Atithi devo bhava is the great Indian sanskriti which has also become Incredible India’s tourism mantra. Another great ideal ingrained in us since the childhood is the virtue of charity or donation. In the Indian culture, Kanya daan (the Hindu wedding ritual, where the father of the bride gives away his daughter’s hand to the groom) is of the highest order. Next only to Kanya daan is the charity of water. My generation (though I am not sure of the future generations) would certainly recall our mothers and grandmothers explaining to us the goodness of serving water to a thirsty man. Indeed, in the scorching sun and its searing heat, a glass of cold water is like nectar for the parched throat and perspiring body.
Thankfully, we still see evidence of this goodwill gesture in the reality around us. People keep clay pots of water outside their homes for the thirsty passer-by in summer. Bowls of water are placed in our balconies and terraces for the birds. During my stay in Delhi, I have even seen people offering water to the cycle rickshaw-wallahs who drop them home in the unbearable heat. These acts may seem small, but have abundant significance and an innate humanity in them.
However, of late there has been a gross commercialization of even this simple yet meaningful tradition of ours. It is not just the disregard of values that stares unabashedly, but the erosion of essential sensitivity from our world that is unsettling. I went to a posh and hep beach-side restaurant recently, the uber crowd and their rings of smoke from the hookah filled the place soon. We too placed our order trying to ignore the right side of the menu card since it wasn’t easy on the pocket. Not much to complain about this though, as it’s the norm everywhere anyway. A little later we asked the steward to serve us water and thus he reminded us to place an order for that too, for he had a choice of Evian, Himalaya and Aquafina. Mind you, regular water didn’t feature in his menu at all. You get no water in an up-market restaurant unless you pay for it. This is our age of sharp and shrewd business acumen, where every opportunity counts no matter how much you’ve already raked in on your Pasta Arabiatta. We do not insist on bottled water in restaurants as long as there is decent standard of hygiene around. But probably in their over concern of our health, the restaurants no longer serve us regular water at all.
This is not about one particular eatery; it is a visibly growing trend at a lot of places now. It is flabbergasting to be charged for water in restaurants where selling food is their business but serving water is a basic courtesy or need. What adds to this callousness is the fact that even the water is not served at its MRP but at an inflated price. Recession hit us harder morally. What saddens is not the need to make profits but the avarice of it that has so casually crushed our basic traditions and values.
Still, one another dimension that could have lead to this scenario, which gives me some hope for our humanity and the hoteliers a benefit of doubt, is the issue of water crisis. Conservation of water is a matter to be tackled in real time. Thousands of people die due to contaminated water and still thousands struggle to just quench their thirst. The restaurants are maybe driving home the point that water is no more a free commodity. Value it and save it, or simply pay for it!