It was a cringeworthy and brutal example of the sheer ghastliness of the Indian traveller when a video of a family caught stealing from a hotel in Bali went viral two weeks ago. Distressingly, viewers could hear the Indians’ aggressive stance with the Balinese authorities, even as they unearthed mirrors, jars and hairdryers from their bags. Eventually the family could be heard whimpering in embarrassment, offering to pay for the stolen ware. The video was viewed lakhs of times on Twitter, and the Indian tourist roundly condemned by the press and on social media.
A few days before this incident, industrialist Harsh Goenka had posted the welcome note Indian guests received when they checked into the Hotel Arc-en-Ciel in Gstaad, Switzerland. It went “Dear guests from India” and the first point was regarding their buffet: “Please do not take anything with you, the food is for breakfast only”. The second point was even more damning: “The other guests want an appetising buffet also, please only use the cutlery provided.” From this are we to infer that the Indians were carrying their own ladles and ferrying the food away? Anything is possible. The hotel has since apologised for this note after accusations of racism but clearly, the code of conduct needs to be spelt out if visitors from one particular country constantly disregard established rules of etiquette. Sadly, this is the image of the Indian traveller, an unscrupulous user who’s always pushing the boundaries of decency.
The logic applied by a person of dubious values who thinks it’s okay to pinch stuff from a hotel is banal and depressing: we’ve paid for the room and hence are entitled to pocket a few things that catch our fancy. One can always justify it’s not stealing, exactly — more like really stretching the honour code. However, the hotel has allowed a stranger in, assuming the guest will consciously choose to be honest. The guest has a moral obligation not to break that trust, and especially not on the grand scale the Indians in Bali did. It’s true only a minuscule few (staunch Gandhians probably) can claim to have never absconded from a hotel room without a miniature bottle of shampoo and a few tiny bars of soap. And those fluffy bedroom slippers, which are, in all fairness, the property of the wearer the minute they put them on. Surely for hygiene reasons the hotel can’t reuse them, so, naturally, a guest may presume they’re his. But who walks off with a hairdryer thinking they won’t get caught?
Most hotels factor in a degree of thievery into their annual budget, as a cost of doing business. Pilfering isn’t limited just to Indians. But our reputation abroad and with hoteliers in our country is that of uncouth hagglers, out for ourselves at the cost of everyone else’s comfort. The hideous debacle of the Indian family in Bali has led to a lot of heated debate about what our responsibilities are as citizens when we step out of the country. In a larger sense, all of us are connected and affected by the actions of our fellow citizens. When an Indian passenger gets drunk on a flight, leers at the attendant waiting on him, it reflects on all of us. It shows up in a million, small, different ways, the inordinate delays in visa processing for Indians, being just one of them. It is ridiculous that Indians have to furnish bank statements for up to a year for entry to some European countries but it’s because the general consensus is, they are not to be trusted.
It’s surprising that big hotel chains and airlines don’t yet have systems like AirBnB and Uber where everybody rates everybody. It is a sad fact about human nature that in the absence of consequences, our narrow self interest tends to take over — and we cheat to get ahead. Since it’s a given that people will behave unethically given half the chance, the solution lies in taking that opportunity away from them. Ratings force people to behave themselves. Since basic values have eroded so much, in the future it’s the one-to-five scale that the world will be relying on to go back to a culture of integrity. Something like the nicely phrased and to-the-point board outside every departmental store — “You are under surveillance”.