Monday, March 9, 2015

Send and Receive



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 at the railway station. 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. I'm not sure about Ma, but as kids things were pitched perfectly for us.

Barring those who were young or 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 guest was wanted. Much as I hate visiting  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.

Oftentimes, when the train was delayed, we had plenty of time to kill. Imagine killing time, in the absence of smart phones! Impossible, right? But 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, but that's how it was. 
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.

Almost all railway station stories, featured 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. Did you jump on it while quilts were being packed? I did.
We’ve come a long way since carrying ugly bedding's and receiving unwelcome 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 insist on accompanying him to the airport, but he prefers 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 idea is to underline the fact that he is a big boy, 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 constant but imperfect. See-off today, receive tomorrow. 

This post is also on Huffington Post.
Image Courtesy: Getty Images

40 comments:

  1. Living in Delhi, we also had many house guests, relatives visiting from smaller towns - for business, for sightseeing, for extended family events etc. But thankfully we never had this practice of seeing off or receiving guests at railway stations. I remember already my parents were too over-stretched with all the things to be done for the guests. I remember sometimes we would have house guests during our examination season, oh how I would hate that!!!

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    1. Life in Delhi is different from small towns. Here, people don't expect you to indulge in such formalities. But my relatives in Allahabad and Lucknow still believe in the ritual.

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  2. Lovely post.When i was young we often had local relatives coming over to spend a Sunday or outstation ones to stay with us.It was understood that they would stay with us--no asking for our comfort or availability;and we used to love those occasions.When it was time to visit grandparents the journey would start with a tonga--the very word sounds weird today.
    Today if I have to visit a relative I am very hesitant about staying with them--don't know why.

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    1. I know what you are saying Indu.And a tonga ride may sound weird but in today's time it can be exotic depending on the tonga!!
      :)

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  3. Guests today are seen as a pain in the butt, and I would be lying if I say that I don't find them so because I do... The terms of privacy and comfort have changed! We rather wish birthday and anniversaries on Skype than going home and celebrating!
    Even I find travelling to airports as a needless thing... :-/ *generation*
    But no one seems to mind now days because everyone feels the same!

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    1. True, no one seems to mind. Or expect you to show up at the airport.

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  4. YESSSSSSSSS!!!! This ritual of sending them off in the railway station is wht makes us INDIAN. We with our overdone and overbaked hospitality...!!
    I wonder if I am upset with the fact that these days such hospitality is nowhere to be seen.

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    1. Shades of it are visible in small towns, not so much in metros.

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  5. Alka, you took me down memory lane by all the above information...green baggage was my fav. Used to love sleeping in it although, never got the hang of how my parents used to stuff all the blankets and pillows in it. I agree those precious times spent loitering around either near the book stall or just chatting away and without a smart phone...priceless!
    I love the trend of dropping off and receiving esp the railway stations...airports unfortunately lack the luster maybe cause of security reasons.

    Wishing your son success in whatever journey he is undertaking.

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    1. Thank you so much for your wishes Ruchira.
      Means a lot.

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  6. :) we used to go to the Airports too every time a cousin went abroad. It was fun. You sure did bring memories back. Good luck to your son.

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  7. I loved our trips to the railway stations to receive relatives. Books were my passion too, still are :) My son also left for higher studies a couple of months back and he too preferred a cab. Best wishes to your son for his studies and a big hug to you, mom to mom :)

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    1. Ah, I touched a chord ....from mom to mom.
      Thanks Sulekha, so good to see you here. I was fed up with the politics and media related posts, hence this one.

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  8. Those waits at the Railway station AND the expectation of seeing your people at the station if you are the guest were both wonderful. Till now, I have the habit of seeing off people till the gate - unless there are other guests still around - and I rather get upset when someone waves me off from his couch :)

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    1. Ha ha, yeah me too. Waving from the couch is not done. We go down, near the car while sending off. But that's it.

