On a visit to a Western nation, we Indians find Westerners different from us. Our nature is to share food with strangers, allow neighbors’ friends and relatives into our homes, invite strangers for a cup of tea, help stranded occupants with a broken vehicle, keep elderly family members with us in our homes, and live simply with minimal fuss.
A good example of food sharing is found on Indian trains. At meal time, passengers take out their homemade food from tiffins or plastic bags and ask those sitting nearby to eat food from their plate or to have some on a separate plate. Such a scene can be seen at events like cricket matches or parades. Today, however, people are somewhat reluctant to eat other people’s food for fear of getting ill, yet the food offering has not totally disappeared. Indian visitors observe that people in the West usually do not share food with friends or strangers.
If we do not count the homes of wealthy, most of our multistorey flats in cities and huts in villages are close to each other, and in some cases, they are attached with a common wall. When we live so close to each other, we lose our privacy, but we gain something in return. For instance, when a visitor finds no one at home at a friend or relative’s residence, she is likely to get a welcome from a neighbor, a cup of tea, and all the news of people she came to see and missed. She would leave the home of neighbor just as satisfied as if she visited her relative. Furthermore, when we need additional rooms to accommodate guests for occasions such as children’s marriages, we use neighbors’ homes.
Most of us do not have maps. If we did, many people would not know how to read them or they might not be accurate. So, when we have to go to an unfamiliar place, we stop and ask various people for direction. On the way to our new destination, we might get a cup of tea from a stranger or make a new friend or meet someone who knows someone we know. On occasion, rather than explaining directions, a stranger may take us to our destination.
It is not uncommon to have a vehicle - a car, truck, motorcycle, or bicycle - break down on Indian roads. If it is daylight and a person is wandering near a disabled conveyance, he is likely to help or call a friend to help. Afterwards, he or his friends may not accept anything in return. Who can forget the scene created by hundreds of poor people of meager means rushing with their tattered saris and dhotis and blankets to aid victims of bombs which blasted simultaneously in several train carriages in Mumbai in 2006?
When we see elderly people living in nursing homes in Western countries, we wonder why children from rich nations do not keep their parents with them, as is usually the case in Indian culture. We become their soft sun in the evening hours of their lives. We feed, clothe, and nurse them in our homes until they pass on.
Sharing food, helping neighbors and strangers, and caring for elderly parents at home are all acts of giving. Perhaps, visitors to Italy may have heard of Saint Francis of Assisi and his precept: It is in giving you receive.
Some of us return home prouder of our human nature and of India.