Sundays are a relatively quiet day in my current town, Visakhapatnam—Vizag for short. The city wakes up later than usual, many shops are closed, and there are fewer vehicles whizzing down the street. It is a day for rest and relaxation, and a day that exemplifies the hospitality that I have experienced in India.
Upon finding out that I would be living in Vizag, a good family friend from India knew someone who had connections in Vizag. This family friend’s niece’s husband’s family was from Vizag, and I was immediately put in touch with the parents who still live here. After a couple of email and phone exchanges, the parents—my new aunty and uncle—and I met up. They made sure that I was settled, helped me shop, and insisted that I come stay with them the following Sunday.
It has since been a number of Sundays that I have spent with this aunty and uncle, and I have been welcomed with open arms. I have met countless friends and family members of theirs, seen the [limited] sites of Vizag with them, and attended a family wedding. My favorite moments, though, are the ones spent in and around their house watching movies, cooking alongside aunty, and taking long walks in the morning with uncle. The hospitality that they have shown me—a friend of a distant family member—amazes me, and they have been far from the only hospitable people I have met.
My downstairs neighbors have made me to feel part of their family as well. It started with an offering of gulab jaman sent up my way when I first moved in and has continued to grow naturally as I stop by after work and chat with the mom. Our visits are never short, though, and I have since been showered with more food than I could eat. A stranger, I have been welcomed in to their home and family events from church to picnics.
I often encounter small acts of hospitality throughout my day as well. Being invited to have chai despite language barriers, coworkers insisting on buying me lunch, and strangers helping me bargain for auto rickshaws or find the correct bus when I am clearly more than a little lost are just a few of the many examples.
In these moments, I often wonder what I would do—or have done—in similar situations. I’m sure I have helped a stranger find the correct train or bus, but have I ever invited a foreigner living in my country in for coffee or sent them chocolate chip cookies just to be sure they feel welcome? I’m not sure I have. I wish to cultivate more of this hospitality and seek to better embody the Hindu principle—which I believe spans all religions—that “the guest is God.” I hope these memories from Sundays in Vizag are a lesson from India that I forever keep.