In our villages, if a family has a function, the host requests relatives and neighbors to come a day in advance and help make the function a success. That is the standard text of invitations. And, it is not a formality either. Close relatives and neighbors come a day in advance and lend helping-hand in many ways – cleaning the place, decorating, cutting vegetables, grating coconut, serving meals, etc. Volunteerism is part of the culture. The vigor may not be as much as it was a few decades ago, but it has not vanished.
The guests in villages have no hurry to return. The functions are occasions to debate over current issues, politics, literature, and music … whatever. In my childhood, I have been all ears to some scholarly discussions on Sanskrit and Kannada literature in some such gatherings. What I understood then may be very little, but a seed of interest was sown and curiosity nurtured by repeated exposures to such occasions. At times, no doubt, the discussions seemed just noise, not going anywhere in particular.
In cities, it is more pragmatic to hold family functions in choultries or convention halls – seldom is one held at home. That leads to contracting of catering, cleaning, decorating, entertainment and rituals. Event managers are eking out a career, albeit slowly. If one wants to perform a pooja, it can be bought in temples; the priests manage the event including food for guests in some cases. The host has to mainly (probably only) manage the finances. In such situations, the host does not have responsibilities that he can share with guests and he does not need a helping hand. Most of the guests appear a few minutes before the meals, wish the hosts, feast, and go away. If a guest goes much early or stays back late, he could embarrass the host.
We have lost the opportunity of using the social gathering for any higher purpose. For most of the guests, attending such functions is a ritual. Gatherings at home are rare. We are busy with our work, children’s education, and the forced entertainment pouring through the idiot box.
This is not a universal rule, however.
Yesterday Dr. HS Venkatesh Murthy (HSV), the renowned Kannada writer, talked to a gathering of about 50 people at his home, “My dear wife Rajalakshmi left us on this day five years ago. Every year my family has been organizing a light music concert at home in her memory. She loved this kind of music and the people invited are those for whom she had love. This gathering is an effort to reduce the pain of the memory of this sad day in my life.” The first year after the demise of his wife, HSV had arranged a music concert at home once a month. Now he does it once a year. His birthday is another occasion for a happy gathering of friends and some discussion on literature.
Sri Mantapa Prabhakara Upadhyaya has created history by performing more than a hundred mono-acts in Yakshagana dance form, depicting lady characters from Indian epics. These performances are held in the living rooms of friends and well wishers to select audiences.
Sri Prabhakar (not Prabhakar Upadhyaya referred above!) invites friends to his home every Tuesday for discussions on Kannada literature or spirituality. Dr. Usha Vasthare regularly gathers about 25 friends at home where the discussion could be about literature, organic farming, stress management or developments in neuroscience. Shabna Virmani regularly sings Kabir songs for a gathering of about 25 people at her own home or at some friend’s place.
It is heartening that there are many people who have such meaningful gatherings at home where friends meet with specific purpose and spend a few wonderful hours. No TV, no gossip. There is friendship, goodwill and a greater purpose.
A home can become a centre of learning and culture.