I have this close friend , Vinod , whom I used to meet regularly before he and his wife moved away. Yesterday evening , I phoned him to catch up on things . After the usual exchange of pleasantries , I was surprised to hear he was back in New Jersey to attend to some real estate matters. Then he surprised me again by asking , ” What are you guys doing now ?”
” Nothing much . Just hanging around the house”, I replied.
” I want to come over and show you something . Is it all right ?”
” Of course”, was my answer.
” See you soon “, he said as he rang off. As for us , we rushed around trying get the house in some semblance of order.
In fact it was only a couple of hours later that he turned up at our door . He didn’t come alone . With him were a couple of our mutual friends . Vinod had just wanted all of us to get together and he proposed that we all go out to dinner. We declined because we had eaten already but invited them in . As we shot the breeze over a couple of beers , my wife busied herself and put together a quick meal for them . Twenty minutes later, it was ready. Two pre-cooked appetizers ,leftover chicken curry and rice pulao ( pilaf ) , quickly warmed in the microwave, and for dessert, grapes and a chocolate bar. Dinner was served at the kitchen table on make shift plates , the good ones all being in the dishwasher.The conversation flowed easily as we served them and chatted and , afterwards , they said it was better than anything they could have had in a restaurant. They enjoyed their visit , we enjoyed their company and now the refrigerator is looking a bit more ordered.
Dropping off to sleep last night , I thought back to the way things used to be …
When I was growing up in India , sixty years ago , people ( friends and relatives) used to drop in all the time , unannounced. It seems difficult to imagine now but, at the time, we thought nothing of it. Most families did not have telephones then and there was no way to call ahead and say that you would be dropping in. Our guests did not expect to be fed . If they should ring the bell while we were eating dinner , they would wait in the drawing-room while we finished our meal. At any other time , they would be offered a cup of tea , which would be accompanied by snacks if it was not too close to mealtime and if our guests had not already eaten. That the house might be messy , that the timing of the visit might be a little awkward was of no consequence . The main purpose was to stay connected and since such visits were commonplace we were in constant touch with family and friends.
Things changed as more families acquired telephones. At first , it became di rigueur to call first before dropping in . Then , imperceptibly , it became the rule to wait to be invited , not just drop in . Now , it is no different there than here . Friends only meet for dinner , carefully scheduled and planned weeks in advance . Much effort goes into making sure that the house is spick and span and that the elaborate meal is served on the best china .Everything is so formal that little time is left for the hosts to be natural and really enjoy the company of their guests .
It’s become even worse with the advent of cell phones. Paradoxically , these cell phones which enable us to be connected all the time have driven us further apart. Now that we can talk to anyone , any time ,we do not seem to feel the same need to meet face to face . So used are we to yakking on the phone that it feels awkward to have converse in person. Besides , what is there to talk about? We’ve already texted and tweeted every little detail of our lives.
To get back to our friend Vinod : he and his wife are very social animals who thrive on company. They love to be among friends and think nothing of dropping in on them or having them come over. It makes us happy to know that they feel comfortable enough with us to invite themselves over . It’s something that I’m going to have to train myself to do . We find ourselves losing touch with friends because they’re busy , we’re busy and staging a sit down dinner is a big undertaking.
There are these friends whom we haven’t met since their son’s wedding three years ago. They both work in Philadelphia and the long commute tuckers them out . I must call them on Sunday afternoon and say that we are going to drop in for tea…