We are one of the only families I know that sits down together at the table for all three meals. Every day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast is possible because Ravi and I go to work fairly late and lunch is possible because we live so close to our offices we come home to eat. And dinner, of course, is always possible.
What I hadn’t realised is how important the table is.
Mummy and Masiji can’t manage without one – it’s too difficult for them to balance a plate on their laps. So now they eat at this tiny table by themselves, while Ravi and I perch on stools at the kitchen counter, for the duration, we say comfortingly.
But sitting by ourselves, we have started to actually have real conversations again. We choose the topic ourselves, speak at a normal volume, say things only once and use the shorthand married couples all have with each other.
Oh my gosh! So this is what meal-time conversation is about. Wit, charm, double-entendres, interesting facts, funny asides. I had forgotten.
Mummy and Masiji are both deaf. One prefers Punjabi, the other Hindi. Each of them has her own special interests, but the topics which they both understand and enjoy tend to be limited to family stories, the weather and the servants. And since it feels rude and exclusive to talk about things they have no idea of, as a rule, we stick to what they are interested in.
We’re not saints. Those conversations are fairly boring. Given a choice, we prefer to tell each other spicy, colorful stories about the things we are interested in. Given a choice, we won’t exactly choose to ignore the biddies, but in fact, that’s what happens. Slip-sliding away. We lose the thread and hardly even notice.
The table doesn’t let us.
When you have a table, you have to sit at it, all together, every meal. And when you sit together, you talk. Sometimes you have to shout, sometimes you have to repeat yourself, sometimes you bite your tongue and try not to roll your eyes. But you’re together, you’re talking.