Saturday, 25 April 2015

Guests Galore !

Yesterday I began the rather complex process of cleaning all the cupboards and the pantry shelves in our house. I say complex because, like most  Indians or people of Indian origin, our wardrobes have ten times the clothes we actually need and that is a very conservative estimate. Given the sheer variety in Indian cuisine, we have enough stock on our pantry shelves to open our own grocery store and just may be our own restaurant too! Why this sudden frenzy of cleaning? We are expecting four guests from India next month and in their honour I am cleaning the house from top to bottom! My daughter laughs at this behaviour and says it's not as if they are going to open every drawer and cupboard and check but, to my mind, a sparkling house will add warmth to the welcome we want to accord to them...
Three of the four people coming are complete strangers to us but that, in no way, curbs my anticipation and enthusiasm for their visit. No doubt it entails a bit of extra work for me and some expense too but that does not deter or faze me in the least! Why do I love inviting people to stay in our home and see a new country? There are multiple reasons for this. The primary credit for this attitude of mine goes to two families, one of whom opened up their house to me and my mother and the other family welcomed my husband and me, almost two decades ago. Another important reason is it helps to boost Kenya's economy a bit, as my guests go on multiple safaris, shop at the Masai Market, sight see in Nairobi and spend some big bucks! I feel it's the least I can do to help a country where we earn our living. The same holds true for my own country India when I invite friends there and help them shop in places which promote our traditional arts and crafts. Last but not least, I get motivated to thoroughly clean every nook and cranny of the house!
Many years ago when my father was still in the Indian army, he was transferred out of Mumbai and I still had an important exam to give. The pressure of housing is so much in Mumbai that we were not allowed to retain the accommodation allotted to him. We had to move back to our home town. A naval family whom we had known for barely a year came and solved the dilemma for us. They invited my mother and me to come and stay with them for the entire duration of the exam, which was around two weeks. We accepted their kind offer and the lady of the house literally waited on me hand and foot, ensuring that I was free to study. Their school going kids cooperated beautifully too and I passed my exams with flying colours. I will never forget this fantastic gesture of theirs...
The second family who came to our rescue were my maternal grandfather's friends. They were Indians who had settled down in the United Kingdom and had told him any one from his family was welcome to visit them there any time. My husband and I landed up in the United Kingdom and young, reckless, heedless that we were then, called them up from London, and asked if it was fine to come and stay with them for a few days. They lived in Leigh On Sea, around an hour's ride by train from London. They agreed, even though we had given them barely a day's notice, and came and picked us up from the train station. When they showed us to their guest room, they explained that they were in the process of renovating it, had ordered new beds and had already discarded the old ones. They actually apologised for spreading mattresses on the floor and said had they told us this on the phone, we might have felt we were not welcome! So they had said nothing then and preferred to explain it to us in person. We didn't mind sleeping on the floor in the least! Then they helped us plan the rest of our holiday and being retired, even joined us on a few excursions! We, in turn, were so grateful to them that we treated them to dinner every night! It was the best holiday ever, made possible only by the kindness and warmth of complete strangers! Sadly they both passed away in the next two years but we did invite them to a meal in our home when they visited our home town the following year..
When we moved to Kenya and the children joined the American school, I discovered that none of the Americans knew much about India but all of them were fascinated by our food and clothes. So I invited every one to visit us in India and three of my son's teachers from the Elementary school accepted the offer. We were thrilled to bits and began making plans to make their visit as fruitful as possible. The first step I took was requesting my husband to coordinate his annual leave with the date that the teachers wanted to travel on. The kids and I would be leaving as soon as the school closed. Every one knows that India can be completely unsafe for women, thanks to our skewed ratio. Since they would have to traverse the expressway at an odd hour to reach our home town, which is a four hour drive from Mumbai, I would be at peace if he accompanied them. And so it was settled.
Our sweet teachers enjoyed India, shopped to their hearts' content, sampled street food, gorged on home food and partook of the famous 'thali', which has at least twenty varieties on one plate, all this coupled with lots of sight seeing too! They even offered to pay for food and fuel, all of which I refused because I had invited them, so money wasn't part of the equation at all! I had to adjust some of my classes too, in order to take the ladies around town but my students were very understanding and flexible, so the whole trip  went off perfectly well.
Just before they left India, two of them gifted my daughter and me some lovely hand made items that they had bought in Nairobi. When I asked about the organisation that had made those, one of them promised to take me there the next time she went. I said I would love to buy from there too as those items were made by mothers who had physically challenged children. The children received treatment at the same centre even as the mothers made bead jewellery, cloth items and other things.
And then soon it was August and we were back in Nairobi. In September, I got a mail from the teacher saying that they had fixed the following Saturday to go to the place from where she had purchased my gift and would I be interested in coming along? I was game, as was my daughter.
That Saturday was 21st September 2013, the day of the horrific Westgate Mall Attack. It was also the day of the children's cooking competition on the roof top parking. Even as we were driving towards the spot from where the teachers would be picking us up, we heard the advertisements on the car radio every ten minutes. Come to Westgate at 11:00 am and watch the kids cook! I said to my daughter if we hadn't been visiting the organisation today, you and I would have gone to Westgate. I would love to see kids cooking! And I had been repeating this statement for the whole of the previous week, ever since I had heard about the cooking competition. And we would have. There was nothing to stop us. My son was at a birthday party at the other end of town, my husband could have come with us or he could have continued working from home. The attack started just after 12 noon and the roof top parking was the scene of the most heart breaking slaughter possible...
And so it was my penchant for opening up my home and hearth to people that probably ended up saving my life and more importantly my daughter's life or at least prevented us from being eye witnesses to an unspeakable atrocity. It was a strange chain of events, inviting the teachers to India, they buying gifts for us from an organisation which supports a cause, my own habit of supporting such places too, which led to me accompanying them that day, the teacher being true to her word and not forgetting to include us in the trip on that particular Saturday and the two families who had welcomed us all those years ago, which makes me do the same in my own home.
God works in mysterious ways and we can only do the best we can with a pure heart and leave the rest to Him.


  1. Shows the purity of your heart beautifully and unwittingly.

    1. Thank you for your kind words!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.


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