It was a warm summer’s afternoon as Roshini drove her way through the maddening traffic, hoping she would arrive before her son stepped out of the airport. Ankush was a bright young man, tall and lean, with soft brown hair, and usually the most talkative one in the room.
Ankush was pursuing his master's in business administration from a prestigious University in Pune. He stayed in the hostel and enjoyed a large circle of friends. His parents lived in Gurgaon and did their best for their only son.
'Are you on the way?' Kunal asked his wife over the phone.
'I've just parked the car,' Roshini replied, gripping the phone tightly and making her way through the crowd, heading towards the airport's arrival gate.
'Aren't you early?' her husband asked.
'I know. I get it. You can't control your excitement. Neither can I,' Kunal grinned. 'Keep me posted.'
Roshini smiled and cut the call.
Since Roshini had about half an hour to kill, she decided to buy herself an iced tea from the stall while waiting for her blue-eyed boy to arrive. She kept checking her phone for any messages or texts she might receive from Ankush. As she stood in line waiting for her turn, there was a woman ahead of her. She was dressed in a blue kurta, sweating profusely because of the treacherous heat.
The woman heaved a sigh of relief as she bought a bottle of water and stepped out of the line.
'The weather has been horrible,' The woman said to Roshini, gulping some water.
'I know. We are waiting for the monsoon. Sometimes I wished we lived in Pune. My son tells me the weather there is fantastic,' Roshini smiled.
'Your son lives in Pune?' The woman asked.
'Yes, I'm here to pick him up,' Roshini beamed as she sipped her iced tea.
'Oh. I'm here to pick up my husband. He's flying in from Pune too,' The woman smiled.
'Indigo?' They sang out, nodding and giggling.
'I'm Rita,' the woman said confidently.
'Roshini,' she smiled, putting her right hand forward. 'My husband and I are so excited to have Ankush home after so many months. Even though we are working parents, we miss him the most at our family dinner hour.'
Rita frowned. 'What's so great about dinner time?'
'In our home, our dinner hour is like a family tradition … a family ritual. It's something we thrive on. Do you have family dinners?'
'No. We usually save those for special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries,' Rita replied.
'Oh! For us, it's the exact opposite. When my son was growing up, the dinner hour served as a touchstone, symbolizing our importance to one another in good times and bad. Dinner was a time for slowing down, sharing the news, airing problems, rehashing today, and planning for tomorrow. It has been a time for our children to learn how to converse, to practice the invaluable skills of polite communication. I feel families need to routinely share dinner in whatever way works for them.'
'But how on earth do you do it every day?' Rita asked curiously. 'Doesn't it feel like a burden sometimes?'
'Well, I make the family dinner, everyone's responsibility. Ever since Ankush was small, he always helped me lay the table, and everyone helped clear up afterwards,' Roshini explained. 'We try to avoid any interruptions during dinner. There is no screen time. We don't attend phone calls either. And we all try to create a happy atmosphere and avoid critical comments, teasing, or difficult questions. I have been doing this from the beginning of our marriage. In fact, I was brought up the same way. My mother was very particular about our dinner time. And I guess it's just rubbed off on me.'
'This all sounds so idyllic. I can’t imagine how I would manage such a transformation to our dinnertime,' Rita replied. 'At my house, dinner is the exact opposite of what you are talking about. My husband will want to watch the news. My children, Sanjana and Suraj, don't eat without a screen. She watches Youtube videos, and Suraj binges on Netflix. I am left hanging, so I sit with my husband and eat dinner to that day's feed of disasters.'
'Oh, there’s Ankush,' Roshini said excitedly with a huge smile lighting up her face as she admired her son walking through the arrival gate. She couldn’t wait to wrap her arms around him and smother him with hugs and kisses.
'Wow! He's pretty tall,’ Rita smiled. ‘Anyway, it was lovely meeting you. I admire your dedication to your family dinnertime.’
'Thank you so much. Thank you for giving me company,' Roshini smiled and disappeared into the crowd.
Ritu arrived home by late evening. The cook had already finished preparing the dinner. Her mother-in-law was sipping on tea, busy gossiping over the phone. Her children, Suraj and Sanjana, were glued to the PS5, playing Street Fighter.
'Guys! I'm home!' Ritu called out to her kids. They completely ignored her, lost in their gaming worlds.
'Oh, hi, Mummy,' they mumbled distractedly.
