Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Police email scandal can't dampen Indian hospitality


India vs Pakistan, Commonwealth Games HockeyAustralian inhospitality is once again on show to the world. Australia's High Commissioner in Delhi is having to explain an email circulated among high ranking Victorian police officers, which reportedly carries a video of an Indian being electrocuted on a train, with a comment that this would be a way of solving the 'Indian student' problem.

Despite this, Indian hospitality remains steadfast. Indian hospitality is not a cliche. The guest is God in an Indian household. The poorest among India's 1.2 billion will open their hearts and homes to a guest. All it takes is another cup of water into the ever present dhal.

What binds India together is not a sense of national identity but the 64,000 kilometers of railway tracks across the length and breadth of the sub continent. These parallel lines are a source of both connection and disconnection for a large majority of the billion that sweat and smile through the heat and the rain.

It is not unusual for travellers in the dusty and overcrowded trains to share their dry chapattis and pickles with those that have none. This instinctive generosity has its genesis in mythology where God comes in disguise to the richest and the poorest. To give and share is to be rewarded. Maybe not in this life but somewhere in the next.

Medal winners at the Commonwealth Games have been promised free rides on India's fabled Royal trains. The Royal Rajasthan, Golden Chariot and Maharaja Express are just three of these palaces on wheels.

For many of the athletes this is a world only of their dreams. The Commonwealth Games and the opening ceremony gave Indians, rich and poor, an opportunity to be satisfied that there is a reason to celebrate.

The resounding cheers for the Pakistan contingent showed the ties that bind these neighbours, kept apart only by the barbed wire cynicism of politicians protecting their patch.

India beat Pakistan in the hockey. But there was no beating of the chest. All India Radio called it 'a victory for sport and an affirmation of the ties that bind us together'. There was genuine warmth in the embrace of the Pakistani and Indian boxer; one a victor the other vanquished, but bound together by the Himalayas and the plains.

Peter Walsh, commentating on ABC Grandstand, would have been naked if not for Indian hospitality. He apparently did not have a belt to hold up his trousers. Promptly he was offered one by an Indian journalist. When he arrived for the commentary the next morning there were another two waiting for him.

Kurt Fearnley, the Australian Paralympian, after qualifying fastest in the 1500 meters for disabled athletes, was asked what he thought of the village: 'Just fabulous mate, couldn't be happier.' This was a sincere valediction from a humble man who knows what adversity is.

Contrast this with the cyclist Perkins' churlish pout of anger after his track cycle race and you can comprehend why Fearnley is more credible. Some athletes' sensibilities are crippled by a sense of entitlement.

In his book Beyond the Bazaar, Mike Coward, the doyen of Australian Cricket writers, says the warmth stays with you long after your visit.

The hospitality towards Australian cricketers is legendary and a small group gets together every year at the Cricket Club of India in Mumbai to celebrate Sir Don Bradman's birthday. This is tinged with the disappointment that the Don never visited India even though his ship had berthed in Bombay in 1948. He did set foot on Indian soil at Dum Dum Airport in 1953 enroute to the UK and received a rapturous welcome from the press and the public.

It is reported that some overseas Commonwealth Games delegates have abused the Indian hospitality and availed themselves of expensive medical procedures at the Games Hospital. At least one portly African delegate will go back with brand new knees and another with gleaming white teeth.

Notwithstanding the 'electrocution email' scandal, India's hospitality has no caveats. The regret expressed by Premier Brumby should short circuit any angst.

At the end of these Games every participant will have been touched by India's hospitality. From the cleaners in the athletes village to the ever present security from the army and the police. The visitor is guarded with a fervour and diligence reserved only for gods.

This in hindsight will be India's greatest display of hospitality: delivering the athletes and officials of all the competing countries safe and secure passage back to their loved ones. 

Vinay VermaVinay Verma is a Sydney poet and an accredited journalist with Cricket Australia. He has written for Inside Sport, Inside Cricket, the Adelaide Advertiser and Daily News and Analysis, Mumbai. 

Topic tags: Vinay Verma, commonwealth games, india, hospitality, electrocution email, peter walsh, belt



submit a comment

Existing comments

I can't see how a sending of an inappropriate email can be taken as a launching pad for yet another Eureka Street sponsored attack (from an Indian perspective) on Australia's alleged inhospitality, as compared to India's apparent hospitality. Bias articles such as this actually fuel racist attitudes because they are written from an "attack Australia" perspective.The apparent racism of a few members of the Victorian Police Force is NOT representative of Australia as a whole.

In lauding India's hospitality, Vina has neglected to mention the verbal attacks on Ricky Ponting that have been delivered by the Indian media and (hospitable?) sporting crowds over the past couple of weeks! Why?

Peter Kelaher | 12 October 2010  

Well put--and very generous too. The churlishness and racism of some Australians is a continuing embarrassment we seem to have to live with. Understanding from our friends is perhaps more than we deserve.

