Last weekend I was in Kochi for a function. Normally we do not have functions during Lent, but this was an exception…a house blessing of a couple leaving for the US for their daughter’s confinement. In the evening we dropped into a family friend’s house at their insistence for dinner. What followed was a display of a new social system practiced in urban Kerala, one that I was not aware of. We reached their house around 7 p.m. We were to leave by that evening’s flight but postponed the same for the next day so that we could drop into these people’s home.
After the initial pleasantries and small talk, the family switched on the television. After that the whole family were engrossed in the TV programmes without a thought to the guests they had called home for dinner. The dinner invite was a reciprocation of the numerous times they have dropped in home when in Bangalore and even though we don’t believe in the formality of people having to invite us for return dinners, we accepted as we had never been to their house for a meal. We did not want them to feel like we did not want to eat at their house.
After the Television was switched on, the family ignored us till 10:30 p.m. So engrossed were they in the programmes. The whole family consisting of a Dad, Mom, Son and Daughter in law, Daughter and Son in Law and kids just sat glued to the T.V oblivious of their guests. It was downright demeaning. I held my cool because my Dad thought we might as well get over the obligation of having dinner in their place to avoid a repeat invitation. The thought of coming here again made me hold my fire or I would have walked out long time ago. I specially do not like anyone insulting my folks. And I am quite capable of walking out with pointed polite jibes as my tolerance level for such behavior is very very low no matter who the person is.
So we watched a collage of tears, avarice, sorrow, anger, pride, ill treatment and lust that make up a Malayalam serial till 10:30 p.m. Around 10:30 p.m the family gets up, switches off the television and the ladies lay the table. I was waiting for the chance. I bolted my food and told my Dad to do the same. The poor man who is just the opposite of his daughter agreed reluctantly because he knows that if he does not listen, the daughter would definitely haul him from the table into the car. I served myself seven and half grains of rice and a little more than that onto my Dad’s plate and got up. The family was aghast that we barely touched the food. I was hoping that it would be a hint. I saw the ladies exchanging glances. I wondered what they thinking! (a) What a horrible people, wasting food that we made with a lot of effort or (b) What horrible people, no manners or (c) What a horrible people- so rude. If they can invite people for dinner and ignore them for the rest of the evening then I can safely say that the answer to the above questions would be (d) All of the above.
And if you think this is an exception then think again. I have heard from so many people visiting relations in Kerala that people in Kerala do not like guests dropping in during Television Prime Time! Believe it or not!!! And many people I know visit relations after looking at the T.V guide. Like an Aunt innocently exclaimed to my mom the other day – Aiiyyo Leelamme, I went to Aliyamma's house at 7 p.m because she told me she doesn’t watch Sthree Janmam. But apparently she has started watching it recently! How embarrassing! tch tch!
Visiting Kerala? Dont forget the Malayala Manorama T.V Guide. It is Televisions Own Country now, down under!
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