A cool breeze, the soft humming of bees amongst the petunias and delphiniums interspersed with the melodious notes of the yellow fluted bulbuls had lulled me into a wonderful relaxing reverie that was rudely interrupted by the raucous cawing of a crow on the terrace wall. Muttering angrily, I tried to reconnect with the severed dream, when the advancing sound of heels heralded the arrival of my better half, who announced that perhaps we would be receiving guests soon. I was about to comment that crows making a ruckus on roof tops was a myth and the notion coming from a well-educated liberal female was, to say the least, disappointing, when the mistress of my hearth and home informed me that she had just received a telephone call from her sister, who had already embarked upon the bus for Islamabad.

I was overjoyed at the news, since the arrival of visitors always stirs fond childhood memories. Our home in Lahore was always adorned by visitors. Many of these came accompanied by their families and stayed for weeks filling the house with fun and laughter and never did I see my grandparents or parents ever complain about expenditure or lack of privacy, even when every bed room on the premises was brimming with people.

My father’s cousin twice removed, who lived on his farm in Rahimyar Khan was one regular summer visitor. He was a retired Major from the pre independence British-Indian Army and the move to Lahore was nothing less than a model of flawless logistic planning. His arrival and departure were always on a specific date of the calendar, which was a great convenience since we could then adjust our annual move to the hills. The Major Sahib had a large family, which would arrive from the railway stations in at least five fully loaded ‘tongas’ piled high with humans, luggage and gifts. His stay of thirty days (not a day less or more) was unforgettably riotous, since he was blest with a devilish creativity for practical jokes.

Another regular visitor came from Karachi, where he was leading a retired life following a strenuous government job. He and my dad were classmates in the Delhi Anglo-Arabic College and our families were very close. This gentleman was a ‘pukka sahib’ and when he was not off to the club with my uncle, he would set up a ‘patchisi’ (an almost extinct pastime also referred to as ‘chausar’, where wooden pawns are moved on a cross like board, made of cloth) or a card game called ‘turap chaal’. This activity was riotously funny, as both middle-aged contestants became children once again, to the extent that my grandmother had to intervene and lay down the law. The arrival of Qazi ‘chacha’ was a much anticipated event and his departure after a few weeks left us sad.

Our aunts and cousins from the walled city would frequently arrive to spend weekends with us. These visits were hallmarked by an evening game of ‘hide and seek’ with everyone in the family participating (my grandparents would usually become referees in disputes, which cropped up during all this hiding and seeking). Our compound was ideally suited for this sport as it contained a profusion of trees and shrubbery, which offered cover along with the possibility that it harbored a snake or centipede. It is now that I realize the utter recklessness of our childhood days and the risk we courted in crawling into these bushes.

It is perhaps the pressures of a fast, competitive lifestyle and social change that has altered the concept of visitors and visiting. Whereas, one could walk into a home without notice, doing so today is more than likely to invite frowns and displeasure. The practice of friends and relatives staying for weeks on end with nary a raised eyebrow from the host, are gone. Socialising has assumed a totally new format – speedy, loud and selective, where one has to ‘call before visiting’. As far as people from my generation are concerned, they can always sit and nostalgically reminisce on a time when the adage ‘mi casa, su casa’ held genuine meaning.