Hospitality

Asmita was your typical Indian mother. Guests were gods and friends of her children avatars of God. The household pulled out all stops when the young people came visiting. Not only would all the domestic services be pressed into action, family members took time out to be social around the visitors. The best of snacks would be served in the fanciest of cutlery. The farthest nook of the pantry would be dredged up to rustle every possible snack. “Girija, pull out the dry fruits and slice some apple. Isn’t there something in the freezer, are the sausages over? Steam them quickly,” the help at home was used to the drill.

Smiti bustled around the dining table while her friend Saurabh flicked his phone screen. “Mum, why don’t you let the eats be, he will help himself if he wants to,” Smiti’s voice held a speck of exasperation.

“Come, come…try the chips Saurabh. Would you care for some fruit juice?” Asmita was unfazed by the lack of response from their guest. A lifetime of conditioning had rendered her incapable of registering anything but gratitude for hospitality. One corner of her mind did curl at a certain look that passed between her daughter and the boy but the generic focus on playing a role did not permit any great realization.

“How are your parents? Where do they live? What does your father do?” went her one way friendliness, articulated to put the guest at ease.  Saurabh had begun to shift, his chair scraping a few times. The smile was in place but his hair had begun to lose its shape. He lowered his head a little, the spectacle frames screening his gaze safely.

“Smiti, would your friend prefer lemonade? Ask him to stay back for dinner. Where is he going to go eating now, his roommate is out of station as it is.” A quick dash into the kitchen to brief the cook and Sheetal was back with the guest, “Twenty minutes, the food will be on the table. Would you like to freshen up?”

Smiti led him away in the direction of the bathroom. There was the sound of urgent whispers, almost a verbal duel. “Are they arguing?” the mother knit her brows, quickly dismissing the thought , “Can’t be, they are such sweet kids. It is so wonderful to meet friends of our children, we must make them feel at home. It builds faith and trust and communication with the young people.”

“Auntie, I will be making a move. It is getting late and I have an exam to give tomorrow,” Saurabh had begun to edge towards the front door.

“You don’t ‘give’ an exam beta, you ‘take’ an exam,” Sheetal smiled her indulgence. Two pairs of eyes met again over her happy head.  “Do come again!” she trailed after the pair to the lawn gate.

“Mum, I will just walk him to the bike,” Smiti forced a smile at her mother.  Asmita nodded encouragingly and held back a little, all the time staying in their line of vision. In a few moments, the mother daughter pair was strolling back into the house. “Mum, I need to get going, there is a workshop planned at college,” Smiti escaped into her room and within seconds, her ‘getting ready’ music had come on, audible through the door.

Asmita was still gathering up after Saurabh when an angry vibration startled her. Smiti’s phone was protesting. Just as she lifted it, the screen lit up, “Dude, your Mum is painful, too much formality man…not meeting you at home ever again!”