Thursday, June 14, 2012

To host or not to host !

In 'Roads to Mussoorie', Ruskin Bond comments second-hand : "all men are my friends. I have only to meet them." I personally agree with my favourite writer and have indeed undergone some experiences that have only strengthened my belief in the previous. However, I wonder how much we could apply this trust practically to everyday life in the city.

Whenever we visited my mother's birthplace (Panagarh, in the district of Bardhhaman) on our summer/puja vacations, I observed with incredulity how every householder/shopowner managed to greet her as if she'd been living throughout the year amongst them. Some of them became practically tongue-tied with joy, hijacking her and thereby my younger sister and me, of course, into the direction of and miscellaneous interiors of their households. They would not rest until we had consumed some quantity of sweetmeats and water, often arriving by order while we waited patiently on the pnires/modas (low seating arrangements), often irritated and edgy after our long (2 and half hours) train journey. All we wanted was to get on a rickshaw, do the 5 minutes from the station to our mamar badi, have a bath, some good old aluposto, dal, bandhakopir dalna and deembhaja and catch up with our maternal cousins. Alas, things rarely went our way. Sometimes even the rickshaw-pullers had to wait patiently outside some house on the Station Road while the localites were briefing my mother about at least a year's worth of gossip and news.

This kind of hospitality cannot be imagined in Kolkata. I can't imagine myself knocking on an arbitrary door in the middle of a road anywhere at all and requesting some water to refresh myself. Even at the house of friends and relatives, we have to press the calling bell twice or thrice, before people even bother to venture out and eye us warily from their respective balconies. After that, one often has to vociferously declare one's name and business (especially if it is evening or the person doing the honours is a tactless maid-servant). I can't recall any actual instance of any acquaintance ever refusing us entry, but I live under the shadow of the fear that that doomed day too might dawn some day. Why blame others ? In Salt Lake, my parent's neighbourhood, it is an established fact that even if you are in the killing/killed stage, no neighbour will bat an eyelid or even go to the trouble of calling the police if anything should happen to you in this God-forsaken place. Either you have to be self-reliant (as all the robbery survivors in this satellite township will vouch for) or else exceptionally lucky (hoping that the police will after all, arrive in time, which of course will never transpire). So there you are, stuck with the privileges of living in the satellite township of the city !

Strange that we were once a nation of great hosts and that two of the greatest rulers of our country, Akbar and Ashoka, were both very particular that there be innumerable rest-houses and dharamshalas throughout their realms.

1 comment:

Gomes said...

I know why they call Salt Lake a satellite township .. only satellites will keep an eye on you.
People couldn't care less.


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