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!


  1. rekharaghav said,

    May 31, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    I wish someone would come and stay.. I don’t care who! However, a little notice will bring them to a cleaner home at least.
    🙂 I guess our traditional hospitality is being revived across the seas!!!

  2. maami said,

    May 31, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    Hah!What’s this? I spent the good half of last fortnight in and out of your lovely home and was fed, showered with gifts, driven around on joy rides, and I dined and supped with ya’ll and then you worry that you don’t keep an open home like people of yore?
    P.S:Please remember to call prior to visiting me though!
    Haha! I’m not talking about people like you! But imagine your husband’s sister’s twice-removed cousin lands up at your door unannounced!

  3. Pradeep said,

    June 1, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    lol! I’d echo Rekha’s thoughts.
    These days nobody visits. All the cousins are either abroad or ‘busy’. 😦
    True… But even the ones here in the same city are spotted only at weddings or some such gatherings! My worry is more for the next gen. They’ll never know the feeling of a grandparents’ home, a centre for all cousins to chill-out together…

  4. Rada said,

    June 1, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    Very well written post. Very thought-provoking.

    Could it be, not only have families become smaller, even the space within our hearts?

    Thanx! And what you’re saying is so true. Out tolerence levels have also come down drastically while dealing with our kith and kin…

  5. rekharaghav said,

    June 3, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    I have often noticed that people tolerate their friends more than their family however common their traits may be. Perhaps it’s the idea that the friend was your choice, your family wasn’t.

    Yes, that’s so true… Also there’s this fact that a friendship can sour with a harsh word or deed, but family will always be family, whatever you do!

  6. lakshmi said,

    June 4, 2008 at 9:00 am

    a discordant note here. I’m starting to pull away. One too many potluck dinners.
    We still do a lot of I have this one thing started, you bring what you have.. we’ll sit out and eat – last minute get togethers -arrangements made at poolside at 7:30 pm after the kids have finished their swim practice.
    And believe it or not, I do get a few last minute, I’m in your area – what’re you upto type visits.. Works great for me – perfect excuse as to why the laundered clothes are hastily dumped upstairs.. after being in the baskets all day 😉 Easier to whip up stuff than spend all day in the kitchen – with the same result 😉
    Yes, that’s how I enjoy get-togethers too! If you spend hours to get a dinner ready, invariably something goes wrong! Or people cancel last minute! It’s Murphy’s Law!!

  7. gmelia said,

    June 15, 2008 at 7:43 am

    Hello Padmajav, very interesting! today for the second time, now after reading you, my mind goes back to Asian hospitality. Although I grew up in south America and in my childhood we were brought up with similar customs, visiting unannounced family and long forgotten friends…and offering hospitality to anyone that came without warning!
    Today was a day similar to the one you narrate here. It were two pauses I had to adjust in between my busy day. An exchange Bulgarina student was arriving about 8pm. So as I was not working last night, got up at 9 am, we 3 got up and started the spring, summer and winter cleaning race!!! to leave the place ready for the 16 year old student. My daughter Hannah of 15 cleaned her room, and kitchen, vacum the carpert and house. Romeo did the same as he was giving up his the room to the guest, and I was battling in mine, the no go place on the house!. When I had emptied my the closet and clothes were all over my bed, my old friend and ex-colleage now living down south spain called. So we started remembering our happy days in Islamabad… 4.30 pm and Im thinking will I be able to complete my task?? But I enjoyed talking to Denzil,he is like family, I put my feet up while talking so it served me like a break to my tired feet. After well over 45 min. conversation over… went back to my impossible task: My room, 5.30pm the Door bell, Damaris! Frend of my niece Brenda(who is in argentina). In Spain usually people phone before they would like to meet you, and usually you do not meet in the home. You go out and sit in a coffee house. But she is my niece’s friend and has come in other ocassions so I welcomed her.the bucket with the mop in the saloon, rubish bags with different items at the entrance, my bed with a hip of clothes… In the back of my mind is all the things I need to accomplish before 8 pm… so I seat in the sofa together with her. I realised she comes in a mood of talking. I thought to myself, in a dash of moment…Gladys you always complain that life has formalities in Europe, no family or friends coming uninvited. Always longing for the ronak of Asia, and those visitors that just came out of the blue… now that you have one at lease offer her a juice!!! So got up to the kitchen and brought the juice. Damaris pored out her heart about her life, struggles, and gave me a bit of news on my niece Brenda that is a slower email writer….After all I was so excited with this unexpected visit, I even sent her off with a gift for he new flat she moved in! Just as I would have done it if I would be now in Islamabad, perhaps I would have searched then in my peti for a suit piece! Your article brought to memory those years when visitors would come home and present themselves as relatives of my husband, who even he used to have trouble to assess if they were relatives or not, from some far away uncle in Lahore, or third cousin from Karachi…and those visitors knew all about us and family history… Thank you for your beautiful story! Mrs Romeo

  8. padmajav said,

    June 16, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Thank you so much, Mrs. Romeo. 🙂 I suppose most ancient cultures encourage true hospitality… Its only when we become goal-oriented in life, that we lose sight of small, kind gestures to people around us…

  9. Lakshmi said,

    June 20, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    here folks expect a call from a neighbor-friend 5 doors away – arrive by car to boot. plead guilty sometimes esp when return is late in the evening in winter..
    luckily we dine out in the summer in the backyard, where folks can see us when driving past. they stop and walk over to chat/share.. amazing how food meant for 4 people can be shared by 6-8 without anyone feeling hungry.. inevitably some goes to the refrigerator goddess also.

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