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Atithi, please come back

Fiona FernandezAfter a 16-hour-long flight back home, and never mind the finger licking airline food and great Oscar nominated films playlist, the last thing one needs is an assault on the senses, courtesy our immigration officials.

This journalist was witness to not just one but several rude officials who scared the living daylights of a few unsuspecting international tourists who were on their maiden Indian visit. Their crimes varied from asking for a pen (to fill the immigration form) to cross-checking a question on the same form.

Leave alone provide the information, these officials (probably the first encounters that tourists have of our citizens) scolded them, and muttered the most unsavoury comments about “phoren log” to each other in the local language.

Besides checking documents and passports, authorities should also focus on courtesy and warmth at airports to invite tourists to the country. File pic
Besides checking documents and passports, authorities should also focus on courtesy and warmth at airports to invite tourists to the country. File pic

Petrified, and after several cross examinations, these foreign nationals possibly feeling like criminals by now, made their way into our country. One shudders to imagine to what extent that initial encounter would have formed impressions. Worse, was to imagine the kind of bad press it might have when these folk return to their respective countries.

Clearly, this isn’t the package that one would like to showcase of our country especially where Bollywood superstars are busy spouting catch lines like Atithi Devo Bhava on the telly to woo the tourist to Mera Bharat Mahan.

So, as the government announces sops like visa-on-arrival for tourists from 180 countries, or as our city readies to show off its swanky, state-of-the-art airport to the rest of the world, it defeats the very purpose when such acts are regularly committed across our airports. Courtesy and a sense of welcome and warmth to the tourist must be incorporated and spelt out in big, bold letters.

As one stood in the same queue at the immigration counter line in Mumbai’s airport, embarrassment and shame was all one felt, having witnessed those insipid exchanges. It also drove home the point what a sham those countless ‘study’ trips made by ministry officials across the globe to understand tourism patterns continue to be.

Some time earlier as one stepped on to the shores of New Zealand, the pride and genuine inclusiveness that came our way was like a breath of fresh air.

Every arm of the airport staff, from immigration officials to luggage handlers, the security and even the taxi drivers at the exit exuded an accommodating, helpful nature — almost as if to show their gratitude and appreciation for having decided to travel to their country and once there, they couldn’t wait to let the hospitality flow. And it sure did.

Tourist-friendly signage, information counters, kiosks and centres were everywhere, to make things easier. How many such initiatives have you spotted in Mumbai? It’s a no-brainer, really.

There seems to be zero efforts by the state and central tourism ministries to help the tourist have a stress-free existence, sans shady agents, touts, untrained guides and generally, anyone out to earn a quick dollar while in the city. A walk down Colaba is a crash course in this sorry state of affairs.

Call it complacency, a lack of vision or simply, contentment with the belief that since the tourist is here in any case, there’s no need to play Good Samaritan. Let him/her figure the rest. After all, yeh hai India, bhai, as the adage goes. Let’s hope India hasn’t scared the atithi for good. Any gods in the tourism ministry listening?

- The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY

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