Speed and self interest have become the dominant drivers in all that we do these days. We hardly have time to stand and stare. We have learnt to do many things concurrently like working on a power point in the pc and listening to iTunes, eating our dinner with a plate in hand and watching TV, chatting with friends while watching a favourite talk show, talking on mobiles while driving, reading dailies while in toilet and many such things. I find the families hardly sit together let alone eat together at homes except when they go to hotels for family dinner. Except the ritual of eating out on a single table, the togetherness is absent and the ambience so different. When I was a chit I vividly remember my father insisting that all members of our family assemble for dinner at 7-30pm sharp. With all of us squatting on the red oxide floor of what did the duty of dining room, my mother served hot food. There was no dinner bell to announce the food is ready. My dad was such a kindly and gentle person, we dared not stay away from this routine lest we earned his frown. What a fine and pleasant experience it was I realize only now. This insistence to eat together could have stemmed from his concern to save the need for my mom to serve us individually or in batches. It also ensured that he could take stock of the day’s happenings at one go. There used to be a riot of laughter interspersed with gentle reprimands when each one of us regaled the assembled family members of our achievements of the day that were few and disappointments that were not found wanting. We did not notice the discipline this daily routine unconsciously instilled in us to order our things, doing home work, taking bath by turn in a single bath room, practicing music (for the girls),skimming through the dailies for headlines, listening to a single radio (there were no TVs then) in an orderly manner. There was however some unspoken rules laid down by my parents.
Eat with good grace whatever was served. There was no room for “I don’t like this or that” but we were allowed to express our preferences. No unpleasant subjects were to be brought up and quarrels among siblings weren’t encouraged. It was a time for quality food even if it were Spartan with just a single side dish like chapatti and dhal or sabzi. There was no place for hurry though the dinner would be spread over minimum thirty minutes. None of us generally left in the middle save in emergent situations. We were expected to wash our plates after finishing the meal. My dad encouraged lively discussions on interesting topics of the day and persuaded the shy amongst us to come out with their views. Mom and he acted as moderators of sorts to keep the chat free of insinuations, clean and at a fairly intelligent level. Individual weaknesses and reprimanding were avoided scrupulously Since the family was big, every one took care to see that others got equal share of whatever was made with sufficient portion left for mother. Wasting food was frowned upon. The sense of sharing and concern for others was imbibed early in our childhood. It fostered in us certain bonding even when we grew old and lived our separate lives. Dining together cultivated positive behaviour in the impressionable age of children and fostered a strong belief that the food is a gift of God and that we are to be thankful to Him. This ritual fostered the development of communication skills without abrasiveness, a better attitude to life and a sense of sharing and concern for each other.