My husband’s family was and is still known for their hospitality (not bordering on hostility!). Irrespective of whether going through lean times or otherwise, a caller would never be allowed to leave without some repast offered__lunch/dinner at lunch time/dinner time and coffee and snacks at all other times. They were and are the epitome of the famed Indian hospitality. “A guest is verily God”. He should be fed well and looked after well. When I came into the family, I slowly got used to the culture of hospitalilty of the family and learnt to become a good hostess, but with reservations.
I never believed in over -feeding a person. I would take their refusals and demurring to be genuine. While serving food, if a person were to stretch his hand to say ‘stop’ I would stop serving immediately, dead stop like an automatic bottling plant. Once a member of the family asked me, “Why do you stop serving as soon as I say ‘enough’?” I was puzzled. “Because once you say ‘enough,’ it means you do not want any more, right?”. The person explained, “See, whenever we say ‘stop’, our mother dishes out one or two more servings. So, we are always conditioned to saying ‘stop’ earlier knowing full well that our quota will be served with those two extra servings in any case. But with you we go hungry with two helpings less”. I on my part explained the theory and the conviction behind my blunt, matter-of-fact way of serving, which by now has got others used to it.
As for the looking after the guest part, my husband believes that the guest, however familiar or close related he be, whenever he/she expresses a wish to visit the loo should be escorted to the sacred shrine and brought back (as if he/she goes to ascend a victory podium to receive a medal),. All my pleadings that people, particularly those who are frequent visitors and thus are familiar with the box like topography of the 60’X 40’house are not likely to get lost, falls on deaf ears. No, the moment the visitor stands up with an idea of visiting the loo, Ramu expects me to get up too, with alacrity and escort the visitor (male or female) to the right place, wait outside for them to finish the work and bring them back to the drawing room. His private argument to me is that an unescorted guest might mistake some other room for the loo! Huh! Or could it be a reflection on my housekeeping?!
When my son built his house upstairs, visitors to our house would be interested in seeing the modern construction in his house. Once one of them went up, saw the house, came down to the stairwell and promptly lost his bearings. He could not find his way to our drawing room.
As usual, my husband sent me to help him out. Conditioned to the husband’s training, I assumed that the gentleman wanted to visit the loo. I even explained to my totally uncomprehending guest that the half bathroom under the stairs was an Indian one and that if he wanted the western type, he should follow me. I led the acquiescing gentleman to the western bath room and waited for him outside. Our guest was totally at a loss. He just stood there. He did not make any preparation to use the loo, not even closing the bathroom door. Finally he managed to blurt out, “I …wanted to go.. out, back.. to your.. drawing room.” Controlling my imploding laughter with a great effort, I managed to take him back to my husband in the drawing room like a gracious hostess.