Recently we travelled to another city in Pakistan and returned to our home late in the evening. While we were unpacking and getting the kids ready for bed there was a knock at the door. My wife opened it to find our landlord’s wife standing there with a tray of food – rice, kebabs, and sweet custard – in her hands. She bowed, handed it over, and quietly left. We never asked for it – she just knew that we had been travelling, had not had any time to make food, and were therefore in need. This kind of instinctive, unassuming hospitality is entirely typical of Pakistani people.
The thing is, handing back an empty plate is considered rude in this culture (as it is in other Muslim cultures, I believe). So once we had eaten the kebabs and rice (which were predictably delicious) and washed the plate, my wife put some chocolate brownies on it and sent it back down.
Unwittingly, we had started a game of hospitality tennis. Our landlord’s wife felt obliged to send food back up – rice and lentil curry – so my wife returned the plate with a cake on it. Pizza came up next, wrapped in clingfilm, and home-made cookies went back down again. Hospitality was bouncing back and forth like a tennis ball at Wimbledon. One day our landlord’s son got his exam results so my wife baked him a cake and sent it down, along with another plate of brownies – the hospitality equivalent of an overhead smash – and we thought that was the end of it…
…that is, until rice, chicken wings and salad came back up the stairs again, followed by a plate of samosas.
I don’t know when this match of hospitality will be over, but this I do know: I’m getting fat.