Here in Indiana we like to talk about “Hoosier Hospitality” — our term for the generally hospitable demeanor of our citizenry.
I felt a lot of that same kind of hospitality in Delhi, Agra and Mumbai, India, during a 10-day trip with the American Council of Young Political Leaders last month. Everywhere we went, the people of India were gracious of their time, candid with their thoughts, and more than anxious to fill us with delicious food.
One stop in particular on our trip stood out in this regard, and that was our visit to the Shivkar village outside Mumbai. We should have known what was coming when a 7-foot tall banner with our photos (well, most of our photos) welcomed us to town. We were showered with flower petals, given colorful garlands to wear around our neck and treated like rock stars among the villagers in Shivkar.
I’m sure it was a rare occurrence for a delegation of Americans to visit, but I have no reason to believe their outpouring of gratitude was rare behavior for these people.
They paraded us through the village to the beats of student drummers. Children sang local songs for us. They even produced unique and vibrant sand art outside their homes — work that would make any world-renowned artist proud and slightly envious.
We were carried from one side of the village to another by a cow-powered rickshaw, an idea I think should be exported to the United States immediately! We also had the opportunity to interact with local government leaders to talk about how they address challenges in their community and how they interact with state and central government. A few of us (hint: me) even had the audacity to drop-in on a few classes to say hello to students. If you’re reading this, teachers, my sincere apologies for the interruption.
The highlight, though, was when we spotted a basketball court on the school grounds. Two fellow delegates and I procured a basketball and proceeded to challenge a group of five village boys to a game. Home court advantage proved to be as vital in India as it is in the United States, as they defeated us 6-5, a victory that was met with cheers from all the kids, teachers and parents who found their way outside to watch the mayhem unfold.
It was that unscripted moment, those 15 minutes on the court, that really made me stop and think, “Wow!” Sure, we were beat by a scrappy group of 11-year-olds, but even their victory lap was hospitable, and I’m sure they are now heroes in the village of Shivkar, the likes of those portrayed in the movie “Hoosiers.”
This was first published by the Northwest Indiana Times here.