So, there we were, taking a leisurely stroll through a vibrant middle-class locality in one of the smaller towns, being nosy and peeping through windows. We were on a mission to see what was happening around dining tables. Turns out, there’s a whole world of change tucked away around those tables.
In the first window, we spot a family of four sitting cross legged around their dining table. The floor is their dining table. They’re all waiting to be served by the lady of the house, who bends down and serves steaming hot rice, with a spot of ghee onto those gleaming stainless steel thalis. Looks like it’s a South Indian family who still keep to their age-old traditions and ways of life. Everyone is waiting quietly and expectantly to be served, when their turn comes. Eating is a serious affair, not too much conversation, just a focus on the food.
Moving ahead and glancing through another window, what unfolds is heartwarming and inviting. A group of four friends are having a blast sitting on the bed as they please, chit chatting over garam-a-garam chai and some bhajjias placed on a Dastarkhwan. The bed is their dining table, looks like. The atmosphere is charged with the palpable energy of friendship, and the room is alive with the symphony of laughter. We can’t help but smile at the beauty of human connection unfolding here.
Next door, the bond between siblings shines brilliantly in the living space. They sit side-by-side on the sofa, their eyes glued to the television screen as they passionately cheer for Team India. As Kohli takes his stance, their collective hope hangs in the air like an electric charge. But it’s not just the cricket that has them captivated. On the sofa-table, a bucket overflowing with buttery popcorn and slices of piping hot pizza forms the centrepiece of all their excitement.
Things take a modern twist a few doors ahead. Through yet another window, we glimpse a dining area straight out of a lifestyle magazine. It’s all sleek glass tables with matching metal chairs, looks like they’ve imported Western dining rituals into their home. A little girl takes snaps of the delicacies on the table, while a man takes the prized spot at the head of the table, as the authority figure of the home. The family is passing dishes to each other, sharing food, helping themselves with the servings, and all the while, they are having a hearty conversation. They’re not just sharing a meal; they’re sharing their lives, their thoughts and their feelings. Amidst the aroma of food, they let each other into their worlds.
We thought we had reached the end of out walk, but then we saw some more uses of the dining table in the next home, showing the versatility of this piece of furniture. For members of the family, the dining table is one of their friends, as it has given each one of them a reason to get engaged with it. For kids, it is their homework table. For mothers, it is their command centre to sort out groceries and hold all the pickle and jam jars. Fathers are usually seen reading newspapers and siblings make it a battlefield for their ludo game.
From the floor to the bed to the sofa table to the dining table, it has been a long journey of change, of eating habits and mindsets. From women’s duty to serve food to their husbands and children, to everyone sharing and eating together. The dining table at home reminds us that food, family and bonding hold a special place even in our ever-changing world. It’s a story worth savouring, house by house, window by window.
Mahez Kursi-Maze ki hai nahi yeh dastaan,
Hai yeh kahani har ghar ki, badalti aadaton ki,
Zameen se Dining table tak ka safar,
Jidhar lagti hai hassi tha ha kehar pahar
(This is just not a tale about chairs and tables,
It’s the story of every home, of evolving habits,
From the traditional floor to the modern dining table,
A journey that warms the heart. Where laughter and joy find their way).
(Hamsini Shivakumar is a Semiotician and founder of Leapfrog Strategy. Naheed Akhtar is a senior research analyst at Leapfrog Strategy.)