Inviting kith and kin home for a meal is an integral part of our social behavior. We invite people to come and have dinner or lunch for a variety of reasons. We invite people for religious functions, birthday celebrations, mourning, children’s naming ceremony, pregnancy announcement, promotions and success in life – all these events are shared over a meal with people who matter. Sometimes we meet for no reason at all – just to catch up and chitchat. Calling people home also serves other purposes – it establishes a bond, conveys a sense of camaraderie and demonstrates acceptance of the individual into your circle – it’s like a sort of club membership.
In all this, I find the casual invitation to meet for no specific reason the most intriguing. I have this acquaintance who makes it a point to invite me to his house every time we meet. He says, “Pabbi it’s been a long time since we met – why don’t you come over some time?” and I will invariably say, “Sure!” and walk out. This dialogue has been going on now for over six years and we are yet to visit. Some other forms of verbal invitation which are even more amusing – ‘We should meet some time, ok?’ – ‘Let us catch up’ – ‘Do visit us whenever you are in this area next time’ ‘I say, drop in ’and so on.
I for one feel that the invitation should be precise ‘Please come and have dinner with us on 16 Feb 2013 at 1930 at my place’. The intention should be made clear – period. This precise method always produces the desired results or in the worst cases ‘Regret unable’.
When you are inviting out of station friends, layout the program clearly. I invited a friend of mine from Bangalore to visit me in Kochi. May be, I was not specific and did not mention the part about – How Long? The blighter started liking the atmosphere very much and did not utter a word about departure. Days became a week and the beneficiary never looked in the direction of the railway station. My other friends took pity and advised me to buy a ticket back to Bangalore which fortunately was working out cheaper than his daily expenses.
It is always good to find out your guest’s dietary preferences. When I was posted in Port Harcourt Nigeria, Jai and I were invited to the governor’s house for an official dinner. Jai was served the most exotic ‘Bush Meat’ and she is a pure vegetarian. Imagine an ant eater staring at you. On the way back from Riga our ship berthed in Benghazi, Libya. On the table was a goat with another animal in its mouth and that one had something else and so on. Sashi Khera, Atutosh Anand and NL gave it a wide berth. The poor host brought eggs in lieu – the threesome said no to eggs and onions too. The bewildered host finally placed the fruit tray in front of them.
I also strongly feel that one should be invited to visit .I just like to be prepared and entertain royally when I do invite people over. I very rarely call up and say, ‘Are you people free tonight, we want to drop in and have a drink’. I am not comfortable even with this format. There are a lot of people whom I know, using this ‘announcement format’. There is also a slightly better SMS format ‘Wht r u doing dis evng, can v cum over?’The issue in all this is – give the host and the guest a chance to choose their time and day. In today’s fast paced life, time is precious and everyone wants to spend ‘Quality Time’ with each other. I may be tired or sick and in no mood to party or socialize – there are many such evenings when one wants to hide away from the world and be on one’s own. On such days, I do not wish to sit and talk about the ‘rising importance of Iran in Asia when juxtaposed with the decline of Afghanistan’ or ‘Advantages of watching Life of Pi in IMAX’ or even the mundane subject of ‘difficulty in finding trust worthy cooks’ and so on. Of course, the whole issue is debatable – I may be totally wrong. Some people just love an impromptu visit or an impulsive hopping across to say ‘hi’. A neighbor of mine has made this technique into an art form – whenever he feels like a drink he drops in.
On the lighter side - some people invite you for dinner and forget about it. It happened to me once. I landed up in my friends place for dinner and found the LOH totally unprepared for the event. I kept waiting to be served – they in turn, kept waiting for me to leave and it went on. On an invitation, six of us went to Kochi Port Trust chairman’s house for lunch – lo and behold – the table was set perfectly with crockery, cutlery, serviettes etc – but for one – chairman’s son had forgotten to inform the kitchen staff. Never extend an invitation after a few shots of courage. Neither you nor the other party is likely to remember the late night agreements. My B in L once planned a cocktail, dinner and dance party at home. According to him we were to expect thirty to forty guests – so the preparations were accordingly made. Time came for the birds to settle down and the bats to take flight, yet no sight of any guest. Finally a couple came and the male portion asked for a warm beer and the female part asked for hot cup of Bournvita. It appears nobody took the invite seriously. Weather it is formal or informal meal, it is good to a do a bit of homework.
When I was young and staying with my parents, I used to regularly watch hordes of people visiting our house unannounced and uninvited. In those days, I suppose protocol was not an issue and people went to each other’s houses whenever they felt the need or urge. My father’s friend Raghu Anna visited our house daily and tasted food, some relatives came every Monday to have ‘Palahara’ (a meal of fruits - which over time turned into a one dish meal), a relative from Kolar visited us every time he had some business in Bangalore, similarly, two uncles came home every Sunday to play cards and would stay on for lunch and a bit of Zzzzzz after that. The list was endless and to this day I wonder how my parents coped up with all the visitations. But its different today – when I invited my granddaughter of five for lunch she told me, “Tata, I am busy on Saturday and Sunday with ballet and golf!