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Atithi Devo Bhava

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The Sanskrit word ‘Atithi’ means no planned timing. This famous quotation in Sanskrit ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ implies unplanned visitors are equivalent to God. So, when guests arrives at your house you should treat them with courtesy and hospitality.

When I was growing up we had family friends who visited us in the evenings or we would visit them. Most of the time, it would be an unplanned visit since telephones were not so prevalent or, not every family could afford one. It’s memorable peeping through the looking-glass to see who knocked or rang the doorbell, then running into the house to quickly inform the elders, then going back to answer the door and bring the guests in. My mother used to stock snacks, confectionery and tea leaves for unplanned guests. She would also send us to the market for replenishments in case she ran out of any. We had to treat guests with tea and snacks within around 20 to 30 minutes of their arrival. If guests stayed longer we would offer them meals also. Sometimes my uncles and aunts from distant towns would suddenly arrive with little suitcases as they would live with us for a week or two.

Then my aunt would help my mother in the kitchen and we would have lots of fun during our spare time. During festivals, we would go to neighboring houses to exchange greetings and sweets. People would expect their friends and neighbors but would not know precisely when they would show up at the door. We would be busy all day and still not complain when someone would come, because it was like that for everyone. One day, there was a very friendly lady, my mother’s friend who rang the doorbell in the afternoon. It was during my summer vacation and I was taking a nap after lunch. My mother was engrossed in work and could not answer the door promptly. The lady kept ringing the bell repeatedly. When my mother opened the door, both burst into laughter. The lady said that she wanted the whole building to be aware that she had come to visit us and that is why she did not stop ringing the doorbell till it was answered.

Notice how the trend has changed. We always text or call people before going to their place. This is for information and convenience on both ends. The visitors make sure someone is available when they get there. The people expecting the guests make sure that they are well prepared to receive the guests and treat them hospitably. Nobody likes the no-show feeling. People can also fake their unavailability when they do not want to entertain guests.

We can certainly make better arrangements of hosting our visitors when we know of their arrival in advance. There used to be fun and a challenge in how to treat guests in times of crisis which we do not need to be anxious of anymore. So, the trend of making unplanned visits is disappearing. The fun of surprise is vanishing.

Recently when I was at my sister’s place during a weekend, one of their friends called in the evening and said that he was somewhere nearby and would come with his family in about 5 minutes if they were at home. When they came we enjoyed talking and reviving memories. They had brought leftovers from a party that they had attended. My sister had already made dinner for us. So we shared food and had a good time.

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