There is a hidden pot of glucose inside all of us. The size of the pot may differ, but it’s there.
For some, it pours itself into their blood stream when they get booked for an international holiday. For others, it’s the reason behind the sudden high they experience when India wins a cricket match. For me, nothing shakes me out of bed happier than the thought of preparing my home to welcome in my best friends and family. Nothing else can give me the high I need to cook a meal, polish my china, roll out the guest room bed and start looking forward to the arrival, like this hidden pot of glucose inside. Such merry energy it generates within, that it makes me whirlwind around the house to get things ready. To open the windows and let the Sun in. To forget the difficult and feel blessed within.
When I was a child, relatives and friends who were coming to stay meant the geography of the house changing. At 7, that was reason enough to start running around excitedly. You cannot be of much help when you are that young, except maybe stay out of your parents’ way. But we could jive aimlessly why not, even as our parents removed the centre table, pushed the sofas back, spread mattresses with sheets on top (the best ones, if not new!) and make the drawing turn into a pretty dorm. Once the “beds” were in place, the running around and pillow fights happened on them and will you please stop spoiling the arrangement, my mother would say! Of course, she herself could not hide the excitement within. Why, the very air in the house would smell of preparing, readying and all that looking forward is made of. Bed boxes would spew out quilts and lihafs to be sunned, folded and piled in the store. The bathrooms would get a hard scrub and shine like new, thanking their stars for the new voices they will hear sing and the extra touch of makeover, even if it just meant a new flower arrangement and fresh towels. The three women of the house would decide the menus for the meals, divide the labour according to their expertise and bring out some surplus crockery and cutlery, not to forget those plastic plates for the army of kids to eat as they played hopscotch in the inner verandah. The kitchen, in the meantime, would be the cynosure of all tasty activity, ready to serve you-name-it at all times of the day and night.
Yes, night. Who sleeps early when you have stay-over guests? Dinners would be followed by two groups of junta. The womenfolk would gather together on one side, and instantly would follow the choicest gossip about the “common enemies” in the family and oh it’s all harmless of course I bear no malice towards her, really! The men would sit a little distance away, mumbling something about shares and weather and politics, all the time trying to lend an ear to what their better halves were discussing with such glee. Soon, the cards would be counted and kept in neat piles, and after a few ‘Paploo’ jokes about the last time, there would be silence and concentration. A happy one. A shared one.
At 2 am a range of midnight snacks would be served, coupled with cups of tea custom made for each and every player. And what have we - its 4 am already and we should sleep now, nahi? The lights were turned off, the privileged ones retired in the rooms. The rest, mostly children, stayed in the hall - that hall-turned-dorm soon to turn into something out of the horror stories the older ones forced down the younger ones’ throats, and I closed my eyes tight, and my ears and sang a tuneless tune to not hear the story. Soon, calm would descend over the whole house, only to be banished at the first rays of the vale’s Sun. And the merriment would start all over again.
No one minded the shared space. The ideas of ‘my space’ were not so widespread – not for eating, or sleeping or even just being. The feeling of togetherness and oneness surely was, as spread out as the sheets covering an entire hall, or the branches of the 3 mango trees which the children adorned during the day. The shared laughter, the game losses, the food, the sound of spoons on plates, the poking fun at husbands, packets of namkeen and hey, I don’t take sugar in my tea, you forgot? The queue at the loo and I need to bathe first, please. The sombre discussions about ailing elders and the very serious ones about school grades.
Worries shared. Joys shared. All under one roof.
No one minded the shared space. The shared time. They became one with it.
Things are different now. Houses are structured differently. Children are rightly given their own spaces to do what they may. Hostels make us enjoy rooms we call our own, even as they tell us how we are actually sharing it with a whole corridor. Still, our space. And vacations at home suddenly feel too crowded, why, does everyone have to visit me when I come home from college? No one just walks into our room, even if the door is ajar. Our beds, our cupboards, our TVs and our quilts. One phone call from tayaji and family announcing their arrival for summer vacations and we go in an I-me-myself tizzy. Not my bathroom, please. My kid cousin always forgets to flush. I am not sleeping on the sofa, okay? Why do I need to play cards and eat mangoes when I have my own work to finish? Gossip, uff, get a life people! And so the story goes.
Understandable. Privacy is important. Space too. Mood even more.
And not everyone knows how to leave your bathroom sink dry. I know. Or your bed linen sans aam achaar stains. True.
But for me, the joy of having people coming to stay with me takes the cake, or should I say the midnight snack! Growing up with 12 others in a house that was always housing more than 12 has left in me a permanent love for visitors (most of them anyway). The houses are much smaller, bathrooms limited, cupboards even more – but the furniture can be moved just right to make place for the brigade. The fridge has enough room to store the extra bhoona masala stock, so there’s more time to chit-chat with them when they arrive. There’s always linen in beds called ‘guest linen’ and an area in the store where extra bags can fit, really snugly.
There is space in my humble hearth, to accommodate the hearts I like. And I hope it always remains that way.