Athithi Devo Bhava: Where a Guest is God Manifest

This edition is prompted by the rather pitiful media cry about the timing of President Obama’s visit to the country. I guess the first media person to ask this rather “dubiously intelligent” question was Rajdeep Sardesai of IBN Live; “Would America have entertained an Indian premier over a Christmas weekend?”

India is a country of rich cultural heritage. This is a differentiation we have enjoyed from time immemorial. This is a country where a Guest is equal to God and treated so. This is a culture which believes that when a guest decides to visit you, it is a fortune bestowed on you. One never expects to ask anything of a guest; rather one gives whatever one can for the guest to take back.

There is the famous incident of Sudama and Krishna who were friends during Gurukulavasa (a period of time when students lived with their teachers to seek education) at the hermitage of Sage Sandipani. Years later, Krishna belonging to nobility lived in a palace as the ruler of Mathura while Sudama a Brahmin lived an austere life. Often prompted by the stories of younger days, Sudama’s wife pushed him to visit his friend and seek favor. Sudama hesitantly took on the opportunity; but clearly to re-establish his connection with a dear friend. Hesitantly, he approached the palace but was warmly received by Krishna himself; who even washed his feet and tended to his welfare. Sudama had brought with him rice flakes that was Krishna loved wrapped in a piece of linen. It is understood that Satyabhama his wife stopped him from eating the third mouthful after he had consumed the first two mouthfuls; because the first two morsels had shared his wealth and possessions and eating the third morsel would have signified submitting himself to the service of Sudama alone. Not a word was spoken about Sudama’s poverty but just his offering of the rice flakes even in his dire strait of poverty (his wife had borrowed it from a neighbor to overcome Sudama’s objection that he could not visit his friend empty handed) was the highest testimony of sincerity and commitment to friendship.

It is true that the White House under Obama or any other President would not entertain a State Visit during a Christmas weekend. However that is part of the American Culture. Our culture demands us to celebrate all our festivals with guests. Let me remind our gleeful media anchor persons that the best possible export that a country can do is its culture. At this point in time, India has very little to showcase in the fields of Science and Technology. But we have a great cultural heritage we can leverage upon. This is also our differentiation. Imagine when America embraces Yoga and Ayurveda as an alternate medicine the impact it can have on the cost of healthcare in that country. Similarly, when we can establish the fact that we can participate in a knowledge economy by shaping research and world opinion, the partnerships we could establish to improve the people to people collaboration between the two countries? Again, if we were to collaborate on the design and delivery of infrastructure, both countries could benefit in common areas of requirements.

In one of my previous pieces, I had written about the importance of preparing for this crucial meet. Even before the election results had been announced, I had clearly articulated that economy should be the crucible of deliverables for this state visit. I would like to stress again that it is not as a result of the electoral results that economy and business have become the center piece of this visit of Obama to India. However, the media in their stubborn wisdom would like to promote only the notion of an India with a begging bowl. I am now suspicious that the media and its anchor people are not savvy enough to cope with a resurgent and ambitious India. They need their scams and scamsters to be in business. They don’t want Dr. Narayan Murthy to talk about what Infosys can do to contribute to the growth of the American economy. They want him to mouth sensational words that will then help them spin the TRP numbers. They don’t learn either. A few days ago, to a pointed question from Rajdeep Sardesai, a very composed Narayan Murthy had categorically stated on his position on the outsourcing fracas; “we do not want to embarrass our guest and this is not the time to take up such issues”.

Before Barkha Dutt and the like can feel sorry for Barrack Obama, let me remind them that sooner or later they will face oblivion if they do not realize their role in society. They work in a democracy with the freedom of speech enjoyed to its hilt; their job is to provide insight to the eyeballs they target. I am sure they have heard the popular adage “you can fool all, all the time, but you can’t fool everyone, every time”. If they talk about the failings of the Obama economic policies (which they have a right to and they must), they also have a responsibility to provide a perspective and an opinion on what will work. News and reporting is not about gathering people around a table and talking innuendo for an allotted time. Moderating should mean having a perspective that is neutral and intellectually contributing to the extreme positions of a debate.

Dear President Obama, I feel sorry that some of my fellow country people are unable to set their vision beyond the selfish self promotion of their pithy jobs despite being in a position of influence. I apologize to you on their behalf and this is not the representative India. Unfortunately, the 80 – 20 rules here as well and the 80 underprivileged who have no time or space for an opinion are slaving away to find some decency in their lives. The other 80% are the real Indian people in whose hearts you will find genuine warmth and welcome. Even if you were not the president of the United States of America, your passion and pride to make a difference to humanity in general and Americans in particular would not have gone unnoticed or unappreciated by us. The electoral results in your country may have been an expression of the frustration by the common American people; yet it is an internal matter and there is still time in your presidency to win back the affections of your people. And when I say your people, it includes Indians as well. Your identity is that of a global statesman and it is no accident that you are a Nobel Laureate. We in India commend you for the onerous job you have undertaken and there are many of us across the globe who believes in the sincerity of your purpose. We would also like to impress upon you that contrary to what the media and intelligentsia demonstrates to you, there are a lot of us who believe in the strength of our value systems. We have a young generation that is working at renewing our political roots and governance systems and we are on our way to participating in a knowledge economy. We request you to trust us from your overall perspective of Transformational Agenda rather than from a Transactional one. The UN Security Council seat is much more than a symbolism for a country that needs a place in the world to be heard and discovered. Welcome to our country and we hope that you will soak in our warmth and hospitality and take back with you lasting impressions of a people whose aspirations may not be very dissimilar to your own individual growing days as an individual. We as a nation are also in the throes of Transformation / Change and we have a great opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of our respective systems and societies.

 

About Subbu Iyer

Subbu Iyer is an Innovation & Transformation Leader as with 28 years of serving customers globally. He is currently the Chief Designer & Transformer at Energizing Innovation, an enterprise that is being founded to facilitate continuous growth in enterprises and as a consequence create societal wealth. The Radical Shift that this enterprise intends to employ is focusing on the Potential rather than the Performance of a business. He has been a serial entrepreneur and an intrapreneur in his past life, having founded Nihilent Technologies and Nandaki Systems besides being associated in senior leadership roles with firms such as Coopers & Lybrand, Cambridge Technology Partners, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro Technologies and Steria.
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