Friday, March 02, 2007

BUG - The Brotherhood of Unwelcome Guests

Desicritic Uma Ranganathan's much-commented piece on an unwelcome guest, inspired me to recycle this piece that was written four years back. But I reckon it will stay valid for the next 400 years. My piece was written in a spirit that if anyone were to be shown in an unflattering light, it better be yours truly in the interest of maintaining domestic harmony. So, here it goes:

Athtiti Devo Bhava. I don't know if such a thing is really in our scriptures or it is just something made up by an inventive mind advocating the cause of the Brotherhood of Uninvited Guests (BUG). Whoever thought of it knew how our middle-class mind works. The three-word sloka is so embedded in our belief system that few of us can bring ourselves to turn away an unwelcome guest who appears unannounced at our doorsteps. You wouldn't want to drive away the Lord, would you?

Someone did just that, to me, in the US. They called the bluff on that devo bhava nonsense. Suffice it to say that those involved was a desi family well known to us. Giving away much more would not be in the interest of my domestic harmony.

It so happened that my wife and I were at loose ends on a Sunday afternoon and so our son took us for a drive. Some 40 minutes out of our home I was told we were close to where this desi family was staying. I suggested we drop in on them.

"Unannounced?" asked my son, "Without as much as a call?"

"Why not?" I thought my son, having stayed in the US for some time now, had forgotten the three words in Sanskrit that would open Indian doors even to strangers. After all, this desi family was so well known to us that they should be happy to see us any time.

My son tried to reason with me. I was firm. My wife didn't say anything, maintaining an enlightened neutrality in a disagreement between father and son.

I prevailed. And as we neared the driveway of our friend's suburban house we noticed the family of four was leaving for some place and the lady of the house was closing their front door. We stepped out of our car and met them on their driveway. They were nice and syrupy, but made no move to ask us in.

"What a surprise," said the lady of the house, "I wish you had called before coming."

I mumbled something to the effect that we had not planned this visit, but decided to drop in, on the spur of the moment. After a few more minutes of small-talk, still on the driveway, we exited as gracefully as we could.

"You must come again," said our host, "we must have a meal together." She was polite, but firm in slamming the door on us.

At our place I let my wife handle a sticky situation by letting her answer the door-bell. I do not intervene in her door-step inquiry into such unwelcome intrusion. I pretend not to hear my wife when she calls me to the door to greet an unannounced visitor. Of course, I sulk and usually take it out on her whenever we are lumbered with a visitor we could very well do without.

An unwelcome guest often gives cause for domestic discord in our otherwise peaceful married life. The snag is, my wife relishes her reputation as a gracious hostess, particularly among fair weather friends and relatives. Such is her hospitality that those who come to our place once would want to come again. I keep reminding my wife, "We are running a household, not a 'Welcomgroup' outfit."

The last 'guest' we had stayed only for a night, mercifully. We have had people coming in groups, including unmanageable children, without as much as a phone call announcing their arrival, and staying for days. Our overnight 'guest' dropped in around 8 pm, and promptly settled into the only rosewood armchair in our living room that doubles as my study. It was not yet our dinner time; it was the time my wife and I spend reading a book or magazine in companionable silence. With our evening so rudely interrupted, my wife went to the kitchen to get dinner ready, leaving me to cope with the lady in the rosewood chair.

I don't remember the details of the small talk we indulged in for the next 15 minutes. But my wife rescued us from what seemed an interminable 15 minutes by announcing dinner. To be fair to the lady, an out-of-towner, she didn't drop in on us unannounced. She gave my wife a few hours notice when they met at a common friend's place earlier in the day. The lady had told my wife she was inviting herself to our place for the night. When my wife sought to explain that things at home were in a mess the lady said, "Don't worry, I will adjust." I thought it was the host who would have adjustment problem in the circumstances.

When it was time for her to leave my wife sent her off with the traditional offering of the kumkum and an invitation to visit us again. My hunch is that the lady took my wife for her words. I don't suppose our guest had any inkling of my smoldering resentment at her for having taken us for granted. .

Cross-filed in Desicritics

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