I was the second child.

That’s precisely how my father used to introduce me to the uncles and aunties who visited us in the evenings and it made me smile every single time, because he smiled when he said it.

Some were new in the city; others had been posted out and were ready to relocate. The ritual was the same every time. Abu would receive a phone call enquiring if they were home. He would extend an enthusiastic invitation and let Ami know that we were expecting company of Col and Mrs so & so, or Major and Mrs so & so. Ami would then ask if the question that interested us most; if the children would be coming. Depending on the reply, we were ordered to completely finish our remaining homework, tidy up our rooms and ourselves, followed by instructions for the orderlies to get tea preparations in order and turn on the drawing room lights.

Sometime later we were asked to present ourselves, greet them nicely, and sit with them. We would then answer the usual questions of which grade we were in and whether we like our school. Sometimes the conversations continued and sometimes not, but we were to sit there for a good ten to fifteen minutes and smile politely. If there were children, we were to escort them to our rooms, age wise, or the lawn and stay out of the parent’s hair till the time the tea trolley arrived, for which we were summoned again.

It was an unsaid rule to serve the guests, and let them eat in peace. We were strictly not allowed to touch anything on that carefully laid out, very inviting spread. This was something that seemed unfair to us for years, until we understood the true meaning of hospitality.

Shortly after tea, the guests would leave and we would then go and check what all we can eat from the yummy spread. Most of the time, there was lots. The guests were usually, always nice enough not to finish anything. Another thing learnt about etiquette.

We were never ever asked if we would like to come in and meet them, or if we were in the mood for company, or if we would like to stay in our room and not socialise. Never. And it never occurred to us either, because we enjoyed it. This and so many other mundane rituals. The breakfast table ritual with Abu reading the newspaper while we waited for our bus, and for many years, the most adventurous fauji truck.

The family lunch on the dining table ritual where narrating incidences at school was something we looked forward to, and were expected to do so instead of shrugging the question of by mumbling “school was ok”. The evening tea in the freshly watered lawn after Ami Abu’s religious daily afternoon nap, with the pedestal fan, french fries and pappars, and the sweet smell of jasmine. Playing with the neighbours in the streets or cycling around the colony for hours without a chaperon and making a beeline for home as soon as the Azan for Maghrib was heard.

The dinner on the dastarkhwan on the floor with the 9pm Khabarnama. These daily interactions left little room for any important information to go missing. The fee deadlines were not missed, the examination date sheet and PTC’s were always known by our parents. Our current friends, which new class mates have joined and who have left, which of our teachers like us and which ones we don’t like was common knowledge for the entire family. We were asked how we were allocating our pocket money, and which sibling needs help in Maths. Which boys planned a fight after school and which girls have started wearing make up. Any inconsistency in our stories was caught immediately and we knew we could not even try and lie about anything because that would have serious consequences. Ami Abu talked about family matters, and we knew who all our relatives were in all parts of the world, and who had how many children. We were always taken along to visit them during holidays, whether we had company or not, whether we wanted to or not.

Over all these years there has been a major shift in this culture, even in our own household, particularly when it comes to family time rituals.

It changed when the meal time routine became less important because schedules clashed, when the TV room vanished and every bedroom had a TV installed in it, when the children were given a choice of deciding whether they want to greet the guests or stay in their rooms, and when family time became a burden, a source of “boredom”.

Now we hear pleas of distraught parents at PTMs in school saying “We’ve provided our children with every possible facility but somehow they are still not satisfied. We don’t know what we should do?” That’s precisely what they should not do. Don’t provide every single facility.

Let them sleep under the fan in June. Let them travel on the school bus. Make them tidy their rooms when you are planning to host and make them serve the guests. Tell them to wait for the guests to eat before filling up their plates or leaping for the last samosa. Listen to them at meal time. Ask them how school was, even if the answer is the same every day. Make them eat the vegetable they don’t like every once in a while instead of ordering food every time they complain. Make them learn the value of accommodating others by letting them wait after school and swimming, ask them to get public transport, or wait outside a sibling’s school.

Yes, times change. Yes, it is absolutely unfair to expect the next generation to abide by the same rules and routines as the previous one.

And a vehement yes that children should be let free to discover their interests and have the right to express their opinion. We were not given that freedom and that was perhaps not right. We were not permitted to discuss politics openly, or go out after 7pm, nor have sleepovers. All our telephone calls were on the landline, in the family room. Computer usage had a time limit and visits to friends had a strict, unchangeable curfew. Yes, in hindsight, it was a military regime. As a parent, I would do many things differently, because times have changed. Every era requires its own set of rules of parenting, and general living, so things should evolve.

But not the mealtime ritual and asking how their day was. I won’t like to change that. Would you?