There is something to be said about South East Asian hospitality that even at their angriest, the average person is still mighty polite.
I love viral videos. They make us realise that life is stranger than fiction on a constant basis. Fiction can’t hold a candle to the absurdities life throws up on an on-going basis. A healthy appetite for viral videos also points to a disproportionate amount of free time that a grown man has on any given day to divert towards such nonsensical indulgences but that’s a whole different howler.
For now, let’s focus on that one recent video where an Indian family — but of course — stands around, partly in defiance, partly in surprise, and only mildly in shame, as an Indonesian hotel’s authorities empty their bags and pile up all the stuff that said family had packed away in their luggage along with their possessions.
Now it’s one thing to steal a chocolate or a can of soda, even Jesus will look the other way if you pocket a few shampoo vials and soaps. It’s all still relatively harmless. But when you start packing the ashtrays and flower vases, the hair dryer, or the bedside radio and the nightstand it was propped on, then it goes from memorabilia foraging to outright theft.
The line between tourist and thief isn’t a fine one, it is a rather thick black demarcation, possibly with flashing neon signs on either side and with a barbed wire running the length between the two as well just to make sure that people ever don’t mix them up. So when articles of such size and in such proportion turn up in ones’ luggage, it isn’t that one accidentally made a wrong left turn and ended up in the thief zone; it is more likely that they used GPS navigation to pretty much get them precisely there.
There is something to be said about South East Asian hospitality that even at their angriest, the average person is still mighty polite. And given the thick-skinned Indians the hotel manager was up against, he was possibly flummoxed because the Indians were at first angry and brazen before being callous and unaffected. At no time did they appear apologetic, imagine the chutzpah!
It’s only in instances like these when dumb fellow citizens do the rest of us a real number that I feel like getting a new passport and leaving with not as much as one last look back. And it’s funny because normally, we Indians are great at being dichotomous i.e. unruly at home but the model of ardently law-abiding citizens when abroad. We may drive like a possessed F1 driver unleashed on our local roads but abroad we signal even when (and if) we switch lanes. We scold the young ones for throwing the wet garbage in the green bin but back home anything that isn’t marked as our premises or property is littering ground. So for a population as paradoxical, this family really seem to have fallen off the wrong side of the wagon.
The inexorable shame that stems from such acts tarnishes the nation’s image as a whole, and it will take a whole lotta’ good Indian tourists to undo the damage. Because of a handful of such people, the next time any other Indian checks into the hotel, or gets on a cruise (still fresh, that incident too), they will either simply refuse them a booking, or take a humongous security deposit or else depute security to track their every step. We aren’t as much a third-world nation as the some among us who act like third-class degenerates.
(The writer is a sommelier)