For as long as I can remember, throwing a party at home had never been a low key affair.  Food was the most important, needless to say.  The food might be simple, but the number of courses would be many.  Or the food might be grand and the number of courses would be many more!  The flurry of activity did not begin and end at the kitchen.  No, it started with my dad making the announcement to us about the imminent arrival of guests.  Then would come the instructions for arranging the food.  Either my aunt or my mother or both would make the main dishes at home, and the drinks and desserts would usually be bought from a store.  The town where we lived boasted of no restaurant where one could eat and hope to be scotfree of a gastronomic rebellion.  So it was always home made food.  My dad would, ofcourse, be the commander of the menu.  He would cajole the women folk into agreeing but inwardly, they would be seething for having to cook so much for so little that would come in way of appreciation.

Next would come our part — my brother’s and mine.  We would get all the special cutlery and platters out and rinse to rid them of the smell of paint from the shelves on which they were stored.   Here, ofcourse, dad made the decision of serving what in what.  Small bowls for this, somewhat bigger bowls for that, paired with propotionately sized spoons.  Then, the choosing of the napkins — Did we have matching napkins of this kind for all the guests we were expecting?  Or should we mix and match to ensure that there is some pattern and uniformity?  Then, set out the plates on the dining table and the bowls in the serving area ready to dish out the desserts soon after the main course.  In case, we were just serving snacks in the living area, then dad would oversee us serve the snacks in their appropriate dishes, lay them on the right trays, place the napkins stacked on top of the other,  or place one each by the side of every plate, ready to be handed to the guests.

After this would be the tidying up of the place — this was the most difficult for me.  Because, according to my dad, to look tidy was as good as being tidy.  So into the cupboards would go everything that lay outside with no thought to organization — put, thrown, stuffed and basically hidden out of sight.

This followed by getting ourselves ready.  Then came standing outside on the porch, waiting so we could run to welcome and receive our guests right at the gate.  Dad would lead the procession of guests into the living room with my brother and I making the humble tail.  Hardly would the guests have taken the seats than, with the slightest nod from dad, we rushed to fetch the drinks — non-alcoholic, ofcourse.  Dad would be the sole tenderer of alcoholic drinks, thankfully.

The introductions came either while they were being seated or as the drinks were being served as we would have brought our mother and our aunt from the kitchen as well.  This much I remember vividly.  Then my dad would take over completely – conversation, food, everything is a blur.  My memory gets stronger here — the nearing of the last course – dessert!  I had such a sweet tooth that any dessert that did not make to a plate would go straight into my mouth.  It did not matter how much was left over.  Nothing would be, after my helping.

Seeing the guests off and tidying up after them, I remember pitching in.  But in the entire process, the one thing that any of us, excluding my dad, rarely took part in, apart from a repetition of hellos and goodbyes, is : conversation.  It is only now that I am beginning to correct my shortcomings in the area of  small talk.  But for teaching me how well to treat a guest and ensure that they are comfortable, I definitely have to thank my dad.

But how to entertain a guest well?  I wish I could learn this without stumbling so much.