By Purba Ray Feb. 19, 2019
Every lunch, chai, and dinner invite to an Indian household unfolds in just one way: You are offered 15 dishes and when you manage to croak, “Hey, I can’t finish all of this,” everyone laughs. You put your hand on top of your plate to avoid an avalanche of more food and feel the steaming hot chhole being ladled on your hand itself.
We Indians are badasses, especially in public spaces. Because we are too many compelled to share too little, we mark our territory by treating anyone who tries to encroach what is rightfully ours by treating them like shit. So, we stamp on the unsuspecting individual’s feet who has the misfortune of coming in our way. Give him a little shove while boarding the train and look bitterly disappointed when we see them inside the coach alive. On flights we turn into an octopus with eight arms and take the armrest space of passengers seated even three rows behind us. This is after we have given concussions to at least a few while trying to make space for our baggage in the cabin overhead.
Interestingly, this cactus-like persona that gives zero fucks for approval is reserved only for the outside world. We discard our lack of social etiquette like used condoms and transmute into a decorum-obsessed, and everything-must-be-in-its-right-place-and-sparkling ninja, the moment we step inside our homes. The shrieky aunty who elbowed out someone’s liver to be the first one to get her hands on the Swarovski-studded jacket on sale, is now an adarsh, sanskaari Mrs Juneja who speaks softly, treads even more softly, and says sorry to the corner table she has just banged into.
If you think this is her best, wait until she has invited you over for chai and charcha. The door to her heart overflowing with generosity will be flung wide open just for you. She thinks you are hard of hearing, so she will exclaim loudly, give you a bear hug so tight that your lungs will say “chill bro”. Her fam scrubbed clean, know you are the best thing to have happened to their Mummy jee’s expensive crockery. Her Noritake plates will finally fulfil their life’s purpose of making you aware of her expensive yet classy taste.
The piping hot chai that is poured in the wafer-thin Wedgwood cups is brewed perfectly. When you are offered 15 types of biscuits and pick up the smallest one to nibble, you notice the look of dismay in her eyes and hastily take two more. This is so nice, you exclaim, hoping your tone has hit the right notes of gratefulness. You hear her gurgle with contentment before she rushes off to the kitchen.
So, we stamp on the unsuspecting individual’s feet who has the misfortune of coming in our way.
She has now emerged with Sonu and Monu, her trusted maids, their arms laden with samosas, dhoklas, syrupy rosogulla from her favourite mithaiwala, and pastries, cheese straws, and quiche from her favourite baker. By the time the 15th plate has been placed before you with flourish, you are looking like a startled deer planning her escape. Your heart is throbbing with panic when you hear Mrs Juneja explain she ordered six types of pastries because she wasn’t sure which one you’d like.
She is now thrusting a plate that’s heaped with her love for overfeeding and you manage to croak, hey, I can’t finish all of this on my own! The Juneja family is now laughing hysterically. After having spent decades eating on behalf of starving kids all over the world, they know you have brought out the warrior in Mrs J. The more you’ll resist, the more she’ll insist you haven’t touched a morsel. You will put your hand on top of your plate to avoid an avalanche of more food and will feel the steaming hot chhole being ladled on your hand itself.
Aunty, you croak, I am on a diet, I can’t eat anymore! Now the family is rolling on the floor with laughter. No means no maybe a war cry for new-age feminists but it dies a quiet death at the altar of Indian hospitality. In fact, “no” is what catalyses the great Indian hostess into a “Arré, teen laddu khane se koi mota nahi hota” whisperer. You want her to stop but your entreaties, pleas for mercy, pitiful whining are resulting in even more food on your plate. You are now convinced, the great Indian hostess will liquify everything that you have yet to finish and feed you intravenously.
Two hours later, you have already put on five kilos and your pants are threatening to fly open. Your breathing is now sounding laboured. Your smile looks painful. And you want to leave but can’t. Hotel California is playing in the background or are you imagining it? The thin line between reality and illusion has melted away with the last idli you have ingested. Just when you have closed your eyes with fatigue and let your head rest on the back of the sofa, you see Mrs J’s smiling visage hover over you. “Beta, you have yet to taste the rabdi gulab-jamun I made just for you.”
No means no maybe a war cry for new-age feminists but it dies a quiet death at the altar of Indian hospitality.
You hear evil laughter, or are you imagining it?
What if Atithi Devo Bhava is just an excuse to expedite your “meet your maker” destiny? After all there’s “hospital” nestled snugly inside “hospitality”. Oh my God, she does want me dead! I have caught her a few times looking disapprovingly at my bra-strap showing. Didn’t Mrs J have a bitter fight with Mrs Suneja over that parking spot just two weeks back?! Hasn’t Mrs S been missing since then?
Maybe Indian hospitality is a sneaky way to control our over-burgeoning population so that we have fewer people to terrorise with our bad manners.
Arré beta, marne se pehle garam-garam pakode to khalo!
Nearly funny, almost liberal, rarely serious, Purba likes to keep a safe distance from perfection. Unfortunately she has an opinion on everything, fact or fiction, beginnings or ends, light or heavy, long and short.