Going through my photo archives for a photo blog I plan to start, I remembered a thing which had struck me as weird during my travels in Kenya. Being interested in travel and wildlife, I have stayed a lot across hotels and resorts in India. Outside India I have been to Singapore, Bhutan and Kenya. But only in the resorts in Kenya did I find religious books in hotel rooms. I found the Bibles/Quran placed in the top drawers of the bedside table extremely funny, surprising and slightly unpalatable. I did some reading – here here and was surprised to find this being a norm in United states. I still cant understand the reasoning behind placing religious books in hotels – especially wildlife resorts like Serene Lodge in Maasai Mara (which had Quran as well as Bible I guess).
Funnily the top drawer often reserved for these religious books (based on my experience in Kenya) is the best place for keeping your condoms IMO (next to the books which are clearly anti contraceptive). Apart from that why would holidayers who cant spend a day without their scriptures travel without them? I suppose for people who are this religious, there would also be an emotional connection to one’s one set of scriptures and they wont feel the same way about some other copy (my presumption). In India most you find in Indian resorts are religious symbols like Om and Shree and even they are extremely rare (non existent in nature and wildlife resorts). Finding copies of Vedas or Bhagwat Gita in hotel rooms seems incredibly funny almost unimaginable to me. Even in the pretty catholic goa, none of hotels I have stayed in (even in Portuguese Goa) had bibles in rooms. Why would someone going to the top wildlife destination in the world spend time reading scriptures instead of enjoying the resort is something beyond my humble irreligious (and Indian) mind to fathom. I don’t necessarily put the blame of this practice on the evangelical zeal as many hotels claim to provide most popular religious scriptures.
This brings me to a larger point about lack of understanding of other cultures and histories (which Razib likes to point) in Indians (as well as all other cultures). If understanding of different cultures is so poor even in the internet age, during the age of exploration there would have been a far greater gap which is clearly visible in most colonial literature. This makes the criticism faced today by sincere western scholars like Asko Parpola and Sheldon Pollock (who do have understanding of the Indian culture) inevitable. Example of similar things are even visible when English speaking journalists from India make televised journeys into the hinterlands. Here I come to some questions for the readers.
How should people foreign to cultures they’re studying, view them? and Is the criticism of them as ignorant of culture and hence partial in their scholarship fair? (Despite them being scholars of lets say Sanskrit and History in Indian context)
What could be a logical explanation for the practice of keeping religious books in hotels (apart from evangelical zeal) ? Some people have made argument of loneliness and suicide but I find those extremely tenuous.
What are some of the other practices prevalent in foreign cultures that can be unfathomable to an outsider ?