Uninvited guests

When I was five or so, I was spending my summer holidays in Coimbatore. One fine day, my aunt decided to take us to Ooty. So she somehow got hold of an address from my mother’s family, (I still don’t know how she did this. Nobody had phones and snail-mail would have taken days) bundled us all in a bus to Ooty. The journey is too hazy for me now, but I remember knocking at a door of a distant uncle who was stationed in Ooty then.

Not only they were not expecting us, but they had no clue who we were! He was(is?) my mom’s brother’s wife’s brother(phew!). He’d have probably met my mom during his sister’s wedding years ago. But he was nice enough to take us in for the night, arranged for a sight-seeing trip the next day and sent us back on our way in the evening. His wife cooked us tasty meals and his kids played with us and even came sight-seeing. And after that, I never saw them again.

Now I try to imagine opening my door to complete strangers who want to shack up with me for a couple of days to see the city. My first reaction would be to shut the door on their faces…

Maybe for people living in holiday spots like Ooty, its an everyday experience. But I still squirm to think how we actually barged in on that poor family!

 Or is it just that we’ve been fed too many western notions about having our own space and privacy?

In the past the doors of the houses were always open. People dropped in for meals without any prior intimation. And the kitchen was always equipped to feed a few extra mouths. So much so that there’s a saying that an uninvited guest is God in disguise…

People had all the time in the world to chat up with distant cousins or aunts or uncles. Normally a visit to a relative’s place meant a few weeks or sometimes even months if its a parent or a sibling.

Now we hardly have the time to talk to our own parents. Sometimes living under the same roof! The pace of our lives is scaring me at times. I  look back at those far away days spent in either my grandad’s farm or in  my mom’s village, where summer holidays meant endless days stretched with so much to do. There were no summer camps, no movies, no television.

I spent morningspicking flowers in the garden or in the communal lake, and aftenoons learning to stitch or draw kolams with my grandmother. Late afternoons were for exploring the place with a handful of kids when the elders were dozing. Evenings were fun when the entire household got together for coffee in the open courtyard (or some such spaces) as the sun went down.

During those idyllic  days, anybody dropping unannounced were welcomed warmly, given something to eat or drink and exchanged family news with genuine interest.

Now my 4 year old shuts himself in his room when someone drops in for a visit. Whatever I do to make him share a few moments with the guest is thwarted with ‘I don’t want to!’

I suppose he’s so used to being in a nuclear family that he does not need the warmth of  bonding with people outside his immediate circle.

Whatever it is, these days, an uninvited guest is never a God in disguise!

Book review – Unaccustomed Earth

This book is another classic Jhumpa Lahiri.

Simple stories that touch your heart. You get involved with the characters from page one.

A thoroughly enjoyable read. The stories capture the dilemmas and problems faced by people living in a foreign country, but who still long for their roots.

A poignant look at the clash of gen-next ABCDs and their nostalgic parents…

In one such story a daughter feels that her parents’ yearning for India is like a disease, which she has to ease! (I don’t remember the exact words, but this is the gist)

I can only add more accolades to this book. But whatever I say will only be variations of all that has already been said.

But why does Lahiri’s stories ooze sorrow? There’s no such thing as ‘feel-good’ read here.

Though I loved reading the book and flew from one story to another in record time, I closed the book with a heavy heart. The characters stayed with me for a very long time…

Hats off..