Time had no meaning to me when I was a child. There was a time to eat and sleep. Food was always given before we actually asked for it. I don’t know how my Mom and Aunt managed cooking meals so fast for six children and four meals a day plus some knick knacks. There were all the projects to be made, needlework, knitting, home work, house work, people coming home and social visits. We always had a string of visitors at home. Actually ‘visitors’ is such an ‘English’ term. We had people coming home and each person was connected to us in some way.
Apart from friends and relatives, there were Saints, Swamiji, Gurus, Pandits, Vaidhs coming home. Fresh meals were prepared for them as they had no place to cook or they were travellers. They ate huge quantities of food. Mom and Aunt would have to start the meal from scratch like right from lighting the chulha/ fire. My grandmother Gauri Bai used to talk to them and make them comfortable as the meal was being prepared. Most of them did not eat rice, so hot Puris were fried for them which they had with ‘Aloo ki sabji rasse waali’ i.e. potato with a gravy/ curry. That food aroma was so much different and better from our food. I am amazed how Mom, Bai and Chachi managed to cook so many meals for so many people. Then Dad’s business associates would come home for meals, the ones who were from outstation. There were no takeaway joints and outside food was not served to people coming home. They came home for home food. If people want outside food, then they go to eat in restaurants.
Can imagine the Feminists pooh poohing over the life that the women at our home lead. For them everything has to be about equalising with men. Their whole life is spent is fighting for gender equality, where none exists. It is like the fish saying I was to fly like a bird or the crocodile saying why am I not as agile as a deer. All I know is that there was lot of love in our house. Barring a couple of occasions, the women in the house did all the work, happily. We did have house help but the food for the Pandits/ Sadhus was always cooked by women as it was a privilige to cook for learned souls/ higher souls. We all were introduced and did our Pranaam to them. It was an exciting feeling just having them home.
Grandmother always gave them ‘Daskhina’ when they left. ‘Dakshina’ is such a beautiful word, it goes beyond donation and fees. There is a feeling to it which makes it clear it is not a business transaction or donating for charity. It does not ask for a receipt. There is no thought as to where the money will go. It never ever entered our minds if the money be used for a good cause.
Wanted to clarify here that people did not come home at meal times and yet meals were prepared for them. Now when we visit people in cities, they ask if you would like to have tea. And so many times my parents have come back without meals while visiting people in the city, even though it is meal time. I shudder at the culture shock they must be getting. ‘Generosity’ is fading in some and then people do workshops and affirmations for Abundance in their lives. When I have people home and a meal is offered, I have some people saying I am trying to be an ideal hostess. What I saw with my Grandmom and my parents is what I have learnt. From some amazing friends in Mumbai and Pune, I learnt to open my heart and home out for people. Another thing I learnt was that one can serve two people or twenty with the same love. My fear for having more people home and not being able to serve them well, disappeared.
India grew up with ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ and let’s not forget that.