By Ananya Jaishankar Jul. 04, 2018
An Indian family gathering could go either way – flat-out boring or laugh-out-loud exciting, just like Uday Chopra’s Twitter timeline. There’s your grandmother’s ghost nudging you to be on your best behaviour and long-distance relatives asking intrusive questions about your salary.
Last month, I embarked on a much-needed annual spring-cleaning ritual of reluctantly throwing away things I was convinced would be useful in the future. This included a massive tower of textbooks, which I promptly toppled by pulling out my scorned fourth-grade Social Sciences textbook. A few glances through its musty pages led me to the saddening realisation that our entire human civilisation was once just a big peaceful clan of hunter gatherers. Of course they were – not one of them ever had to attend a family dinner.
If you’ve been brought up in an Indian household, you’ll know that a family gathering is never just a “family” gathering. It is more of an assembly of all your extended family relatives, whom you’ve hardly spoken to, but are supposed to connect with because it’s all about your loving your bloodline. This is an event that could go either way – flat-out boring or laugh-out-loud exciting, just like Uday Chopra’s Twitter timeline.
This legacy of torture attains its crescendo during festivities. You’ll need a shield against all the needless fake camaraderie. “Kitne baadi ho gayi haain!” “Bilkul apni Papa par gayi hain!” Being forced into such conversations is like being dragged underwater for an eternity: you come out in urgent need of fresh air.
If needless conversations with relatives you can’t wait to bid goodbye to feels like an albatross around your neck, then Indian family dinners feel like a high-cholesterol-induced heart attack. They are the IRL equivalent of a well-preserved tape of a film you loathe played at a snail’s pace.
Inhibitions at this party are as much a scarcity, as ghee is aplenty. “Toh abhi kitna kamaati ho?” your uncle will ask. Aunty will ask your cousin, “Toh koi girlfriend-wirlfriend hai teri?” The ghosts of your grandmother, her dead brother’s son, his daughter’s dead cat, your dead uncle’s affair, and your bua’s scent follows you around, persistently nudging you to make merry with the uncomfortably intrusive crowd around you.
Just as you settle down on a sofa hoping to be left alone, your pesky neighbour will magically appear in front of you to loudly question you about the “friend” who came over two days ago when your parents were away. You pray that your mum hasn’t heard her, but the padoswali aunty is so loud that even the paanwala across the road probably heard it. Mother is already giving you the look, and as you brace yourself for the scolding, you’ll find yourself being tasked with coddling your baby niece, who decides to smudge your silk kurta with pee.
Now you may think that the food would be a redeeming excuse to attend these annual rituals. You are in for an unpleasant surprise. This is going to look nothing like the food on Masterchef India, because every person is asked to prepare a dish that precedes their reputation. It’s almost as if they’ve got to earn their entry into an evening of fights, misunderstandings and emotional blackmail disguised as a night of family, love, and food. They call it “homemade goodness” when really, it is only the height of stinginess.
If you belong to a South Indian family like mine, your mom will be requested to prepare two containers of curd rice. Your mom’s sister’s friend, who boasts of the most repelling kitchen known to mankind, will be in charge of desserts, and she’ll obviously substitute ghee with oil. On the other hand, your aunt who shows off about employing an expensive cook will buy a packet of crisps on her way to the venue, coupled with a sorry excuse of a raita. One look at the spread will guarantee that you willingly choose to go on a detox diet, where all you consume is the tension that builds up in the air with each minute and every passive-aggressive glance.
Despite the fact that your stomach will be emptier at the end of the meal, you’ll be expected to elegantly contrive your greedy face into a warm smile and congratulate the esteemed chefs on their “delicious food”. Dying of hunger in a house full of food has to be the shortest horror story ever written.