We had friends over for dinner last week and ended up nostalgically recounting those fading memories of fun-filled family gatherings during the summer or winter school breaks at our grandparents’ homes. Preparations would start weeks in advance, with kids being reminded to be respectful to the elders and “learn to get along with your” cousins. There was protocol to be observed as failure to do so could result in mostly perceived but occasionally real, slights to an especially thin-skinned relative.
Everyone would “pitch in” to fulfil assigned roles and assist with the chores. The children enjoyed their collective “sleep-over” by spreading out cotton mattresses on the floor each night, vying to get a place next to the favourite cousin for that day. Talking in whispers well into the night, we would be “shushed” by the adults lounging in an adjoining room for a family chitchat.
We would visit our maternal grandmother’s house in Delhi during summer vacations. In addition to cousins, we looked forward to renewing our friendship with the neighbourhood kids. Wrought iron gates opened into a cemented courtyard, at the end of which there were six red steps that led up to a verandah (porch) which fronted the house. Each evening, the courtyard would be hosed down with water to cool it off. Chairs would then be brought out and lined up, facing the verandah. There was a spliced-bamboo screen (called “chick”) that was rolled down in the afternoon to keep the sun out. We would use this as the “curtain” when staging our performances each evening. Mornings were spent on the rooftop or closeted in a room to secretly practice our skits, song or dance items and jokes for the family performance, usually staged after dinner. The audience of grown-ups would enthusiastically participate by joining in to help out a stuttering thespian or a budding singer who forgot his or her lines. They would also be requested to contribute more than their goodwill, as one of us went around collecting pocket change at the end of the show.
My wife’s family congregated at her maternal grandfather’s house in Chandigarh. There were usually six or seven maternal aunts and one or two uncles with their respective spouses and children present at these family gatherings. Papaji (grandfather) was a retired Professor and past Head of the English department at Punjab University. Educated in England, he was always immaculately dressed in a fine dark three-piece woollen suit and donned a felt hat when stepping out for his evening stroll. He was also a strict disciplinarian and punctual to a fault. Meal times were strictly observed as he did not wish the family retainers to be inconvenienced. My wife, his granddaughter would run foul because of her tendency to oversleep and always showed up late for breakfast. An aunt’s kids visiting from America would complain about the “cold toilet seat” in the washroom. Mataji (grandmother) would ensure that there was something to cater to everyone’s taste in addition to her popular pickles and chutneys. There would be family outings to Kashmir or other tourist destinations on occasion but for the most part, everyone preferred to just come together as a family.
Upon landing in Canada some twenty plus years ago, we derived comfort and support from family in the US and a couple of close friends who opened their homes and hearts to us, treating us like family. Life has come a full circle now I guess, as we host our children and grandkids. While nowhere near the sheer scale of family gatherings we experienced growing up, the familial bonding tradition continues. Friends in Canada are now an extension of the otherwise smaller family and we are blessed to celebrate this collective love once again, this Family Day weekend.
“Bhatak rahī hai puraānī dulā.iyāñ oḌhe
Haveliyoñ meiñ mire ḳhaāndaān kī ḳhushbū”
[Wandering, wrapped in old quilts
My family/dynasty/lineage’s fragrance lingers in mansions] – Bashir Badr
Like Gurdas Mann, one can now only fondly recall those village streets from one’s childhood!