T A L K I N G P O I N T
A series on anything that’s something to talk about
Last week, I went to an eatery that uses ‘ social house’ as a suffix. I would, normally, not have thought much about it and dismissed it as being part of a proper noun: name of restaurant + piquant- sounding tag = ambient whole. It was only when one of my friends pointed out ( waving her hands at the packed tables): “Hey, look, everyone’s so busy socialising!” that I realised the strategic import of the term “social house”. Restaurants are, clearly, reinventing themselves in an effort to go beyond being spaces where you go out for dinner ( or lunch or brunch or whatever).
They’re becoming spaces where you socialise — in an age where technology has all but taken away the significance of old- fashioned human connections.
Or maybe, things have come to such a pass because nobody is willing to socialise unless there’s a carrot dangled. Food.
I immediately remembered a conversation I had with my Dad when I was in ( Kolkata) India a few weeks ago, about one of my aunts who performs an annual New Year’s ritual. On January 1, every year ( and for the past 15 years or so), she invites a motley crew of relatives — about 50 of them — over to her place for a buffet lunch that she curates very carefully (“signature dishes”, the city’s best catering company, fine china, et al). Attendance is always 100 per cent; at times, some uninvited sorts try their best to bulldoze in (“I’ll be in your part of town on January 1, can I drop by to see you? We haven’t met in ages, and it’s my New Year’s resolution that you and I reconnect!”).
I’ve also heard reports of how some people actually ensure they are in town to attend the do; they’re known to prepone/ postpone travel plans so this sought- after lunch can be fitted into their schedule.
Cut to the conversation I had with Dad. He was of the opinion it’s this aunt’s “popularity” that begets such fanfare. “Some people are just so, well, you know, sociable,” he said solemnly. “They make an effort to be in touch with extended family and are, therefore, well- loved… unlike you two [ glaring at me and my brother], who shy away from meeting the clan.”
My brother spluttered with repressed exasperation; I, on the other hand, maintained a rather cool sangfroid, and tried to turn ( dining) tables by asking Dad: “You really believe everyone hotfoots across to see her and her family? No way! They come for the food. When was the last time relatives descended without the promise of food being laid out on the table? Think about it: would everyone have dropped by if she had just asked them to drop by, no culinary strings attached?”
“My God,” Dad looked very alarmed. “You’ve become so cynical!” I don’t think so, I said smugly. “It’s a fact.” Sitting at this “social house”, it all fell into perspective. I was here to celebrate someone’s birthday. The birthday boy, God bless him, arranged a social hobnobbing- cumdinner on his big day. Himself. Sweet and all that. But... I turned to the friend who’d talked of socialising in a social house: “Shouldn’t everyone be just turning up in any case — with or without gourmet gratification? And preferably with birthday presents?”
“A lot of folks don’t give a present unless there’s a ‘ treat’ waiting to be had,” she offered.
As it turned out, even with the promise of guacamole and braised prawns coming to fruition — a wholesome treat, no doubt — presents seemed hard to come by.
The birthday boy, of course, is a far more generous person than I could ever be, so he wasn’t looking for validation. He appeared to be genuinely happy that everyone showed up. Even if it was for the food.
sushmita@ khaleejtimes. com
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