RFI Smith | 12 October 2010  

NSW and Victorian police sensibilities are crippled by a sense of entitlement ... and the anger stays with you long after your visit

Greig WIlliams | 12 October 2010  

Thankyou for allowing Australians who have not been to India a glimpse and sense of your beautiful and ancient culture.I am embarrassed and angry at 'dis- graceful ' Australian behaviour. 23 million -1 billion.......We have no idea.Ancient cultures have the long historical experience (known as wisdom),if they can survive intact and you remind me of one here at home.We know very little about peace-making in the west, and while the eastern cultures have many difficulties they offer a rich and illuminating perspective on human relations...we are in need of each other's gifts ....always..

Catherine S | 12 October 2010  

Thank you Vina for your article and Eureka for printing it. Hopefully the Peter K's represent an Australian minority.

Kevin Thompson | 12 October 2010  

Predictably, Peter Kelaher echoes the resounding denial that there's anything dark about our national psyche. Remember the lengthy denials from the media when the first assault on Indian students took place?
Any reasonable dialogue about Australian attitudes (such as Vina Verma's) is considered as an 'attack' on our national values. To make light of the "apparent (sic) racism of few members of the Victorian Police Force" is to condone racism's fundamental principles of hate and loathing of other peoples and their culture. Racism is like pregnancy. You're either a racist or you're not. You cannot just be mildly racist and believe that the action of a few among us is acceptable. The fact that there are racists among our Police Force is in itself worrying. How can anyone have confidence in the guardians of law and order when the judgement of some of them are so questionable?

It is also churlish to mention the behaviour of some partisan Indian crowds during the Australia-Indian Tests. Watch an AFL match and witness the behaviour of some of the crowd.
Indeed, we all have so much to learn from the world around us. Perhaps, being charitable to others should be our first lesson?

Alex Njoo | 12 October 2010  

In response to Kevin Thompson, why should I hopefully "represent an Australian minority". Are you suggesting I'm racist? My interest is in "balance", which I do not think is reflected in Vina's article nor in Eureka Street's recent publications re allegations of racism towards Indian students.

India is no doubt a beautiful culture with many hospitable people (Indian media excepted) but the making of such a point should not be at the expense of Australia.

Peter Kelaher | 12 October 2010  

Peter, I didn't read anything in Vina's article criticising Australia's hospitality, and I don't think the article was written at the expense of Australia. There was a brief mention of the dreadful email which thankfully Vina appreciates is not the view of all Australians. I don't think it is a biased article, and I certainly don't think it attacked Australia; it acknowledged and praised Australians.

I read a positive and hopeful article that gave me a bit more insight into the culture of a country I have not yet visited. Thank you Vina.

MBG | 12 October 2010  

I am always surprised by the inherent racism in our community especially among an older groups of Australians.
Scratch the surface and there it is right in your face.......ugly and frightening

For police to be seen in this racist way is offensive and brings into focus the law and its management on the ground

How can we trust individuals who think in this way?

Grow up Australia!

GAJ | 12 October 2010  

Peter Kelaher, sorry mate, but the world, with all its faults, has moved on, thanks - in part - to writers such as Vinay Verma. By the way, in case you haven't noticed, we now have a woman who's single and childless (as well as an atheist) as our Prime Minister. Hooray for the times are a - changing!

Alex Njoo | 13 October 2010  

I haven't seen any attacks on Ponting by the media here in India. If there have been any,they probably represent a small minority. In general, Ponting, though not in the "popular" category in India, is admired for his batting ability and for never ever having made an excuse for his team not winning. The latter is a quality India can learn from.

I have visited Australia three times and have only encountered generosity.I was at the Sydney Test Match in 2007-08 when Tendulkar scored a century. The crowd stood up to give a standing ovation and when i thought it had gone on for long enough, i sat down. Only to stand up again in embarrassment when I realised that the applause wasn't going to stop anytime soon!

The Victorian police email - and incidents against Indian students in the last year or so - show that there is indeed a racist element in Australia. But it is probably a small minority against which the enlightened majority must speak up, as I believe they are doing.

Shashi Maudgal | 13 October 2010  

Similar Articles

Mary MacKillop's lesson for Murray-Darling irrigators

  • Michael Mullins
  • 18 October 2010

Tony Windsor is proving himself to be a politician of integrity and tact, but has his work cut out for him in the case of the Murray-Darling Basin irrigators. Mary MacKillop was a champion of rural and regional Australians. It is worth considering her strategy in the context of the irrigators' struggle for survival.


Australia's feminist saint

  • Michael Mullins
  • 11 October 2010

Sexual abuse was part of the mix of challenges facing Mary MacKillop and her sisters, but it was only one of many elements of disfunction within the Church and society of the time. Historian Father Ed Campion has described MacKillop as 'a heroine to modern Australian feminists'.