Friday, November 21, 2008

Be My Guest!

I have always loved having people around; not strangers or new acquaintances, but familiar, friendly faces. Coming from a big, but far-flung family, some of my happiest memories are of when aunts and uncles would come back home for a visit.

I used to feel immensely thrilled at the prospect of getting together like in old times with everybody under one roof - either at my home or at my grandparents'. It didn't matter that there were more people than there was room - we would all adjust so that everybody could be conveniently accomodated in the limited space.

Then there was one of the best parts: the food!!! We are totally and completely a food-loving family, so over and above the sustenance aspect, food is a vital part of all our lives. My mother being a fantastic cook, great food on the table was a daily occurrence in our house ...... and it only got better when we had guests.

Whether the guests were over just for a meal, or were staying with us for a few days, the "Athithi Devo Bhava" (Sanskrit for "a guest is God") mindset that is the foundation of Indian hospitality, was all-important, with the result that people loved visiting our home, and I loved it even more when they did. The atmosphere would be warm & inviting, the food delicious and plentiful, and my parents - ever the gracious hosts.

Today, I am a homemaker myself. I only felt confident about having guests over 3-4 months into my marriage. Since then, we've had friends and family over for meals quite a few times, though in small groups. We've also had houseguests on three occassions: the first visitors being my mother and my grandmother, followed by my father-in-law and nephew a month later, and finally, my mother-in-law (MIL), who was with us last week.

As a child, I only saw the fun part of having guests, but the older I grew, the more I began to realise how much careful thought and planning went into ensuring that fun. However its only now, having actually been a hostess, that I can truly appreciate just how hard my parents worked to provide that unfailing hospitality time and again.

There were always hands to help: we had maids to handle the cleaning up, we kids would do whatever we were told, and Dad would be right beside Mom, slogging it out to get the food ready.

Dad was and is her right hand, but it was Mom who really was the brains of the whole show. Even in our daily life, it was her foresight and strategies that had our home running smoothly. Earlier, I wrote about our daily food as though it were matter of fact that it would be great. But what I didn't note was the great pains that Mom took to bring out that food, day in and day out, taking into account everyone's tastes and preferences.

And now when I try to do the same for hubby & me & our guests, I am repeatedly amazed by her love for us, her selflessness and her unswerving commitment to her family.

Mom always believed that you could handle anything if you kept things organized and planned things in advance, and it is only now that I really understand the importance of this. Because you may have help, like I did last week with sis-in-law and her sis also coming over to spend time with our MIL, but ultimately its my kitchen, my space, my setup. I need to be the master planner, I need to know what has to be done when and I need to do it all while making everyone feel comfortable and welcome, not only because that's how I was raised, but also because that's how I was received in their homes.

Honestly, I was anxious about how MIL's visit would go, but more than the anxiety was the desire to make her stay as enjoyable as possible, because despite the added work, I do love having people around.

And that I think is the necessary factor underlying great hospitality: the love for hosting guests, along with a spirit of service and the invaluable, combined effort of all the family. Its what creates that almost-tangible sense of warmth and welcome, what makes the difference between homes that you visit because you want to, and those you visit because you have to.


  1. Anonymous9:15 PM

    I loved reading your post.

    As I always say, traveling is my true love, but the next best thing is having people over. We have guests quite often and all in all I love having people staying with us.

    Your post, Shalom, is beautiful. You nailed it. It's all about loving people and making them feel comfortable because you want to not because you have to.


  2. Thanks Agnes :)

    I've been to houses where the welcome seemed forced, and as a guest, you feel so uncomfortable....I never want to put any guest at my place through that.

  3. i love having people over too, but dont think i am as good a hostess.. atleast if i compare myself to mom..i cant imagine being that quick and efficient but yes, trying to be.

  4. ahh the joy of togetherness. i love having people over too. and i love the smiles on their face when they know they've been considered special enough for you to put so much effort into everyone and everything.
    i totally dig with you on the master planner. i'm kind of a little OCD about it :D...but yes i like things planned.

    nice read...and just coming to your blog feels very welcoming in itself :)


  5. Very well put's only when we are away from our family and lead an independant life, we realise what we had...and how things that we took for granted were actually the result of our family's efforts...
    Even I love having friends and family's a bit more taxing when you are the host but its still very nice to be surrounded by people you love and care about

  6. Party and a party with 'Family' are different propositions altogether as I have found out in the many years of hosting (Now I guess I have learnt from mistakes). Being from a large-joint-family-gone-nuclear, birthdays and anniversaries are often excuses to catch up with relatives...and there being about 30 of us here and an average two birthdays/anniversaries/festivals a month, we inadvertently are the guests and hosts of the party.

    However, I couldnt agree more with u abt the planning and organisation bit..I learnt it the hard way I guess :P still learning....

    Liked your post..I kept having images of our family parties as I read through it... :)


  7. ISH - I suppose with time & practice we'll someday become as good as our moms :)

    A - wow, thanks!!! My mom tends to be a bit OCD about the planning part & I'm seeing the signs in me too, so I'm consciously trying to have flexi-plans ;)

    Deeplydip - thanks!!! Can't believe what a blinkered view of things I used to have!

    Smriti - thank you! I'm sure it must be lovely to meet so often with family :) Its my fondest wish to have all of mine close by someday...

  8. Anonymous4:32 PM

    There's nothing so heartening as to know that one is appreciated for the mundane and inane things ...or so it appears to an outsider or a man....which a housewife does on a regular basis simply to do the best by her family. Welcome to the 'housewives' fold....

  9. A very nice read :)

  10. "As a child, I only saw the fun part of having guests, but the older I grew, the more I began to realise how much careful thought and planning went into ensuring that fun."

    Time & again the same thought has occured to me. All ur memories brought back my memories. The situation cd be the same except for the fact that my father did not help much:-D & my mom did it all with some help from sis & me.

    Seriously....looking after guests & their interest while they stay with u is an art. Even now after all these years I cant imagine what I'd have done without home delivery in these extreme situations:-o.

  11. Anon - thank you :) Many times, we feel the appreciation but don't express it as we should.

    Amrita - thank you :)

    Reflections - yeah, home delivery has indeed been a real blessing, but couldn't use it when mil was here ..... she has only homecooked red rice & fish curry!!! :D