“Deep inside of you is a ‘Guru’ with the wisdom of the entire Universe!” – Erin Fall Haskell
When seeking wisdom or exploring life concepts, I automatically default to the experience of a wise old sage, scholar or philosopher. When I landed in India, I hoped to find some pearls of wisdom from a yogi or sadhu. Little did I know that a soft spoken unassuming guest house owner would deliver some of the wisest and most reflective insights into my life.
For my time in Jaipur, India, I booked 5 nights at the Rajputana Guest House. Despite its close proximity to the railroad tracks, my decision to stay at the Rajputana was swayed by its 5 star rating on Trip Advisor guest reviews which were heavily based on the strength of the owner’s warm hospitality and delicious home cooking.
For simplicity, the guest house owner goes by the initials of his Indian name: KP. My first 2 days in Jaipur brought torrential rains and I found myself sharing many hours of conversation with KP. As an introvert, carrying a conversation more than 5 minutes with a stranger is a back breaking endeavour. However, my time with KP was like spending time with an old friend. Without pretention, he freely shared his life story with me giving me some insight to what made him Indian and to what made him human.
KP and the Guest House
The Rajputana Guest house is a 3 storey building with KP and his family (parents and younger sister) living in the middle floor. Originally starting as a humble one floor home, the building was added onto over the years as travellers discovered Rajputana’s unique homestay experience. However, KP’s path to operating the guest house was not a straight line or an easy one.
The guest house was originally started and operated by KP’s older sister. During this time, KP found an interest in hospitality and tourism which led him to working an internship in the kitchen of a five star hotel; which may explain why his home cooked meals are so scrumptious. With the internship ending and no further work offered by the hotel, KP found himself selling cars and eventually spending the bulk of the next 10 years travelling throughout the country earning a good living working for the Indian government. He says much of those working years were focused on making money and building a life for himself. Any extra money was sent back to help renovate the guest house.
Eventually, KP’s older sister would get married leaving essentially no one to run the guest house. His mother called asking him to come home and visit. Upon returning home KP immediately noticed the solemn look on his mother’s face which he described:
Her face looked like someone had died.
In that moment, he knew that he had to stay and run the guest house. The course of his life changed on a dime. However, I don’t think his mother asked him to stay for the purpose of running the guest house, I think she simply missed her son.
He described the Rajputana upon his return as drab and depressing with no guests to speak of. He decided to add more lighting and some color to the décor with new paintings. He played music in an effort to change the energy of their home. Perhaps not the most scientific or business savvy plan, however the Field of Dreams philosophy of: “If you build it, they will come”, started to bring guests. Whatever the reason that brought people to the Rajputana, they stayed for KP’s heartfelt hospitality and a taste of authentic Indian life.
KP on Travel
I was the lone guest when I checked-in late at night and shared a cup of chai with KP while he gave me the inside track of Jaipur city. The conversation eventually led to the topic of travel. He found it interesting that I had a blog and was writing about my experiences. He then made the observation:
You are lucky to travel and see all these places. When you read and write about places, you can imagine them. But by experiencing and feeling it, you can remember it … you get to have memories.
His simple observation resonated in me with striking clarity. Upon reflection, it’s not so much the beauty of a place that I remember but the way that beauty made me feel. The strength of my heart’s emotions tends to override the pictures in my mind.
I’m reminded of a movie that I saw while attending university called Mystery Train where three stories are simultaneously linked to a Memphis hotel. One story had a young Japanese couple on a pilgrimage to Memphis as the boyfriend had proclivity to singer Carl Perkins. In one scene, the Japanese fellow was taking pictures of trivial items such as a desk lamp. When asked why, he replied to the effect that things which are important to him, he’ll remember but things like the desk lamp he will easily forget.
I finished my cup of chai with a bit more appreciation for my opportunity to travel this year, but more importantly I left with a pocketful of gratitude.
In KP’s experience, he observes that his guests’ conversations generally fall into one of two categories. Travellers generally talked about how cheap it is to travel in India or their shared interest in spirituality and Indian culture. KP vehemently encourages the latter. He suggests:
You should not only see monuments. You should walk around an Indian neighbourhood and see how Indian people really live. Learn about Indian culture this way.
He went on to encourage an open mind and adapt to the prevailing culture of wherever you’re travelling. His work for the government had him on foreign travels where the local custom used forks and knives to eat. He was open to it as he also enjoyed new experiences:
If you travel in India, why not eat with your hands. Try something Indian. Will make for a better experience.
Experiencing more authentic heartfelt experiences: Isn’t that what travel is about?
KP on Religion
During one of our long and leisurely chai tea sessions, I asked KP to give me a crash course on Hinduism, namely the concepts of dharma and karma. Those two words have made their way into the Western lexicon and I often hear them espoused in coffee shop and dinner banter. Both terms vary widely in definition when I ran a Google search on them.
KP simply defined dharma as one’s purpose or immediate tasks and responsibilities beset in front them; karma is the actions required to perform one’s dharma. In his own case, KP cites that running his guest house is his dharma and the actions required in doing so, such as cooking and cleaning for the guests is his karma. Based on this explanation, my use of “karma” has been erroneous all my life. I framed up karma as something that I received, good or bad, for either being honourable or despicable. Karma is not something I receive, rather it’s something that I do.
The ideal scenario is to have your karma consistent with your dharma. Your actions matching your purpose. The idealist in me would say: “Have your actions follow your heart”.
