On Saturday, I visited family spread all through Hyderabad.
In turn, the visits served up a smorgasbord of family dynamic – pleasant surprise; genuine affection; guilt trips; polite, but disinterested cordiality; joy, which is sweeter for being unexpected; voluble, and surprisingly articulate grief of family that lost its matriarch suddenly, and too young; the inchoate sadness of the old ones, struggling against the fade out of everything, including, the most heart-rending of all, memory of the lived life; love, only nurtured fitfully and carelessly, yet still alive; the crushing awareness of the limits of what people can do for each other; and a few surreptitious tears.
As you might imagine it was exhausting.
But that was the least of my problems.
Every visit means food. Food that is very hard to refuse, and not necessarily because it is just plain good. With every mouthful, you get nutrition, and a dose of apprehension about the next. After all these years, you know the feeding will be relentless, and unending – it started at 7:30 AM and ended at 11:00 PM. See, you can ride the emotional roller-coaster with some grace. You are older now, and you have learnt to fake maturity with the best of them. But where can you ever hope to fit all that food? That space is limited, and inexorably decreasing with age.
Nothing diverts them from the feeding.
So wonderful to see you. Eat. How have you been? Eat. We are getting by as best we can, like everyone else. Eat. It has been such a struggle since your aunt passed. Eat. So sorry to hear about your Dad’s health. Eat. You know, I am also diabetic. Eat. What, you too? Eat. I don’t remember things so good anymore. Eat. What’s her name, my grand-daughter’s oldest, your niece? Eat. Real estate prices went through the roof, and I am told we are now, like, millionaires. Eat. Pity you did not hold on to your old house. Eat. Young people these days, they have their own ideas about everything. Eat. Who knows when she will have kids, I’ve stopped asking. Eat. Why are you still single, you doofus. Eat. You can’t leave already! Eat. So glad you stopped by. Eat. Make sure you visit again before you leave town. So sad, you hardly ate anything.
In the middle of all this, there is a moment of frisson, and Chinese water torture is no longer a mystery.
At the end of the day, all consideration of weighty matters like life, death, the inevitable, self-made purgatory that awaits us all, and so on, had drowned, and disappeared in a sea of food. The pain in the tummy obliterated the pain in the heart. Knowing that more visits remained, my head hit the pillow around midnight, with only one clear thought. Holy crap, I have to get up in the morning and eat again.