This entry is dedicated to the memory of those brave men who gave their precious lives fighting the massive Chinese aggression in 1962. I experienced the traditional Indian hospitality at a forward Company location in Arunachal Pradesh (North East Frontier Agency) and my memories are fresh after a lapse of nearly 35 years and the reason is that I still feel the same passion to serve our men who fight for our country.
In 1962 while the Chinese attacked India, I was a first year student studying for a Bachelor of Science degree (3- Year Bachelor’s Degree Course) at Government Giriraj Arts College, Nizamabad, Andhra Pradesh. India was taken aback by this unprovoked and unexpected invasion across the Himalayan Frontier. There was a spontaneous reaction from people across our nation. Nizamabad was no exception and the Giriraj students took out a procession to condemn the enemy. I was not a student leader but I was the son of the Principal of the College. That placed me in the very first row of students who led the procession. At that time, I did not visualize myself that I would be wearing the Olive Green Indian Army Uniform.
By year 1972, I completed two years of service in Indian Army and the great moment in my life arrived when I stood before the War Memorial in WALONG. The following verses were inscribed on it:
The sentinel hills that round us stand
bear witness that we loved our land.
Amidst shattered rocks and flaming pine
We fought and died on Namti Plain.
O Lohit, gently by us glide
pale stars above us softly shine
as we sleep here in sun and rain.
Let us keep our collective memory afresh and pay tribute to these loyal sons of our land.
The Tradition of Hospitality in India:
Hospitality is a fairly popular tradition for a variety of cultures across our globe. In India the tradition was well established a long time ago and we elevated it to a degree which may not be seen anywhere else in this world. The Vedic statement ” Athiti Devo Bhava ” is a thought that finds its expression only in our Land. The word ‘Athiti’ defines the guest as a person who could show up at your home without a prior notice or formal invitation and on a day and at a time of his own choice. Our literature is full of stories about this great tradition of hospitality and the episode described in the story of MAHA BHARATA shows the importance of preserving this tradition. Princess Draupadi was overwhelmed by the arrival of a large number of guests , while she and the Pandava Princes lost their kingdom and were living in the forest. She did not want to fail in her duty of being a good hostess. She was desperate and she met this challenge by earnestly praying to Lord Krishna. Upholding the principle of hospitality is very important to Lord Krishna and He gracefully provided the help Draupadi needed to serve her guests in accordance with our Dharma (Right Conduct). Her adherence to the tradition of hospitality truly defines the Indian Identity.
Most of you would have experienced some act of hospitality or the other and I want to narrate a simple act of hospitality that I experienced at CHINGAWANTY ( or CHIGWINTI ) in Arunachal Pradesh and would take this opportunity to speak of my memorable experience at this forward Company location and describe this as our Indian Identity.
The Tradition of Hospitality at Chingawanty (CHIGWINTI ):
The Company Commander Major.G B Valenkar was the recipient of VIR CHAKRA award for his role in Operation Eagle, the military action that initiated the Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 with attacks on the enemy posts in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. During Operation Eagle, we had worked together in the South Column Unit under the Command of Lieutenant Colonel B K Narayan.
Major Valenkar briefed me about the traditional hospitality of the men of his Company. Before the dinner was served, he told me that the men would continue to serve food till such time I announce that I am fully satiated and that I need no further servings. Then, they would bring one more final serving to ensure that I am truly satiated and well fed. I wanted to test the men and find out for myself their devotion to their hospitality tradition. After dinner was announced, I mentioned my preference for bread.
Instead of ‘chapatis’, I told the men hosting my dinner, that I would like to be served with poori (soft, fluffy, deep-fried Indian Bread) to go with my meal. The dishes were served piping hot and the fried poori were made one after the other and a fresh serving would arrive just before I would finish the previous serving. The food was delicious and the mountain weather was cool and refreshing and I was young and had a healthy appetite. I continued eating while having a pleasant conversation with Major.Valenkar and after several servings, the man stood before me respectfully and asked me to grant him some additional time before he could bring forth the next serving. He mentioned that the cook had run out of the dough he had prepared for the evening meal. I responded saying that I really need no further servings and asked him not to bother about preparing more dough. The man submitted that it would not be fair on my part to stop him at that juncture and stated that I could only stop him from serving only at a time when he is able to provide more servings. In the Indian Hospitality tradition, the guest is also expected to give his host a reasonable opportunity to fulfill his obligation and the host has also a right to derive a sense of satisfaction by observing the rules of hospitality. I had to concede and in a little while, he resumed his service. After eating to my heart’s content, I told him that I am really satiated. He agreed to bring in the final serving and he passed in the test and he did not give up until he made sure that I am fed till such time that I am fully fed.
I am speaking of this hearty meal to just give you a chance to taste the passion that keeps us united and we relish the opportunity to serve our Land and defend its traditions of Valor and Hospitality.
Annam Brahma raso Vishnu pakto Devo Maheshvarah
Evam samchintya bhumjaano, drushti dosho na lipyate.
The above verse is asking us to consider both, the meal, and the person who is partaking the meal as God.
Inmany cultures strangers are not welcome;talking of the life of mammals one authority writes that when they come across strangers the usual response is”looks like a stanger,heave a brick at him!’
A muslim friend of mine with deep knowledge of our culture told me that the “arugu”[verendha] opening on to the road in our traditional homes was meant for the athithi to take rest;at lunch time the lady of the house will go out and see if anyone is sitting on the arugu and will invite him/her to partake of the food!!! when my work took me to villages,people however poor offer offer a fruit or buttermilk; not to take even a glass of water is cosidered bad manners.In one tour in Nellore forest area,on a hot summer day i was offered food which i refused as i was in a hurry ;i could not get food that day till late at night.
While the tradition demands that guests should be received with utmost respect,the social customs and practices(“SAMPRADAYAM”)encourage individuals to strictly live according to their status,position and financial circumstances.If it is not financially feasible,an individual has no obligation to extend an invitation to another person.The Culture recommends that people should live within their means and need not assume the duties of an host on their own initiative.
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