New Delhi: Age is just a number for 91- year-old tour guide Rama Khandwala, who received the special best tourist guide award from President Ram Nath Kovind at the National Tourism Awards in Mumbai on Wednesday.
"Her courage and never-say-die attitude are visible even today in her sincere and professional way of handling guide assignments," according to a descriptive note on awardees, prepared by the tourism ministry.
Walking down the memory lane, a vibrant Khandwala recollected how a woman from Holland was so impressed by the people in the slums in India that she wished to stay there. Khandwala said she had taken a delegation from Holland to slums in western part of India and a woman from the group was so much impressed with the cleanliness and how children took care of their old parents in the slums that she wanted to stay there.
"I have no problem if I had to stay in the slums. I feel good here because these people take care of their old parents so well, unlike in our country where children come with flowers in 15 days or so and then over," Khandwala quoted the woman as telling her.
Rama Khandwala with President Ram Nath Kovind
Besides amazing tourist destinations, India has a lot to offer to the tourists -- the Indian culture and the experience, the human touch, the feelings -- which no other country can boast of, Khandwala said. Mumbai-based Khandwala, who is fluent in Japanese, said she had also escorted a lot of delegations from that country to far off place in western India but now works as a city guide.
She has also done "very interesting" programmes for Japanese television, including one on Buddhism and another on Mahatma Gandhi.
Khandwala has also served as a Second Lieutenant in the Rani Jhansi Regiment of the Azad Hind Fauj in Rangoon, Burma, led by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, the ministry note read. After the World War II, Khandwala and her family settled in Mumbai. She has written her memoirs in a book about her days as a freedom fighter tilted 'Jai Hind', it added.
"I was a freedom fighter. I wanted to do something for the nation. Vallabhbhai Patel met me and told me to join politics but I refused. I thought, I can enhance the country's image outside by being in this field," she said, when asked what prompted her to get into the profession.
"Tourists often used to tell me that there was a lot of poverty in India. I would ask them what was your country 300 years ago. Then, they would then have no answer," she said, disapproving their statement.
Khandwala also pitched for tourism courses at regional level to help aspiring guides to learn different languages. Her advice to young tour guide: "Put your heart into work, make your tourists laugh and also laugh with them." Another advice was to "always keep the country's image in the forefront, followed by tourists agent and then yourself" while working as a tourist guide.
And she has a reason for that: "We will all go (die) one day but the country will remain and if the country's image is good, tourists will keep coming to India, saying it is a very good destination, it has very good people."
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