In the Indian Navy family quarters, functions were limited to birthday parties of toddlers. Official parties were held in the mess or ships. Such gatherings would have 25 to 50 guests and would be great fun. All the attendees were friends and their families, closely known to each other – the same people who would meet at work, in the parks, and in most of the official and social meetings. Parties and functions seamlessly fused with the professional and social life.
After being out of home state for three decades, I hung up my uniform and settled with my wife and daughter in Bangalore. Then we started discovering many relatives – mostly from my wife’s side. Invitations started pouring, for weddings, poojas, 60th or 70th ritualistic birthday celebrations, anniversaries, birthdays, last rites, death anniversaries… The gatherings would be anywhere between a hundred and a thousand people. I was lost in the crowd, not knowing most of the guests and not understanding a shred of the rituals. I was being introduced as my wife’s husband, share a grin, try some pastime talk, get lost in a couple of minutes and sink to my melancholic self. Larger the crowd, lonelier I was.
Some would ask with straight face, “Don’t you recognise me?” It is a difficult situation. If I apologised for not recognising the person, some would throw a challenge “well, try!” Embarrassing. The more I try to recollect faces and associated names, the more I suffer with Transient Amnesia – short term memory loss. Any number of stories or situations do not help me recollect the person in such situation, let alone to tell how they are related. “You have forgotten your poor relatives.” What a shame!
Relatives of relatives of relatives … are discovered in such functions. “Come home sometime” we tell each other and not exchange addresses or phone numbers. When we meet again in another function we lament, “You did not visit us at all, do come home sometime,” and respond “We sure will come to your place in near future,” yet not knowing the address or how to reach them.
In family functions we discover more relatives, long lost friends and old acquaintances. They would take our address and phone number and then invite us for their next family function. When someone comes home and invites, it is uncivil not to attend – and we march. Our names are now inserted in to guest lists of many families.
Then, people in the neighbourhood found us. Someone would come home with a stack of invitation cards and ask “what is your name?” Then they put our name in the card and cordially invite us to their family function – a house warming or naming ceremony or wedding or… They would earnestly insist that we attend the function. When we attended, we are treated with utmost courtesy and warmth. When I met some such kind hosts on the street the next morning and grinned, they would walk away without showing a glimpse of recognition. The neighbors then wear different hoods and I turn a transparent ghost. Scheduling another function, they would again come home with a bunch of invitation cards and ask “what is your name?”
The circle further expanded with knowing more people from different walks of professional and social life in Bangalore – more birthdays, house-warming, pooja, havana, anna-prashana, mundan, sacred thread, wedding, reception… There again we bounce upon more people and meet some unexpectedly. We realise that some friends have been relatives of our relatives and some relatives have been friends of our friends. The web of association becomes denser with more intricate links – difficult to traverse the path. The next time I am asked “how are you related to the host?” I am lost.
Not every meaningful experience need to be a pleasure. Being social animals, we need to nurture certain relationships deliberately. What a better place than these family functions to meet scores or hundreds of people in a couple of hours and exchange pleasantries! It is economical and efficient.
There are times when my wife does not accompany me to a function. As I enter the hall, often I am greeted with “Why did your wife not come?” Am I unwelcome if alone?
In one wedding, the bride’s mother asked a friend of the bride “Your parents should have come.” The friend promptly answered, “They were not invited, Aunty.”
Once, a groom’s parents invited us for a wedding including Varapooje, a small function on the previous evening. When we went for Varapooje, the girl’s parents who barely knew us told “you should have come right in the morning. All the family members were here.” When I gave an evading smile, he was emboldened to change to an accusing tone and question me for not being with the family that I did not even know well. I did not tell him that we were not invited.
There are other situations when I was taken to task for not attending functions to which I was not invited. When unable to close the matter with an innocent smile, at times I tell that I did not know about the function, and other times blame my bad memory.
There are people who say “We are sad/unhappy/angry that you did not attend our function” and there are people who say “We would have been happy if you could have made it.” I am happy if I can make it. Not being religious, shunning rituals, and not believing in birthday bashes, I may not find occasions to invite you for a family function. However, if you come home any time and share with me a few joyous moments, you will make me very happy. I shall be grateful.