The importance of setting the table - a prelude to the shared experience of a meal
I grew up in the 70s, a time that now seems like a leisurely stroll through the past. Those years afforded us the luxury of time, particularly within our tight-knit family of four. My mother reminded us of table manners — chewing with mouths closed, using only the right hand to eat and gracefully tearing a chapati, saying "please" and "thank you." We were expected to finish everything that was served on our plates my father (a pilot in the Air Force) spoke to us about books, history and his experiences. Together, we'd set the table and clear it afterward - it was a shared responsibility.
Historically, we Indians have a dining etiquette. We are supposed to wash our hands before the meal (as we eat with our fingers), we wait for elders to be seated and start and there's a sense of logic and aesthetics in the way food is served.
It's true that life today moves faster, leaving little room for simple customs. In fact, our manner of eating today might seem a little unrefined as we often resort to eating while watching television after a long day, or grab a veg wrap for lunch at work.
Yet, I would say there is an inherent need to stylise or even ritualise our act of eating. As Mrs Beeton* (one of the most famous cookbook writers of the 19th century) said, all creatures eat, but "man only dines".
Therefore, this makes it all the more essential to carve out space for rituals, even if only during one meal. Let it be dinner, a tranquil postscript to the day's frenzy.
The first act is the table setting, a prelude to the experience that follows. Placing plates just so, arranging cutlery and glasses — these gestures hold the promise of togetherness. Each family has its way, a unique fingerprint in the tableau of domestic life.
Within this tableau, conversation flourishes, especially when children are part of the scene. Courtesy finds its voice, the art of listening blooms, and words are spoken with politeness. It's in these shared moments that we bond with each other.
In the end, what emerges is contentment. Gaze back on childhood meals, and the result is often a heartfelt smile, memories washing over like waves on the shore.
Hence, it's the table that takes center stage — a prelude to an experience that lingers. Its setting lays the groundwork for an everyday masterpiece, where the cast is family, and the script is love and unity.
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