“Lunch is ready!” Her shrill voice somehow managed to reach all corners of the house no matter where she stood. “Lunch is ready, run and come, I don’t want it getting cold over here!” she sang again. I ran up to the kitchen, and sat cross-legged on the floor, waiting for Aunt to hand over the plate.
“What do you think you are doing?” she said in a third shrill tone. This tone usually meant something had gone miserably wrong and I immediately stood up, not knowing what went wrong this time. I had washed my hands, Mother had told me to remember to do that invariably whenever I was to be at Aunt’s place. “What?” I said feebly, because for some unknown reason, Aunt always gave me the creeps. She was thirty, and I was only seven years old. “At our house, mister, we don’t sit on the dirty floors. Try that when you go back home; now go to the dining hall and sit at a chair,” she said, handing me a napkin. I looked at the napkin, unsure of what was to be done with it. I wiped my hands with it, but Aunt glared at me even sterner. I was clueless. Nothing such ever happened at home. At home, there was one plate, Mother and I sat on the ground, and we both hogged from it as fast as possible; it was a kind of race for us. For every morsel that Mother fed me, she used to take one bite. That way I knew we both ate equally, though I always knew she fed me more than what she ate herself.
Aunt was still glaring at me, and I, completely clueless of what to do with the napkin, sneezed into it. She looked at me with utter disbelief. “Did you just sneeze into that?” she shouted. “Tell me you did not.” My eyes were swollen now, she snatched the napkin and through it into the basket where all the dirty laundry was kept. She handed me a new napkin. “Now go!” she cried. I ran into the dining hall with the napkin, and sat on the table. Cousin Sam was already sitting there, and he eyed me slowly, and waved his hands to show that I was to kind of wear the napkin like he did. He looked like a baby, who wasn’t sure if he could eat without spilling all the food on his clothes. The idea of wearing a napkin to eat didn’t make sense to me at all. But then Uncle was wearing one too, and I thought When at Rome, do as Romans do. So I wrapped it somehow, though it looked rather clumsy and did not fit as well as it did on Sam.
Food was served, and I was almost about to eat when Uncle said in a stern voice, “Let us say our prayers.” And in a blink, all of them had closed their eyes and murmured in a slow voice,
“Bless us O Lord,
And these Thy gifts,
Which we are about to receive,
From Thy bounty.”
I closed my eyes, but then I had no clue what this meant and I was definitely not going to say them before eating. Why should I? Mother never did, neither did Father. As they said Amen, Sam eyed at me that we could start eating now. And then all of a sudden, Aunt shrieked again. This shriek was akin to what she did if there was a calamity, not like an earthquake, but rather one like the gas was over in the cylinder, or a rat was lurking in the attic. I looked up to see all of them sternly gazing at me.
“What happened now?” I asked.
“Mister, what do you think you are doing?” she retorted.
“What?” I asked now, meekly; her voice definitely meant I had done something wrong.
Cousin Sam whispered softly, “Eat with the spoon.”
“What?” I looked at him. “Why did you make me wash my hands then?”
Aunt looked at me, as if I were an apple which just fell from a mango tree.
“Go wash your hands again, come back, and eat with the spoon,” she said sternly.
I walked off.
And that was how I got my first lesson of mixing with people who presumed to have a higher status than us in society.