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  9. The send off and receive is truly now only restricted to parents and children... Airports being far from the city too have brought about this change..You post reminded me of the happiness I feel going home every time with papa and ma being there waiting for me at the airport...thanks :)

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    1. Thank you Rima.
      So good to see you here.

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  11. Past is always perfect while Present waits patiently for its turn to be wrapped in sepia tinted nostalgia and be cherished finally.

    You post brought back so many nostalgic memories, Alka.

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  12. Lovely post, Alka. Though I haven't really grown up in India, I can relate to the whole 'send and receive' package. And truth be told, it is something that I'd always looked forward to. Of course, as time went by, people stopped receiving us or dropping us, citing reasons from work to parking to everything else. When possible, I still try to do that. And hopefully, I can keep it going. But yes, Life gets in the way sometimes.

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    1. Ahh, yes, parking. And distances. Bangalore airport was more than 50 km from my place. Though I did many trips for my mother and son. Thanks Sid.

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  13. I actually don't remember sending off and receiving guests at railway stations. Luckily, these days no one expects us to. They are just so far also. I hate it because I hate waving byes to loved ones. Good luck to your son. Do let me know if you require any help. He is off to Hyderabad right? Take care.

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    1. Thanks Rachna, very thoughtful of you.

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  14. Who received you with a garland? If this happens today, such a picture would go viral on internet. Those were good old days and I miss those summer vacations and shaadi season. And I am old fashioned, I like when people come to receive me with flowers and gifts. As you said it is so very welcoming. :P

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    1. Yes, dads colleagues would come with flowers to receive us when we moved on transfers.
      Times have changed and so have rituals.
      Thanks Saru.

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  15. Such a lovely post with which moments of bygone times that kept flashing past as I read through!Could relate to the post so much as almost everything fitted like a tee, Alka:)

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  16. I remember my maternal grandpa driving his vintage car to receive us at the bus depot. How I hated his old vintage car and felt he should own a fiat or an ambassador. Now as I rewind I feel I was fortunate to have rode in a vintage car. We didn't have bottled water then and every station papa would get down to fill water from the tap and we never fell sick.

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    1. And we can't dream of drinking that water now. Why even bottled water at railway stations is not trustworthy.

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  17. Your post made me relive my memories Alka ! I had that olive green bedding too when I went to hostel to study :) And the charm of railway stations..but as you say nostalgia is an obsessive liar. Loved that one !
    Your last paragraph is touching. Said so much with so few lines.

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    1. Thank you for reading Asha. Glad you could connect.
      Your heartfelt comment brings a big smile on my face.

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  18. I even forgot that we went to railway stations or bus stands to receive guests once upon a time. How fast we forget the past? I grew up in a small town and would rush to the railway station to bring the guests home. Now, it is no longer a small town though. Later when the hi-tech buses started running; we would get into the bus near to our home on the outskirts and get down in a spot near to relative's places. We still carry a part of the memory here by dropping off and picking up at airports as cabs are a costly affair here. All the very best to your son. Don't be surprised if he comes back home as a Hyderabadi. :)

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    1. It is so good to see you here. I am grinning like a kid.
      Yes, seems like ages ago.
      Thanks Prudhvi.

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  19. Hold on to that fervor of receiving guests (even unwanted ones), visit such places often. Soon, our cities will be in dire need of such places, or the cosmetic ones we'll call clubs.

    Blasphemous Aesthete

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  20. Our home was never the place relatives chose to visit and stay, as in our case 98%of the stayed in Chennai and just our family was settled in Trivandrum. So it was easier for us to go to Chennai and visit everyone. And whenever this happened it was like one big festival ! It also involved a lot of Railway station time, pick ups and drops.

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  21. Took me back to my childhood days, the only difference being we lived in a small house then yet there was always room for one more guest!!

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  22. Aha, Alka! The great Indian Railway is witness to many stories that remained with us for a long time and capture the moments..the crowd, books and mag. Your post brings back the emotional moment that reverbate in my soul where many stories can be written. This post is a gem.

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