Wednesday, August 19, 2015

(Un)sustainable Hospitality

In the times of dwindling resources of water, rising food prices, increasing labor costs, and shrinking family sizes, following the noble Indian principle of hospitality, Atithi Devo Bhava, is becoming a challenge for me.

It all starts right with the simple act of offering the guest with a glass of water. Living in a city like Bangalore, where drinking water comes at a cost, and water treatment plants are still not a commonplace, topping up the glasses only to see it ultimately go down the drain is quite painful. Add to it, the trouble of having to serve the guests more water and other drinks in different glasses after every use. Suggesting the guests to reuse the glasses is a double edge sword. On one hand, it is against the principle of pampering the guest, and on the other hand, you are highly likely to get stamped as an authoritarian person.

In seven years of my relationship with the kitchen, I have realised that the food that is indulgent to the senses of humans often involves multistage cooking, which, in turn, is very energy-intensive. So an eco-conscious person, aware of the economics of the energy and organic groceries, may well understand why I am often plagued by the guilt of having second thoughts to put together an elaborate meal to please the guests.

The quantity of food, whether homemade or not, to assure the almighty guests that there is enough for everyone, often leads to a significant amount of food landing up in the dustbin, either directly or via refrigerator. In case the food is ordered from restaurants, disposing the containers or other forms of packaging often adds to my waste segregation woes.

Given the dicey, or perhaps the fragile nature of our life support system-the maids, the rising stack of vessels often sends chills down my spine. So to keep the load on this system to a minimum, I start clearing up a part of the stack in presence of guests, which over years I have felt, is also very disrespectful to the guest Gods, let alone making them do their dishes.

Unlike the good old days, where joint families were a norm and womenfolk formed the backbone of the traditional hospitality, I find it very taxing to host the guests arriving even on short notice. And if they are staying over with us for a couple of days, accommodating them smoothly in my eco-conscious lifestyle, that needs a lot of advance planning, becomes a daunting task.

Finally, when the guests leave, as I stare at the footprint left behind, not just by the guests, but by all of us,  as a group of highly social (or party?) animals, the question that continues to gnaw at me is – who are we human beings and what is our place in the intricate web of nature?

--Meera Mahajan Rotti

    Samuchit Enviro Tech.

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