A Goodbye to Welcomes

  • Alka Gurha
  • India
  • Jun 12, 2015

Call it a family ritual, a middle class practice or a small town quirk - my family believed in the tradition of warmly receiving and sending off houseguests. This of course was back in the eighties, when the family was our social glue. It was a time when relatives of relatives were also family…and the time spent with everyone was enjoyed (definitely not considered a ‘waste’). Our house would constantly hum with the presence of relatives arriving for entrance exams, staying for family events and ‘over-staying’ for summer vacations. Sometimes there was no reason at all. The sprawling government bungalow was an ideal holiday abode. Barring those that were young and single, we would receive everyone at the railway station. Our presence there was an affirmation that the guests were most welcome. Much as I hate visiting (dirty, crowded) railway stations today, I always remember my childhood station visits with a smile. When the train was delayed – which was quite often - we would have plenty of time to kill. Can you imagine killing time in the absence of smart phones?! Those days we had a healthy disregard for time. We would browse the books at the A.H. Wheeler bookstall. My brother would opt for Phantom or Archie Comics, while I was happy with The Famous Five or The Adventures of Tintin.  Ma would flip through Cine Blitz or Star & Style, covertly making sure that the cover was ‘appropriate’ for our ‘innocent’ eyes. Once home, a bare-chested Rajesh Khanna and Tina Munim (of course not bare!) were shoved beneath the mattress. I still don’t know how this helped in shielding our ‘impressionable’ minds. Similarly, when we would visit our grandparents, the most thrilling part was arriving at their railway station. As the station swung into view and the train screeched to a halt, I used to feel a silly surge of excitement while peering through the compartment window, watching all those who had come to receive us. There were occasions when I was garlanded and greeted with bouquets, like a politician! And thereafter, oblivious of the milling crowd, we would have warm moments of embraces, smiles, cuddles…and exclamations about how tall we had grown. A common accompaniment on all railway journeys was an ugly rotund character called the ‘bedding’. A combination of easy functionality but complex handling, the olive green bedding would carry everything that didn’t fit in the suitcases. Packing and unpacking the damn thing was another story. 

We’ve come a long way since. ‘Busy’ in our lives, and living in cagey apartments, having houseguests now is a slightly painful, protracted affair. With most guests arriving via flights, and the thought of endless traffic and waiting being a damper, the ritual of receiving and sending off is now reserved for children and parents. For everyone else there is an app called Meru, Uber or Easy Cabs…or a perk called the driver. Even as I write, my son is embarking on a new journey. We wish to accompany him to the airport, but he insists on taking a cab. Perhaps the attempt is to avoid emotion-soaked moments; perhaps there is no point in travelling thirty kilometers only to wave hands and hide moist eyes; or perhaps the attempt is to underline the fact that he is a big boy. Speaking for myself, I prefer the partings to be clinically short and swift. There is comfort in the thought that though we see him off today, we will receive him tomorrow. 


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