Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hospitality vs wealth

Is hospitality inversely related to a person's, or society's, affluence?

In Dilli Haat in New Delhi, in December 2006, a poor street performer/mendicant from Rajasthan removed the tunic and turban my great-aunt Ena had been admiring and gifted them to her with great ceremony; "from my body, to yours" he said.

People in Kyrgyzstan are unfailingly hospitable and incredibly, heartbreakingly generous. Strangers met on the street, striking up a conversation after giving directions, invite you to their home for plauf. Guests are highly respected, in true Islamic tradition, and hardly allowed to move a finger besides eating and making conversation. The questions are unending, sometimes childlike but always sincere and stemming from great curiosity about lands beyond the mountains and the former USSR.

Random people stop in the street and ask if I'm from Pakistan (the closest to a sub-continental most can immediately think of). When I say "men Sri Lanka-dan Keldim" I'm greeted with sheer delight at my smattering of Kyrgyz, and great compliments on my country's tea - the only reason people here know of Ceylon at all.

Do we have water melons in Sri Lanka? Rain? How often? What do people eat? Vegetariansky?? How on earth do I survive at home, let alone in meat-loving Kyrgyzstan?

Olyn, olyn - please, eat some more! Life revolves around food, preferably consumed lazing on a chaikana in a shady orchard, with great ceremony around breaking the bread with one's guests - sharing the naan that looks like a huge doughnut with a thin membrane of dough left where the hole should be - and plying them with chai

Visitors always remark on Sri Lankans' hospitality, and I'd say that hospitality increases with each mile travelled away from the bustling cities into the poorer hinterlands. Is there a link?

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