Welcoming hearts and hearths

That vacation, we kids were told to clean and vacate our rooms as we had guests coming over. It was a familiar dictat.

We lived in a two-bedroom house. Every time guests came over, the children would spread out temporary mattresses in the living room at night and sleep. Since we usually were at school all day, it was quite manageable for a day or two. But during summer vacations, guests often stayed back for much longer durations. And more importantly, we were at home all day.

Those were days when things weren’t so formal. Privacy was a word we hadn’t encountered yet. Relatives would land unannounced. And it wasn’t considered bad manners, if their friends tugged along too. Every relative who was on a tour to South India (which essentially meant Kanyakumari and Rameshwaram) would stop over at our house in Pondicherry. Now when I think of it, I find it strange because Pondicherry wasn’t even enroute to Kanyakumari. But vacations meant meeting people and if that involved cutting costs, it was fine. Who could afford expensive hotels anyway?

I remember one year when an uncle who had set out to tour South India with another family decided to stop over at our place. So it was two families with four adults and four children all stuffed into our limited house. While we three got along fine with our cousins, the children of the friend’s family were huge cry-babies. Snot dribbling down their noses, they bawled about everything. They wouldn’t play with us and clung to their mother’s pallu. They were a peculiar family, who refused to interact with us, though they were occupying our room. Five days later they left and we found piles of snot-wiped towels shoved under the bed! Ugh! We later heard that midway through the vacation, the two families had had a huge fight over some money issues and had travelled back separately!

Vacations led to awkward situations sometimes. Once a honeymooning couple (relatives, of course) landed up at our place on their way to Kanyakumari. As expected, the door to ‘our’ room was forever locked. And everytime we kids wanted to retrieve our colouring pens, stencils or chart papers to complete our holiday projects, we would go and bang on that door. Obviously we got reprimanded by my mother for disturbing them. But we never understood why! That vacation will be remembered for my mother’s arched eyebrows and glares, and the locked door!

But not all memories were bad. When cousins came over we were allowed greater liberty with icecreams and mangoes. The fridge door was constantly opened and we explored everything inside curiously. When guests came over, all our favourite things would be on the menu. As for the post-dinner gossip sessions, they were our gateway to knowing the family we hardly met, because we were located in the opposite corner of the country.

The concept of vacations has changed so much from then. Families now take solitary trips to cool destinations. Never to visit relatives. If you want to, you would have to call and ask for permission to go over, and think thrice about violating their privacy.

Then we didn’t have enough means or premium space, but our hearts were open to welcome everyone. Now we have extra guestrooms and the hearth has expanded, but our hearts have shrunk.

(Featured painting is “Guests in Home” by Paolo Figar)

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