IT'S a warm familiarity we share with relatives and friends in our little country. Dating back to those simpler, doorbell-free days when guests were merely family away from family, to have the odd auntie you've hardly met drop in and make herself at home is rather ordinary. Sometimes, though, you do wish they'd use the phone or the doorbell for something besides ornamental purposes. For, while most choose to be tactful, every family has the charming circle of acquaintances that unerringly picks the day Ammu stays home for the pre-Eid cleanup or the moment you're sitting down to a lunch you've concocted yourself. And that warm familiarity suddenly becomes too warm for comfort.
Though each is delightfully distinctive, years of extensive observation and mortifying experiences have enabled me to construct a general classification of the subdivision of society commonly known as the Mehman.
Meal-Timers: Foremost, you've the early-birdie phupu-chachas who arrive only god knows when, supposedly after their morning walk. You find them at your dining table on the odd Friday morning, cosily chatting with the Dadi-jaan. Whereupon you impart the necessary social niceties and return to your bedroom, wide awake with the frustrating realisation that you've been seen at your least presentable and will now have to begin the day developing a plan of action to discreetly obtain breakfast.
Breakfastees are nothing though; it's dinnertime that can leave you suicidal. Even if you've invited, planned and prepared, the chances are that they'll keep you waiting and waiting well past the 4 o' clock mark and after you've given up hope and cleared away the refreshments and laid the table for dinner. Then they show up in all their mehmani glory, precisely when you're halfway through. It'll invariably be a group of no less than three, with at least one person more than the number of available chairs at the dinner table.
Moreover, if Ammu has decided to cook something exotically messy for a change, they have the added advantage of watching you spill stuff over your front too! And they will sit there and smile and strategically choose to ask you innocent questions exactly when you're masticating a mouthful that cannot be disposed of without risking fatal asphyxiation.
If these happen together, you can safely assume that they've rigged a surveillance system within your walls that is monitored by rote, to pinpoint the time when you scrape back the chairs to sit down to dinner or to detect any unfamiliar dishes that will be fun to watch you eat. Could be; humans have done queerer things.
But hark! Without so much as a doorbell's warning, the front door creaks open and you hear foreign footsteps echoing ominously down the passage long enough for echoes yet too short to let you retire to the nearest bedroom. For you fear the worst.
And very near the worst it is, as the elderly phupu you least expected to see emerges, and you know even before your eyes meet hers. That she's seen. Your garbled greeting is lost in the second's glance she casts at your brazenly naked kneecaps, and the waves of disapproval painfully reverberating thereof. Even though it's eleven in the morning in mid-April, you feel goosebumps on the offending skin.
The anecdote aforementioned is an exemplar of Awkward-Timers; an assortment of aunts, uncles, great aunts and great uncles who come at random moments between meals, catch you in compromising positions and give you 'looks'. Just as darling are the ones who pop in right after you come out of the shower, and catch you drying- or not drying- your hair.
It's generally worse in summer when you are bound to be found, at least once, in something scanty and only barely decent. Imagine walking into a living room full of Khalas, in only your boxers, boys. And consider yourself lucky if you just have to imagine it.
Then there are the Post-Midnighters who are too busy to call at any other time of day. One or two, however, just find it funsies, especially if you've relatives from abroad staying over. Making the most of jetlag, I suppose.
Holiday-Homemakers: Usually a gang of great-aunts who realise that they miss your grandmother simultaneously, their visitations range between 3 days and 3 weeks. An envoy Dadi informs you of the upcoming gathering with footfalls in the hallway and a flower patterned handbag landing on the floor with a purposeful thud. Within the next couple of days she's called up the rest of the posse, 3 of who possess identical flower-patterned handbags. They addafy the nights away and collectively gather the household reins into their capable hands during the day.
Kitchen activities are no longer your family's headache; menus and mealtimes are organised according to their tastes, waking hours and the extravagance one can practice only with resources that are not one's own. But woe betide your cook if enough ingredients aren't available or the bhortas haven't been prepared exactly how they do it at home!
This, however, does not mean that the family is spared of responsibility during their stays. Who, after all, is to ensure the household doesn't collapse once they leave? So you must sit and listen to their myriad grievances that arise regarding your house help every time they drop in; and the lectures on exactly how to tend to your grandmother, a subject on which their knowledge is boundless, even though they see her for a grand total of a five weeks every year and only one of them studied medicine.
But, having said that, you can't really resent the quirks of the mehman population; existence would be lonely with nothing to rant about. Not to mention just a tad Victorian, and we all know how much fun they had. (Or appeared to have, but never mind.) At any rate, society moves on and this too shall pass away. With the advent of apartments and changing household routines, I may even find myself missing this element of surprise someday. Twigs might fly. Till then, I suppose I'll just have to bear with being caught by impeccable homemaker chachis with salsa dripping down my chin, wearing a towel turban; and they with the occasional scandalous glimpse of my shameless shins.
By Risana Nahreen Malik
The Last Olympian
DETRACTORS of the final Harry Potter novel complain about the big build-up to a completely disappointing final showdown. There are many that have a beef with the fact that it was all Harry in the last few moments, even though he didn't do anything spectacular, while the other major side characters were pretty much ignored. There was more than a few grumbles about the gooey, sappy, neatly wrapped up ending.
Let's face it; with a plot-line that has a young hero who has to juggle normal adolescence with larger-than-life problems, which include battling monsters, there were bound to be comparisons drawn. Rick Riordan must have paid attention to all the complaints, though, because he managed to avoid all of the problem areas in the final book in his Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.
A final recap to bring all the readers up to speed: Percy Jackson is a young boy who discovers that he is the son of the Olympian god Poseidon. The discovery brought many mythical monsters into his life, but he also made some strong friends and allies at Half-blood Camp, which is the training ground for demi-gods like himself. Through the four books that precede this one, he goes on quests with his best friends Grover and Annabeth, while at the same time, uncovering a larger conspiracy underfoot.
The Last Olympian gets right into the heat of the war without preamble. The story opens with Percy taking leave from his mother before heading off to Manhattan to join his friends in battle. Elsewhere, under the sea, Poseidon's kingdom is already under attack. Zeus and his sibs and fellow Olympians are already out of Olympus, battling some of their ancient enemies. Ordinary mortals, blinded by the spell of the Mist, are experiencing the worst set of hurricanes and earthquakes ever; a masterful stroke of subtlety that James Patterson made a muck-up of in his Maximum Ride series.
The war is everything a battle buff could dream of, and the action never lets up. Remember how JK Rowling teased us with the mere mention of statues coming to life to protect Hogwarts? Well, Riordan does something similar in his book, only better, because you actually get to witness the fight. In the midst of it all, there is angst, there is despair, there is sacrifice, and not a little romantic tension within the little love triangle set up in the preceding book. The best part is that everyone has an important role to play, and no one gets left out. While the ending takes care of the loose strings, it's not too pat and perfect as to seem gooey and fake.
Spectacular fight scenes, witty dialogues, gritty characters, and a plot that doesn't quit. Sounds like the perfect book to hunker down with, don't you think?
By Sabrina F Ahmad
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