Call it a family ritual, a middle class practice or a small town quirk--my family believed in the tradition of receiving and sending-off house guests. This, of course, was back in the eighties when sticking with your family is what made the family. It was a time when relatives of relatives were family. It was also a time when wasted time was enjoyable time.
As a result, it is now easy to appreciate why our house used to hum with relatives arriving for entrance exams, staying for family events and over-staying for summer vacations. Sometimes, there was no reason at all. The sprawling government bungalow was an ideal holiday abode.
Barring those who were young and single, we used to visit the railway station to receive almost everyone. In many ways, our presence at the railway platform was a sign of welcome, an affirmation that the guests were wanted. Much as I hate visiting dirty crowded railway stations today, I remember my childhood station visits with some degree of nostalgia. Maybe, I shouldn't use the word nostalgia because nostalgia can be an obsessive liar. Let's call it a trip back in time.
"As the station swung into view and the train screeched to halt, I used to feel a silly surge of excitement peering through the compartment window, watching all those who had come to receive us."
Oftentimes, when the train was delayed, we had plenty of time to kill. Imagine killing time, in the absence of smart phones! Happiness relied in the fact that there was a disregard for time, an anxiety about the visiting guests and books to browse at the A.H. Wheeler book stall. My brother would opt for Phantom or Archie's Comics, while I was happy with The Famous Five or The Adventures of Tintin. Ma would flip through the Cine Blitz or the Star & Style, covertly making sure that the cover was appropriate for our innocent eyes. Once home, a bare-chested Rajesh Khanna and Tina Munim on the cover were shoved beneath the mattress. I still don't know how it helped in shielding our impressionable minds. Regardless, receiving grandparents, uncles and aunts at the railway station was fun.
Similarly, when we used to visit grandparents, the most thrilling part was arriving at the railway station. As the station swung into view and the train screeched to halt, I used to feel a silly surge of excitement peering through the compartment window, watching all those who had come to receive us. There were occasions when I was garlanded and greeted with bouquets like a politician. And thereafter, oblivious of the milling crowd we had moments of embrace, smiles, cuddles and exclamations about how tall we had grown.
And in all the railway station visits, a common factor was an ugly rotund character called the 'bedding'. A combination of easy functionality but complex handling, the olive green bedding used to carry everything that didn't fit in the suitcases. Packing and unpacking the damn thing was another story.
We've come a long way since carrying beddings and receiving guests. Busy in our lives as we are, and living in cagey apartments as we do, having house guests is a slightly painful protracted affair. With more and more guests arriving via flights and distances playing the spoilsport in metros, the ritual of receiving and sending-off is now reserved for children and parents. For everything else there is an app called the Meru, Uber, Easy Cabs or a perk called the driver.
Even as I write, my son embarks on a new journey. We wish to accompany him to the airport, but he insists on a cab. Perhaps the attempt is to avoid emotion soaked moments. Perhaps there is no point in travelling thirty kilometers only to wave hands and hide moist eyes. Or perhaps, the attempt is to underline the fact that he is a big boy, so why bother? Speaking for myself, I prefer the partings to be clinically short and swift. There is comfort in the truism--what goes around comes around. A relief in knowing that change is always constant but sometimes imperfect. You see-off today, receive tomorrow.