Indian Hospitality

June 3, 2015 at 3:14 pm

As our adventure draws to a close,  a great sadness wells up.  We will miss the wonderful warmth and affection of the Indian people that is truly a reflection of how we swim in God’s love at all times. 

We have often experienced this warmth in our hotel stays. The hotels in India are unsurpassed.   One of the most memorable events occurred at the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur.  The hotel was formerly the summer palace for a maharajah.  It is situated in the middle of a lake in a serene setting.   A power boat  provides a ride for the patrons to a dock in front of the hotel.   A 6’5” doorman decked out in traditional garb and carrying a colorful and ornate umbrella that must span 4 feet greeted Kathleen as he would an arriving princess.  Kathleen walked with him up the dock and  across the front of the hotel to the main door.  Just before arriving at the threshold, Kathleen smiled in surprise as rose petals fell from above which was the traditional greeting for the maharajah’s wives. 

Work requires that I go to Delhi once a month for a week at a time and we always stay at the Trident hotel in Gurgaon.  When a guest arrives, you are stunned by the hotel’s beauty with its Moorish architecture, reflecting pools, and aesthetically beautiful lighting;  but it is only a prelude to the care and attention provided by its staff.  The stories are many. 

Another expatriate had told us about the wonderful experience she had going to a Sufi tomb on a Thursday evening to hear the lively singing.  I went to the front desk one Thursday to see about hiring a guide to take us there.  The expat had warned us that there is no way that we would find our way through the warren of narrow alleys to a tomb that is hundreds of years old.  One of the attendants at the front desk  told me that there was no such guide.  As I thanked him with some disappointment and realized that I would find a guide some other way, one of the other attendants, Prateek, happened to walk in and heard the tail end of the conversation.  He immediately said that he could arrange a guide.  Even though he is a Hindu, his family and the family of the Sufi caretaker of the tomb go back 3 or 4 generations.  He called the caretaker who agreed to meet us near the entrance to the old city.  Not only did the caretaker shepherd us to the tomb, but he also explained the history  of the area that stretched back to 1200 CE.  He gave us a front row seat for the singing; later, he brought us inside the tomb and then took us to his office for more conversation where people were lined up to seek his counsel and blessing. 

That was our introduction to Prateek.  After that, he frequently met us upon arrival to take us to our room.  If I ever needed something, he would make it happen or offer an alternative.  When Kathleen’s sisters visited, I waited too long to make reservations during the high season.  Even so, he managed to get us into the Trident in Cochin, Kerala, after I was told it was full.  He could not work the same magic at Trident Gurgaon, but offered to have us stay at his house.  I told him we had already booked rooms at the Oberoi New Delhi. 

I usually arrive on Monday and Kathleen generally comes on Wednesday evening.  We then will take a weekend trip to somewhere in India.  On this particular Monday, Akanksha was taking me to my room and asked when Kathleen was coming since she had a surprise for her.  I smiled and asked if it was chocolate since Kathleen is a chocaholic.  She said it was not, but she made a mental note of my comment.  On Wednesday, she presented Kathleen with a bouquet of roses much to Kathleen’s surprise and delight.    After dinner, Kathleen had a hankering for some chocolate and the folks at the Trident suggested we visit the Oberoi Gurgaon hotel which is attached to the Trident where we could buy some chocolate.  It was the most expensive chocolate we have ever bought.  The following evening, we were sitting in our room when there was a knock on the door.  It was Akanksha bearing 3 chocolate candies for Kathleen.   

Then there is the restaurant staff.  They treat us like we are members of their family.  One of the hostesses, Poonam,  introduced us to her secret boyfriend who worked elsewhere on the property. During our last visit to the hotel,  I teased her that she is Martin’s age and that we could take her back to the US and arrange a marriage.  She thought that was so funny and was delighted.   She went out and bought a Kurtha for me as a going away present so that I would always remember her whenever I see it.  

Another waitress who would always come over to say hello whether she was waiting on our table or not, rushed out of a different restaurant in the hotel one night to make sure she knew when our last day at the hotel was.  She said that she had a present for us and wanted to make sure that she had a chance to give it to us.   Her energy, enthusiasm, affection and happiness was better than any kind of gift she could give.  Later she gave us a gift of something that could only found in India.  It was a little matchbook size model of a tuck-tuck  or auto-rickshaw with a precious note of affection. 

I always carry a venti Starbucks mug with me along with my favorite green tea.   A year and one-half ago, one of the waiters bought a Starbucks thermos mug for me.  I brought it a few times to honor his gift and then reverted back to my glass mug.  On our final night, I saw one of the managers in the restaurant rush in the door and dart behind hostess desk while many of the staff gathered around him.  I had seen a Starbuck’s mug in his hand.  I suspected something was up.  The next day at our last meal,  he presented the cup to us which had been signed with notes by many of the kitchen staff as well as service staff. 

Prateek had asked the restaurant staff to call him when we arrived for our last dinner.  He then brought Kathleen a gift.  It was a CD of Sufi singing that is mother had given him that he wanted Kathleen to have.  He then asked to have his picture taken with us.   

To say the least, Kathleen and I were quite overcome by all the displays of affection and I felt a great sadness that I would never see many of these smiling warm faces again.  However, the most difficult goodbye was for the doorman, Mohit. 

Mohit is a very simple man with warm heart.  He is always so incredibly happy to see us.  He tells us how he has been waiting for us, been looking forward to our arrival  and we always  spend a few minutes catching up with him.  On our last day, he looked as if he had had a death in the family.  As I tried to say “goodbye” to him, words could not be found.   I could only touch my hand to my heart and place it on his heart.    As my eyes welled up, I quickly turned away.