To make me ponder a little deeper as well as unnerve me, KP mentions the notion that we all have a fixed destiny. The idea that the finish line of my life is already determined didn’t sit well with me. However, this gave rise to the next obvious question: “Can we change our destiny?”. To my relief, KP’s answer was “yes”. According to KP, you can change your destiny by changing your karma. In other words, change your actions. Therefore, if you’re path was to finish in the winner’s circle of life, you could derail it by committing some sort of unscrupulous act. Conversely, if you were going to hell in a hand basket, you could change your fortunes with a more honest way of living.
The one rub to this scenario is that you don’t know what your destiny is. You simply have to live your life the best way that you know possible.
KP’s dharma changed instantly from being a civil servant to the manager of a guest house during that return visit to his mother. He expressed some regret for those 10 years working for the Indian government in that he lost a lot of valuable time that he didn’t get to spend with his family. I noted that perhaps those years working for the government were to earn money to help renovate the guest house and that perhaps his destiny was to run a guest house and give people travelling to Jaipur a great travel experience. With a deep wail of laughter, he utters:
Now you get it. Now you’re getting the idea!
After a few hours of coffee table theology, the basic message that I got was: be nice to people and don’t screw them over.
KP on relationships
After serving me breakfast, KP joined me for another one of our engaging conversations. He mentions:
Don’t think too deeply about your problems – don’t give things too much “value”.
I asked him to explain further and he says:
For example, this salt shaker; you can give much value to the shaker but it doesn’t care much about you. The same with a woman: if you concentrate too much on her and she can have you as easy as this salt shaker why would she want you?
I cackled with a knowing laugh as this was a possible explanation for some of my past romantic infatuations. Having strong ambition and desires when it came to business or my athletic endeavours may have been an asset, but the same intensity of desire didn’t translate as well in my love life. Women could smell me coming from a mile away. In retrospect, it was probably pretty unattractive.
I don’t think KP equates the word “value” to worthiness, rather value is something related more to attention, concentration and focus. Too much attention and focus on things that don’t reciprocate back is a waste of one’s time.
KP on friendships
When talking about friendships, KP warns about friends that always speak well of you. He cites an Indian poet that says:
Beware of the man that always speaks well of you because he wants something from you.
A true friend will tell you the truth, even if it hurts your feelings. Telling you the truth, gives you a chance to change.
I find this to be true. As much as I like my friends co-signing my BS, many of my character building moments came from my friends’ honest and constructive observations of me. I’ve been fortunate to have friends that know and love me well enough to tell me the truth when I need it; but done in a loving and gentle way so that my first reaction is not to punch them in the head.
KP on life
KP describes his years selling cars and working for the government as stressful ones. His mind was a constant chatterbox pedalling the wheels of anxiety and worry. But he refers to his lifestyle now as: “relaxed and chill”.
He attributes much of his contentment to living his life anchored in service. He explained it to me this way:
I always try to think about what to do for guests. When I think of others, my life changed. The answers are inside. I have to make room for sacrifice.
At 35, KP doesn’t concern himself with getting married anymore. He says:
I will live in service. If I am to be married, it will be in my destiny.
On the subject of approval and judgement, I ask him how he deals with people’s ill judgement of him. He responds:
When I used to sell cars, people often say bad things to me, but I give it no value, so it doesn’t bother me.
A slightly foreign concept for me as my knee jerk reaction to such a situation is to drop kick the other person. Hanging on to such feelings tend to be poison especially when these feelings linger and are brought home to your personal life; such as bringing home workplace problems. KP’s response to this:
That’s really bad. If you are thinking about work when you come home, your family cannot have the best of you. Opposite is true. When you go to work thinking about family problems, you are not doing best job.
I hope I haven’t built up KP to be a sage or guru. He doesn’t offer soap box dissertations, just friendly conversation. He’s simply a man, but a man who has made an impact on my life just by being himself. He inspires me to be the best me possible, with the hope of inspiring others to find the best versions of themselves also.
This was my first time experiencing a home stay and I was more than satisfied with my experience. It’s one of the best ways to experience another culture. Being able to meet and interact with KP’s family added to the experience of the stay.
For meals KP doesn’t offer a conventional menu with prices. He offers a “small” and “large” price; then asks you what you’re in the mood to eat. He basically cooks to your desire. Talk about service and catering to your whim! His home cooked meals were some of the best Indian cuisine that I ate while in India. The cost of the meals are added up all together and charged upon check out. The price of my food bill was much lower than I’d estimated. I never even asked if I was having a “small” or “large” meal. I simply trusted KP to be fair and he most certainly was.
I was the only guest during my first couple of nights at the Rajputana. This left some free time on KP’s hands and he was gracious enough to invite me to watch a movie with him at the famous Raj Mandir Cinema. With a seating capacity of around 1300 people, the Raj Mandir is one the biggest theaters in Asia. If you’re travelling in India, I’d encourage you to go watch a Bollywood movie at a theater as it’s an extremely fun cultural experience. In the short time that I knew KP, I already considered him a friend.
The Rajputana Guest House is more than simply walls, a roof and stairs. The guest house is an extension of KP himself; it’s an extension of his life force and his character. India challenged me on many levels. The country’s culture and history enriched my mind but it would be its people that would leave a lasting impression upon me.
If I make it back to India, I’ll surely make an effort to visit the “Pink City” of Jaipur and visit an old friend … for more experiences and more memories.
“We don’t meet people by accident. They are meant to cross our path for a reason.” – unknown
Have you had an experience at a guest house or hotel that left a lasting impression on you? Or make any special friendships on your travels? I’d love to hear about them!