Depending on which end of the ‘being hospitable’ spectrum you lie on, the idea of welcoming and hosting guests can either thrill you to bits or leave you wanting to cower until the tide has passed. And irrespective of where you might want to peg yourself on that spectrum, each one of us at some point in our long and not so long lifespan would have played hosts – and mostly, to people known to us or at least remotely our acquaintances.
But what does it mean to play host to people you have never ever met before, let alone being somewhat acquainted with?
And what does it mean to play host to as many as 80-100 such unknown people at the same time?
On one morning in September, the entire hamlet of Dehena was doing exactly that – they were hosting 120 school children. By way of facilitating and encouraging cultural exchanges between the urban dwellers and their rural counterparts, Grassroutes offers both stakeholders an insight into the life of the other, albeit for a couple of hours (or sometimes, days).
Within minutes of their arrival to the village, the awkward yet curious and eager-eyed bunch of city-bred English spewing students were running errands right from husking rice to filling water from the village hand-pump for their respective host-family. For their part, the host-families made for an equally curious lot, watching over as their guests nimbly and deftly pitter-pattered around the village with something of a competitive advantage over each other as they went about striking off one task after another on their to-do list.
But for the hosts, being watchful extended towards looking into the gastronomic preferences of their guests as well. As a community that is reliant on cooking its food with onions and potatoes in them, catering to a diet that excludes them can seem outlandish. And so separate arrangements were made for the subset of students who followed a different diet. It is noteworthy to mention that though every family in the village hosts 5-7 students, the menu for the meal is pre-decided so that irrespective of the numbers and the host family, every guest at the village savours on the same meal.
As it would turn out, papadums were a favourite - at least among school students!
Cultural exchanges and bonds transpire at much subtler levels as well.
As awkward as it can get, especially at the beginning where both parties are still unknown to each other, the communication was rather deliberate between the two stakeholder groups; where language was swapped as city folks began to make-do with their anglicised Hindi-meets-Marathi to convey emotion, while the rural folk brushed up on their pidgin English so that ‘thank-yous’ got bartered in return of the shukriyas and the dhanyawaads – which are thank-you in Hindi and Marathi respectively!
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