Ritu sighed and rolled her eyes. She freshened up, went to the kitchen to see what was cooked for dinner, and helped herself to a glass of water. She thought about Roshini and wondered if they were having a family dinner. 'Maybe I should give it a shot. Roshini seemed so positive about this whole concept of eating dinner together as a family. It gave me such a happy, warm feeling.'
She then decided to call up Girish, her husband. 'What time are you home?'
'In about half an hour,' Girish replied. 'After you picked me up from the airport and dropped me to work, I've not had a minute to myself.'
'Well, you were gone for a week. I'm sure work piled up,' Ritu replied. 'I'm going to get the dinner organized. I'm looking forward to seeing you, and I think the children are too if I can just unplug them from their screen.’
Soon enough, Girish walked through the front door. 'Ritu! I'm home.'
'We're in the dining room,' she called out.
Girish left his briefcase on the sofa and walked past the drawing-room and into the dining room.
'What's going on?' he asked, looking confused. ‘What’s the special occasion?'
'Umm... Nothing… I just thought we could all start eating dinner together,' Ritu smiled. 'Go freshen up and join us.'
'But the news is going to start soon,' Girish said.
'The news can wait. The kids have been waiting for you. We all have been waiting for you.'
'But I'm tired. And I want to eat my dinner the way I eat every day,' Girish replied. 'Give me my dinner in my room Ritu.'
‘I want to watch TV, Mummy,’ Suraj complained.
Ritu sighed and served her husband dinner. ‘There’s no point trying this today. What was I even thinking? Girish is certainly tired after all; he has had such a long day,’ she thought to herself as she made her way to the bedroom with a plate of food in her hand. ‘Maybe I’ll just try again.’
'Darling, you’ve been away for a week. It would be lovely if you could join us for dinner. Even though I know you are tired,’ Ritu requested lovingly.
Girish grunted as he undid the buttons of his shirt.
'The kids have missed you. They were so excited when they got to know you were coming home today. We were expecting you next week.’
‘Well, I finished the work off quickly. And I am tired, Ritu. I just need some space,’ Girish said.
‘Dad, aren’t you going to join us at the dinner table?’ Sanjana asked, popping her head into the bedroom. ‘If you’re not coming, then Suraj and I are going to watch some TV.’
Girish smiled. He couldn’t say no to his doting daughter. 'Ok, I'll join you at the dinner table.’
As everyone took their seat in their respective places, Ritu looked at their faces. Her son looked grumpy. Her daughter looked lost. Her mother-in-law was confused. And her husband looked exhausted.
'I know it's been a really long day for everyone. But from now on, we all are going to eat a family dinner together every day,' Ritu announced.
'Mummy! Are you serious?' Suraj exclaimed.
'But WHHHYYY?' Sanjana protested. ‘I thought we are just eating together today because Dad is home from his trip.’
'Please don't interrupt me when I'm talking,' she said. 'Eating a family dinner together is something we need to do. We need to at least try. We are a family. And I feel we miss out on all the little things in each of our lives because we are all so busy in our own worlds. This is a time that we can talk about our day and tell our stories. From tomorrow onwards, you kids are going to set the table. That will be your contribution to the family dinner.'
The family ate their meal quietly. But it didn't matter to Ritu. She had the time to tell them about the lovely woman she had met at the airport while waiting for Girish. She explained how Roshini had described her family dinners and how important they were to their family’s well-being. I think that maybe if we try to make this a habit, we may grow stronger and closer as a family. I hope you all will give this family project a try.
The children sulked, but her husband saw the positive aspects of her request.
What mattered was that at least Ritu was trying to teach her children to experience family time. She decided to persist with this new ritual.
A month later, Ritu arrived home later than usual. Her husband was already home, watching the news. She entered the house looking tired and worn out. Her kids were busy playing amongst themselves.
'Mummy, you're home,' Sanjana smiled. 'Come, let's eat.'
'You guys haven't eaten dinner?' She frowned.
'No. The kids insisted we must wait for you,' Girish replied and turned off the TV.
'WOW! Give me a sec, and I'll join you in the dining room,' Ritu replied and went to the bathroom to freshen up.
A few minutes later, Ritu felt her lips inadvertently curl into a smile when she saw each family member seated at the dinner table. She took a seat as they began to eat and spoke about their day. Ritu could feel her fatigue lifting. She joyfully joined in the chitter-chatter and enjoyed her time with her loved ones.
'You know what,' Ritu announced. 'I just wanted to say thank you.'
'For what?' Girsh asked.
'I’m so grateful that you all helped me create a Family Dinner for us. I think eating a family dinner is the perfect remedy after a long hard day.’