It was close to 11:00 PM. Almost bedtime even over the weekend, I nodded to K and between him and his cousin another K they went downstairs to the basement to haul the futon mattress upstairs. Panting from lugging the rather heavy mattress, they arranged it right in the middle of our living room. Pillows and sheets soon made its way and another hour later, all of us had repaired to our respective sleeping arrangements. Tossing and turning I could not sleep.
My mind was back in an era when guests meant an extra ‘pai’ and a dirty pillow or sometimes one of the family forgoing theirs. When sheets were shared more as a protection against mosquito bites rather than as a shield against the cold. When it was not uncommon at 8:00 AM to have a row of children still curled up on the thin mats on the floor sleeping through all the noise and din from around.
Growing up as a child, I never once thought of whether our home was spacious or if we had enough bed linen for the never-ending stream of visitors and people staying with us unannounced. Or when we stayed over at a friend or cousin’s place, not much was thought of borrowing towels or even soap. Whatever we had, we made do. All that remains of those times are the good memories. Of sitting in circles gobbling down vatral kuzhambu sadham and thair sadham doled out by amma or an aunt. Of sitting outside on the thinnai batting mosquitoes as we exchanged hot gossip from our respective circles. Of exchanging notes on the number of salwars we had accumulated since we last saw each other. The intangibles.
Yet, today as a hostess, I seem to be unduly bothered by the lack of space or adequate bed linen. It shames me if I feel my pillow covers needs a wash. I keep a stash of toilet supplies specifically for guests. I am flustered when I have guests I am not prepared for. I even wonder if we should think of moving to a bigger space.
Amid all these superficial thoughts, echoes of the times past remind me of what is important. That what counts is whether I spend enough time talking and catching up rather than running around to ensure the perfect living arrangements. That what I serve is more important than what it is served on. That a hug and warm handshake is more important than what I pack in a return gift. That memories made during these visits is what I will remember years from now.