New Delhi: Hollywood has always been fascinated by the East. While many come here in search of Nirvana, others are keen to experience the exotic grandeur of our traditions. But when East meets West clashes are bound to happen. While some stars enter our land with a baggage of pre-conceived notions, others are just not well-acquainted with our customs.
India's 'Atithi Devo Bhava' (Guest is Divine) motto extends to everyone who comes seeking the secret of Indian spiritualism or touring its natural splendour. But often misinformation and lack of sensitivity becomes the cause of offence in a country that is home to several cultures.
Supermodel Naomi Campbell’s recent visit to India is a perfect example of clash of the ideas. Quite uninformed about our country’s animal protection laws, the supermodel recently expressed a desire to organise an Elephant Polo match during her four-day stay in Jodhpur for her boyfriend’s 50th birthday celebrations. This has not gone down too well with PETA officials who have urged her to cancel the match.
India has become a hotspot for foreign tourists. The footfalls of international tourists were 8.78 lakh in 2011. A survey of the Union tourism ministry found that Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal and Bihar were among the top 10 states that received foreign tourists last year.
Foreign tourists translate to thriving trade but there have been controversies in the past that should stand as warning signals to those who are exploring the country for the first time.
American talk show queen Oprah Winfrey started a passionate debate when she came visiting in July this year. She asked her Indian hosts, "I heard some Indian people eat with their hands still?"
Actor Richard Gere will not forget in haste the anger he triggered among activists for his well intentioned pecks on Shilpa Shetty's cheeks at an AIDS awareness event in New Delhi. There are celebrities who gather at slums to click photos of snot-nosed children running amok while others pass through holy towns, silently interpreting the India they see.
Temple authorities have reprimanded foreign guests for not leaving their shoes outside as is custom.
When Russell Brand married Katy Perry in Rajasthan, some on the entourage allegedly assaulted photographers while on a safari. Authorities threatened to shut down celebrations if animals in the Ranthambore National Park are disturbed.
There are no rules of how to conduct yourself but a bit of sensitivity is always welcome.