs Prasad was married to Univ of Mississippi Professor Tribhuvan Prasad and had settled in USA soon after marriage in 1970’s. Many of her friends settled in USA like Prof Jagdish Shukla and Mrs. Shukla would stay with their son’s family in Delhi on their visit to India. However, Mrs Prasad never used to like staying with family and friends. The main reason for this mindset was that she was wary of the lifestyle of people in her hometown in Bihar and her friends in Delhi. She was of the view that people in India do not believe in “Swachh” living, have unhygienic habits, lack social etiquette and still live in the 19th century way of traditions.
On the other hand, Prof (Mrs) Jha and her husband were very passionate about India, its culture and traditions. They would always feel hurt that sons of PIO/OCI (PIO-Persons of Indian Origin, OCI – Overseas Citizens of India) settled in USA or Europe still carry bad memories about Indian culture, heritage and way of living.
The Incredible India, 2002 scheme of Govt of India aimed at attracting foreign tourists particularly PIO and OCI inspired Prof Jha and her husband to open their own Bed and Breakfast accommodation (BnB). They converted 5 spare rooms in posh area of Greater Kailash in south Delhi, named it “Atithigraha”, (meaning Atithi-guest, graha- home) and got it registered with Delhi Government after getting the requisite verification done from Police and local authority that is, Municipal Corporation of Delhi and FRRO office (Foreigner Regional Registration Offices). These BnB rooms were meant for stay of foreign tourists and PIO’s. After Mr and Mrs. Jha’s son and daughter settled in USA and UK, Prof Jha and her husband, thought it better to attend foreign tourists and PIO’s to revive their fond memories of India.
Appreciating Prof Jha’s passion for Indian hospitality, Mrs. Prasad accepts her invitation to stay in Delhi with Prof Jha for 5 days during Diwali after coming back from her hometown in Bihar where she had booked a hotel accommodation for 10 days. On a pleasant evening of 27th Oct 2016, Mrs. Prasad and her husband started toward Atithigraha BnB, a 35 minute drive from IGI Airport. They witnessed various colorfully lit marketplaces on the way as well as cleanfully kept Sulabh toilet complexes and JC Decaux street furniture. It reminded them of the Christmas time in USA when all houses and markets in the Oxford city, Mississippi in USA are aesthetically decorated and beautifully lit. On reaching the venue, they were welcomed with traditional Tilak on the forehead by Prof Jha and her husband.
During breakfast, their hosts shared with them about how they got their home renovated, the place from where they had procured the rare Madhubani wall painting as well as their forthcoming plans for Diwali. They also told them where to shop for eco-sustainable paintings and handicrafts in Delhi. On entering their room, Mr and Mrs. Prasad saw Indian tradition of welcoming a guest with a Rangoli (floor decoration). Mrs Prasad, who was very particular about clean toilets, observed a cleanly kept toilet at par with that found in the hotels.
Next day it was Dhanteras, all shops specially that of jewelry were decorated with the phrases that depict Indian hospitality “Atithi Devo Bhava” along with Maa Saraswati pictures. Mrs Prasad accompanied Prof Jha, who bought silver plated spectacles cover for Mrs Prasad and utensils for her own home. All shops were full of customers who were busy buying jewelry and other items such as electronic gadgets.
On the next day of Chhoti Diwali, 29th Oct, both the guests were taken for shopping by their warm hosts at Dilli Haat in INA and Nature Bazaar run by Dastkaar of Padamshri Laila Tyabji. In Dilli Haat, it was a heartening for them to watch the unending queue for Litti Chokha and Khaja, special preparations of Bihar, Jharkhand and other parts of Eastern India. Coincidentally, in Dilli Haat, Bihar Tourism Week was being celebrated. Mrs Prasad who had seldom interacted with the local people and avoided Indian traditions and practices as she preferred staying in hotels during her stay in India, was having a blast of a time. Later in the day, Prof Jha took Mr and Mrs. Prasad to other BnB to mingle with elite BnB owners and guests, who were retired IAS officers, Academicians, authors, art lovers, musicians and retired Army officers. As expected, Mr and Mrs Prasad talked to other BnB owners like long lost friends. Mrs. Jha explained the reason of celebration of diwali to foreign guest as victory of good over evil and transition from darkness unto light — the light that empowers us to commit ourselves to good deeds, that which brings us closer to divinity.
In addition, she explained the reason for illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers as an expression of obeisance to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity. Mrs. Prasad added that Goddess Lakshmi incarnated on the new moon day (amaavasyaa) of the Kartik month during the churning of the ocean (samudra-manthan), hence the association of Diwali with Lakshmi and that Diwali marks the onset of harvest season. Mrs. Prasad had opened up and was at her witty best, cracking jokes at will. The drive back home was full of laughter, fun and frolic.
On Badi Diwali, Mr and Mrs Prasad were taken to major marketplaces in Delhi such as Connaught place, Khan Market, Karol Bagh, Pandara road, Janpath, Greater Kailash M block,etc. It was a treat to watch people dressed up and heading to each other’s places carrying sweets and other gift items. Women were wearing traditional Indian sarees and men sported Kurta-pyjamas, Sherwani and Nehru jackets. They also saw Rajasthani ladies wearing gold ornaments on the occasion of Diwali.
It was a different India that Mrs. Prasad had witnessed this time around. It was an India she had longed for. “India, my India. Clean India, Hospitable India!” Mrs. Prasad thought to herself. When asked about her Diwali experience, Mrs. Prasad said that she would recommend a hosted accommodation such as Bed and Breakfast to all her friends in USA and in other parts of the world because of the incredible hospitality, cheap shopping options and aesthetic Indian cuisines.
All the names in the blogs are changed but the story is not!
Dr. GG Saxena is an ex IAS officer and a former MD of Delhi Tourism and Transport Development Corp.(DTTDC) He is a well known expert in the industry and has his doctorate in the area of “Role of Bed and Breakfasts” in Delhi. His expertise is in the areas of tourism, law and infrastructure domains.