No more summers at grandma's. We're an insular society today.
The other day, climbing the stairs to my apartment, I noticed a suitcase and an assortment of bags outside the open door of my neighbour. The luggage was waiting to be dragged in. My first thought was that they had guests — possibly relatives — over. Then a second thought: How can that be? In this day and age, are people still visited by relatives who come with bag and baggage to spend a week or two?
I was right. My neighbour soon appeared at the door and while exchanging pleasantries with her, I learned that she and her husband had just returned from Tirupati. I unlocked my door and entered the silence of my flat, my mind going back to the times when the arrival of relatives at the door would generate a lot of joyful noise.
Those were innocent, simpler times when people thought nothing of inviting themselves to the home of an uncle or a cousin living in another city. If you had a distant relative living in Bombay, and if you happened to be visiting Bombay for a job interview or on work, you considered it your birthright to be his guest. And until not very long ago, summer vacation meant packing for your grandmother's place — one of the most looked-forward-to moments of one's childhood.
In other words, families met more often before and felt good about it. First a letter would arrive, and a few days later the relatives themselves. Armed with a slip of paper containing your address, they would somehow find their way from the station and eventually land at your doorstep, and cause much mutual glee. Hugs would be exchanged, pairs of feet would be touched and cheeks would be pinched. A domestic help would smilingly drag in the suitcases, after which gifts would be pulled out, one after the other — “Here, a saree for you!” “This frock is for the little one.” “Will this shirt fit you?” The hosts would gently remonstrate: “What was the need for all this.”
Today, when visiting another city, I would stay anywhere but with a relative. There is no logical explanation for this, but that's how it is. I would find it very uncomfortable to impose myself on a relative, even though they might be more than happy to see me. On the contrary, I would feel completely at home in the home of a friend — even though I might have known the friend for only a few years.
I guess I am part of the insular society where families don't like to foist themselves on other families, and in return don't want to be intruded upon. It is much easier to feel comfortable with friends, especially those from the same or a similar profession, because you are in tune with each other's rhythms. Whether staying over for a night or for a week, you know when exactly to clear out, when not to disturb the hosts and when to go to the kitchen and make coffee for yourself without waiting for it to be served to you. When it comes to being at a relative's place, the relative stands the risk of earning a ‘bad name' for letting you take the trouble of entering the kitchen.
Then there are other considerations, such as time and money. Where is the time to visit a relative? Whatever hard-earned leave you have at your disposal, you would rather spend it on a holiday in a new destination rather than visit a relative in the same old godforsaken town. And as for the children's summer vacation, what will happen to their math tuitions and swimming classes if they were to spend it with a grandmother? Better stay home and aim for better marks next year than be spoilt by granny.
Then, the question of money. Unlike in the past, a chunk of your salary gets auto-deducted these days as EMI, leaving you with very little to survive in a big city. The last thing you want to do is entertain a family of relatives, not to mention the amount of time the woman of the house would have to spend in the kitchen — wouldn't it be easier to tell the relative that you won't be in town?
Today we are a selfish lot, which can't think beyond its gain. But just look at the loss: we are fast drifting away from our roots. Really, when was the last time your children spent the summer vacation at their grandmother's house?