The host becomes a ghost when you can hardly see her. At least that is what my friend preferred to think. A friend back from my days of India, we made it to the US together. So I was delighted when a few weeks back, she called me up to inform that she was visiting me for a week. I don’t usually get many visitors, certainly not someone taking an airplane and travelling all the way to see me. Needless to say, I created a table on a word document, put the dates on the left, and made a list of all the things I had planned for us.
Now there are certain phases you have in your academic life when things don’t go the way you want them to. It doesn’t happen all the time, in fact most of the times, a grad student’s life entails nothing a lot more than the optional chore of attending a few classes, spending a few hours in the lab, and then the compulsory chore of chilling out with friends. At least that was the way things were with me. But then my advisor came into the picture, we got a few demanding projects to work on, and the rest is history. To cut a long story short, the last few weeks have seen me spending early mornings till late nights in the lab. Monday through Sunday, 7 days a week. Christmas, New Year’s, and any other holiday you can think of. Of course I am not the only one, my advisor has been at work too, strategizing new means of kicking my ass, but yeah, that has pretty much been the picture. I don’t know for how many days straight I haven’t seen the sky getting dark. I come in as early as I can, and when I get back, it is dark and raining. I see everyone going home, but no one in the lab has seen me go home in the last few weeks. And it was very nice of my advisor to drive me home last night. That too at 1:30 am in the morning (oozing with sarcasm).
Sounds incredible, huh! Seems like I have been on the verge of making some path-breaking discovery, or the spirit of Einstein has possessed me? Naah, it is this stupid deadline, and the constant urge to make sure that funding did not run out.
However, for as long as my friend was staying with me, I tried my best to be a good host. Certainly not by the standards of how my family would host someone back at home, but certainly my own way. For a record, I actually started to rebel and take the 8 pm bus home. I would be home by 9, and then we would start to cook. I made sure that I cooked at home most of the days. It’s not that I am an exceptional cook, but most places would be closed and most friends would have made other plans by the time I reached home. Now I am not the cooking type, but that one only thing I did for her in the whole day gave me such satisfaction. We would chat incessantly while she chopped the onions and I heated the oil, and man, it was such fun.
Mornings would start with me waking her up, making some coffee, and that’s it. Soon, I would be running for my classes, and she would have plans for the day. And while she got ready and I got late, I would sneak out of the house with the note neatly tagged on the fridge. This note contained the bus routes for all the places she had planned to see that day. Yeah, you heard me right, barring Sunday, when I finally decided not to report to office (my advisor did come to work and as a protest, I refused to pick up my phone), my friend has been seeing the city on her own. And she darn well did a good job out of it. She didn’t whine or complain, she rather sympathized. And know what, she saw more of the city in a week than I have seen in a year. She went to these places that I have just heard of, but never been there.
After she left, I was reflecting on how good a host I have been. Certainly she had no problems with me working and she seeing the city on her own. She didn’t even have problems making tea for me while I worked or cleaning the dishes when I ws too tired to do them. But I thought of the way I had grown up seeing guests being welcomed at home, and I am sure ma would disown me if she saw what a ghostly host I have been.
Now many people have been guests at our place. But when it was a close friend, the person would have better places to sleep than on a mattress. I don’t even have a bed at home, not that I am too poor to afford one, but I have never had the need to. So my friend slept on the mattress. I did volunteer to cook every night we did not eat out, but it was nothing grand. Dinner rather consisted of something that I can quickly concoct without getting tired, and not the elaborate dishes mom spent making all day. So there was no home cooked biriyani and chicken kebabs, there was the simple bhindi masala and potato curry and stuffed veggie omelets and my customized raita with loads of bean sprouts topped with crushed potato chips. Dinner was served in disposable plates (my friend suggested that) so that not much time is spent doing the dishes. Certainly a far cry from the ornate sets of china we were used to having in whenever people visited us. While mom would spend the day showing people around, and dad too would take an occasional leave from work, I kept working half the weekend. The only thing I did was call my friend from office every day to make sure that she was not lost in the streets of the city and what time she was hoping to come home. And then I would usually come home much after she did (I gave her a set of my home keys), make coffee and some dinner cooked in 30 minutes, and eat in disposable plates. Even the day she was leaving, I had a deadline to submit in the morning. So I arranged for a cab, gave her a hug, and that’s about it. No seeing her off at the airport, no parting tears and no farewell gifts (mom usually made this farewell caramel pudding for everyone). What more, when she was leaving, I told her “Come again”, and though my “come again” was heartfelt, my insides laughed at me sarcastically at the “come again”.
It made me realize how different our lives become in a different country. My intentions of “atithi satkaar” were still with all my good faith effort, but circumstances did not permit me to take either a day off, or to show her around and cook well for her. What more, I got late on my way to pick her up the night she arrived at 10 pm, just because I was busy finishing off the grocery that I haven’t had the time to do before. I know she was totally fine with it, and perhaps I am feeling a little more than my deserved share of guilt. But mom and dad back in India failed to understand why it was so difficult for me to take time out of my schedule and show her around. I am so glad she came, as I did not have to go back to an empty house for a week. But all that I did was more out of my need for seeking company and reinstating my sociable instincts soon to become extinct.
Anyway, she reached fine and told me that she had one of the finest trips here. She loved the city, loved the places she went to, and loved the bhindi masala I cooked. She is hoping to be back in summer. Only I hope that I am more with the what you call “Aantorikota” (whatever that means in your language) and have more time for people in my life then. Sob!