Some weeks ago, I was approached by a journalist with an invitation. It was an invitation to an award ceremony in Mumbai. Not as a guest – as an award nominee and winner for the category ‘Best Spiritual Person of the Year’.
Well, it was interesting, I thought, as it was also organized by a media company that I had heard of, which had a certain name. Then I looked again at the date on the invitation: it was going to take place in just three days and that in Mumbai, which is 1500 kilometers from my home town!
We had several international guests at our Ashram in that time and it was really short notice but as it had been a very polite way of inviting me, I considered going. In a discussion with my family, the opinion of most was that it would not be nice to refuse such an invitation.
I replied politely and said I would be happy to come. I asked whether the organizer of the event could send me two flight tickets from Delhi to Mumbai on the day of the event and back on the next day. I have friends in Mumbai, so I didn’t even ask about accommodation or food arrangements as I knew I would be well taken care of there. I thought it reasonable to ask about the traveling costs however – after all I was invited to be awarded and the event was going to place in one of the country’s biggest five-star hotels. I thought it to be a normal question.
I got the reply that according to company policy, they didn’t give the travel fare but made all other arrangements – but my contact person would ask and get back to me. To me, the matter was quite clear: if my travel would be paid for, I would go. I started wondering about the staying arrangements they had made, thinking I might be closer to the venue if I just stayed at the place they had arranged. Otherwise I would have to calculate time from the landing of my flight to get to my friends and then to the venue as well.
Finally however I got to know that while they arrange accommodation in the PWD guesthouse, a government guesthouse, they had now cancelled that spiritual category due to time restrictions. Travel fares would anyway not be paid, as it was not a sponsored program with which they earned money but just to give recognition to the people who deserved it.
I replied: ‘I think this is a good idea. I was looking on the website which you gave me of the award and there I also didn't find that category or a nomination. So it felt like it was in some way improvised, modified in the last minute or something similar.
I wish you all the best for the event and if you come sometime to the North, you are most welcome to visit us here.’
At this point, this was done and over for me. I really thought it was a nice ending to something that was anyway so short notice that it just didn’t happen. No problem, they didn’t have that many resources and it really seemed a last-minute thought to invite me. I had ended with best wishes and an invitation to come here!
I would never have written this blog post, had I not come across an article last week, written by the person who had sent me the invitation. Without mentioning my name, she described how unashamedly nominees had demanded airfare and stays in five-star hotels to be paid by them for coming! This hurt. It made me feel the necessity of describing my point in my blog, even without mentioning the organization’s, the award’s or the person’s name.
Yes, I asked to get my travel expenses paid. I would never spend a penny for getting myself honoured, even if it was an award like the Oscar! They believe I deserve this award – but what would be my interest in going? What would I be spending those approximately 500 Euro for?
And yes, it would have been altogether about 500 Euro, just for one day! There was no option to go by train, for that it was too short notice. And yes, for the past eight years since I know my wife, I have never spent even one night away from her. We go everywhere together and my times of travelling alone are over. That’s how I asked for two tickets – even though I might have as well paid for her ticket if they had paid mine.
Obviously the organization has the funds to organize this event in a top five-star hotel in Mumbai, so they must have spent a lot of money for the venue. If they think I should be there, I believe they could arrange the travel as well. Or, if I was deserving for an award in their eyes but not for paying my travel cost, they could have given me the award via video conference. Or come and give it to me here. Or just announce my name there! Why do I even have to go?
It would have been an award for my spiritual work, which includes our charity projects for our children, as all profit of my work goes there. Instead of paying a flight to pick up an award for myself, I would have rather given food and books to another child! Or they could have donated that money!
Really, if you had wished me to be there, you should have called me longer in advance. It would have seemed more serious and I could have planned, made other arrangements in Mumbai for some program or work. Or I would have decided to make holidays in Mumbai and enjoy some days there, coming to the award show on one evening. In both cases, I would not even have asked for my travel expenses. But why should I leave all my other commitments and spend money to rush to Mumbai last-minute just to pick up an award you think I should get?
But then again, I would not even have written this blog at all, had I not read that article!
I have told you before, too, that several TV channels have approached me to broadcast my lectures – but I should pay for the time I will be on their screen! On international level people are paying a lot of money for those slots – but I always refused! If you want me to speak on your channel, you should be paying me, not the other way around!
I know however that there are many people who pay loads of money to get shown on TV, to be honoured or to get awards. Sorry, I am not that kind of person. I have no need to be awarded and especially not if you ask me to pay for that!
If you invite me to your home, family or private program as a friend, I will be happy to come and of course by my own expenses. I will enjoy building a friendship and I know you have invited me for enjoying this love. But when you organize a public event in a huge five-star hotel, I think it is fair to at least ask for the fare. Even if you refuse – no problem! But asking has made me such a bad guy that I am mentioned in a negative way in your article. I am sure responding in this way in my blog makes it even worse.
Finally however, I just want to say that it hurt me to read such lines and the allegation that I am asking to get what I don’t deserve or what I should pay for on my own. I love giving to others – and again I will say, should you ever come to Vrindavan, I will be happy to welcome you here. But if you want to give me an award, please make sure I don’t have to spend money for it which I could give to our children!