We took an “open house” for granted when we were young. We could bring our friends over at any time and we were pretty sure that there was always something to offer them to eat or drink. We usually had tins of chocolate or walnut toffee, homemade biscuits, cheese straws, and at least one type of cake on hand, and for those who were really hungry, a roast sandwich could be mustered up in moments. It was the same at our friends’ homes: where the goodies were different from those that Mother made, but equally delicious.
While all these goodies were a big part of our visits to each others’ homes, there was the rest of it too: being able to walk straight into someone’s house to chatter with their family like they were our own, or be sent along to their room even if they were not there, free to pick up the comic they were reading or adjust the clothes of the doll that was holding its arms out to us from the shelf while we waited for our friend to return.
True, we did not help ourselves to whatever we liked and we certainly waited politely to be offered whatever was on the plate, but there was a level of informality we grew accustomed to, perhaps because most doors were not closed in the neighbourhood.
When adulthood and parenthood claimed us, we found it a little tough to maintain this type of hospitality — mostly because keeping a house in decent enough shape to have visitors walk in at any time and also be ever-ready with snacks and meals was not as easy as our parents had made it look.
We did try, however, to always have an “open house” at festival time, and given the number of festivals in our country and our sincere desire to celebrate all of them, we had our work — and our fun — cut out for us.
“Open house” also involved “open cupboards” among us friends. While this meant that we had to keep our belongings in reasonably neat order so that everything didn’t tumble out as the doors of the cupboard were pulled open, at least we were never at a loss for costumes for fancy dress competitions or school plays that our children were participating in. Striped tights from one friend, a floppy cap from another, a cape, a little creativity, and hey presto, the magician / clown / superhero was ready to go on stage and charm the audience!
It was the same for us adults when we went our separate ways to late-night parties or daytime get-togethers where we would not meet each other’s circles of friends. All we had to do to give ourselves a new look on a tight budget was to exchange what resided in our cupboards: borrow a fancy sari or stilettos or a shawl, or a pair of glare glasses and a scarf, and we could sweep off to impress those who were tired of the lack of imagination of our own wardrobes.
We did not have to consider how long a virus remained on those borrowed goggles or wonder whether the scarf had been washed after its last outing to the mall, nor did we inquire about the chain of contact and the sanitisation of that cap or cape ...
How we rue the fact that today we are reluctant to throw open the doors of our homes — or our cupboards or even the windows. If we meet friends at all, we prefer that it is outdoors, all of us mumbling through our masks as we maintain a couple of metres between us …
Oh, for those good old days of unrestrained, always welcome contact and an “open house”!
Cheryl Rao is a writer based in India