As the title suggested, the door bell rang. The compound gate had earlier creaked open and I knew people were coming in. But then I was hoping that they'd go right around the side of the house to visit the tenants that lived upstairs. But then the doorbell rang here, logic dictated that they were guests for us. I drearily raise myself from somewhere in the deep recesses of the sofa that from ages of having people plonk themselves on it ended up having deep recesses in the first place.
You open the door to find a twice removed cousin and his family grinning at you. Forcing the muscles of your face into a semblance of a smile, you beckon them in with words of (what you hope are) welcome. You frantically phone your mom who has gone out to gossip with the local maamis about the price of the potato and tell her to rush back home ASAP. Then you wade through a stream of curses to wake up your dad, who once awake, gets the point soon enough and rushes out to greet them.
In such encounters, it is advisable to always leave the TV on. However, the volume is turned down to a ultra-low level so as to not disturb the conversation, which proceeds like so:
"So, you are a mechanical engineer now? Why didn't you take Computer Science or IT, which has better scope?"
"I am a Computer Science Engineer (technically of course)".
"You must be hunting for a job now I suppose".
"No, I already got one. Am waiting for their call".
"Oh Software company ah?"
"Very good", says the wife.
"Software is an unstable job. These days they fire without reason. It will all end in a few years, why did you take computer science?", says the husband.
I smile, but I am internally banging my head.
Experts in the art of small talk all expound on the importance of the muted TV. When the conversation becomes too tough to maintain, you gracefully withdraw yourself from it and abstractedly gaze at the TV screen. You pretend you have a mild interest in watching Federer thrash some player whose name is full of adjacent Ds, Js, Ys, Ks, and an apostrophe thrown in for good measure. Imagine going around with an apostrophe in your name. Anyway, you gracefully watch the tennis match on the screen and let others develop the conversation.
However, you soon realize your opinion is expected because conversation has swung around to the tennis match. Too many people have withdrawn 'gracefully' from the lead converser's extempore on the political situation in Zimbabwe. Not to be outdone, he swings matters from Robert Mugabe to Mahesh Bhupathi in the same breath and asks me about whether so-and-so seeded so-and-so will make a wild card entry to so-and-so round in the so-and-yawn. You realize you need to say something to avoid embarrassing yourself, because you've been so graceful in withdrawing from the conversation that everyone's assumed you're an ardent fan of lawn tennis. I start to mumble something about so-and-so's back-hand not coming good about which I thought I heard someone say... Federer serves a particularly vicious ace to which the apostrophe exhibits all the reactions of a cement pillar. You take the opportunity to look at the screen and let your answer trail into thinness.
The man then jumps through a warp hole from Wimbledon to whether the 3G system for mobile phones will get implemented in India or not. You look up in surprise. Thank god you listened to pilpa expound on 3G when she did. For the first time conversing about a known subject, you realize the guy's barking his head off. You go on to say a bit about mobile phone portability and everyone looks at you with wonder. Wow, this boy knows so much they think.
Federer wins the match to accompanying celebrations and the conversation swings back to tennis. Wanting to grab back the he-knows-a-lot position from me, he asks me a strategic question designed to put wonder into people's minds. "Do you know when the final of Wimbledon is held?"
"It is held after all the other matches are over", I reply.
With a you-can't-get-away-with-that-young-man smirk, he asks, "No, tell me what date is the final held on?"
Put off, I say I don't know. Who the hell knows what date the coming Sunday is?
With a triumphant smile he announces that all Wimbledon matches are held on July 7th. "Always! He cries with a thump on the table for effect. That is the culture of Wimbledon. The final is always held on the 7th of July regardless of whatever happens in the other matches!". He sits back with a triumphant smile. I don't have the heart to tell him that Wimbledon is always scheduled to end on the first Sunday of July.
Small talk having been completed to heart's content, the true purpose of the visit reveals itself. After a little few No, no, not at all neededs and Please, please, you shouldn't say nos and some secretive husband-wife gesturings (among both parties), the process ends. Everyone is relieved and they drink up their now cold coffee. Having no further need to make small talk, the visitors decide to bid farewell. The bread-winner kick-starts the bike, and the sincere wife gets on behind him. The three-year-old son gets in front of his dad, proudly holding one of my (or my brother's) old abandoned toys. With one last snippet about the political situation in west bank, they speed off.