Hospitality.

“I find it fascinating that most people plan their vacation with better care than they do their lives. Perhaps that is because escape is easier than change.” — Jim Rohn

What has this quotation got to do with hospitality? Let me share two stories.

My friend Wani and I were sitting together and shooting the breeze at the park one evening last week. He is semi invalid and has to be assisted to walk and do most things that one has to do be active. He suddenly made a comment to me that freshly cut mutton was Rs.200 per Kg. I pleaded ignorance as I am a vegetarian and had not bought mutton for a very long time even for my son who is a non vegetarian. In any case, I asked him why he suddenly raised this topic and he told me about the problem that he was facing.

Like me, Wani’s wife Vimu is a vegetarian but cooks meat etc for the rest of the family. She however dislikes visiting the butcher to buy. Since Wani is incapacitated, she has to depend on her son to procure the meat and he is normally busy with his own affairs. She is also getting on in years and suffers from arthritis of the knees.

Wani’s immediate neighbor and his family were on a motoring vacation and were expected the next day, late in the evening. Before they had left on vacation, Wani had promised them to keep food ready for them when they arrived so that they would not have to cook after the long drive. So far, so good. Wani therefore wanted to get some mutton to prepare some interesting fare as the neighbors were all non vegetarians. I could not resist the temptation to tease him and simply said that you could very well give them some simple vegetarian food as they are likely to be tired and would want something light before going off to bed. Wani went ballistic and suggested that it would not be keeping with our tradition of hospitality to feed them vegetarian food knowing that they were non vegetarians.

I had a moment of clarity and realized that what must have happened was that when Wani invited them for the dinner, he must have, in his usual expansive style informed them that he would keep some delicious mutton dish. When I confronted him with his insight, he confessed that this was indeed the case and now he could not very well give them some simple fare! I still suggested that if it was a problem procuring the mutton and his wife did not have the inspiration to cook it even if it was procured, to simplify matters and prepare some simple food. Knowing his neighbors too, I suggested that they would not really mind. Wani went into a sulk and went back to his theme that it would not be good hospitality to do so.

In the event, mutton was procured, albeit at considerable difficulty to Vimu, cooked and everyone had a wonderful time but, I wondered whether this was indeed the right kind of hospitality.

The other story is about our family friend Phil from Georgia who frequently comments on my posts. He was visiting India and was planning to spend a day and a night with us. Since the arrival of my father, the guest bed room has been converted to a regular bed room, and we had explained to Phil about this. Phil was quite happy to share our son’s bed room. Phil also was quite happy to have what was on the dining table and did not make any demands on us to prepare something special for him. We had a great time with him being with us and wished that he had had more time to spend with us than he did.

Here are two instances of different approaches to hospitality. I believe that the guest has a responsibility to adapt and accommodate the host’s limitations and the host must be clear in what he can offer and what he cannot and must be willing to convey this to the guest.

Can we not plan our lives in a realistic and practical manner?

What do you think? Was Wani’s style right or ours?

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