The almost wholesale urbanization of society, which we see today, was only a distant possibility, and the places familiar to us these days as hotels and lodging houses were not known. The words occurring in the Old Testament, viz., “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels themselves” had a very valid application in those days. The unlooked for and uninvited guest at that time was very often a way rarer overtaken by the night and looking for shelter, to issue forth on his journey the next morning with fresh vigour after a night’s rest and a little sharing of potluck under an honest man’s roof. He did not look for or criticize the lack of social graces in his host and was grateful for whatever attention he could get from a person he might never have hoped to meet a second time in his life.
But entertaining in the formality-ridden, largely urbanized society of today is an entirely different proposition. From being a moral duty, it has been converted into a social obligation or even a means of business-promotion. The stranger is, therefore, naturally excluded from the prevailing compass of hospitality. He does not fit into the picture. If he finds himself stranded in an unknown place at an inconvenient hour, the best he can do is to look for a public place like a hotel etc where he can make himself as comfortable as his pocket would permit.
But even though the total strangers can no longer hope to enjoy the hospitality of a host to who he has not been properly introduced, there is the uninvited guest who poses a peculiar problem. More often than not, he is an acquaintance who cannot be unceremoniously thrown out, someone who unilaterally insists on resurrecting from the oblivion of faded memories an old friendship which has almost dried up with the passage of time, a poet keen to unburden him of the aftereffects of a visitation of the Muse, or a relation who is not particularly welcome but with whom certain appearances have to be kept up.! Sometimes it is a casual acquaintance that, out of sheer fellow-feeling, thinks nothing of dropping on you unawares, and may be, surprising you at some task requiring concentrated attention which you had deliberately left over to be attended to at leisure. Any of these types is enough to put maximum strain on the ingenuity and good grace of the host.
There are various situations particularly favourable for the uninvited guest and several ways in which he succeeds in foisting himself upon an unwilling, though tongue-tied host. One place where you are most exposed to being frequently forced to have the pleasure of their company is a big city. Every day, all sorts of people from far and near converge on big cities for pleasure, on business or on trips combining both purposes, and a majority among them finds it more convenient (and cheaper) to put up for the duration of their stay—sometimes extending beyond a full week—with friends or even with those who would not confess to more than nodding acquaintance with the visitor. It does not matter much even if the said visitor has to refresh his would be host’s memory which has gone blank at a look at the former. The visitor will manage to get past him and then be extra-obsequious to the lady of the house and oozing with affection towards the children so that the poor things are left with no other course except to accept the new arrival within fifteen minutes of his landing in their house as “uncle”. By the following morning, the host may be sure the visitor of a day before has won complete acceptance as a member of the family. This is the unmistakable impressions anyone will gather from watching the way the new arrival is ordering about the servant-boy or even the host’s own young children.
As the host is preparing to leave for work, and trying to figure out to himself the chances of the nightly apparition vanishing as it came, the poor man is suddenly brought back to earth and its hard realities by a friendly thump on the back accompanied with an effusive compliment on his good habit of early rising; and even before the compliment has sunk in, he is asked either to take a day off to take the visitor on a sightseeing trip (which is the least he may be expected to do) or to send back the car immediately he has landed in office so that the “uncle” can take out his “dear” nephews and nieces for a nice outing which is the thing they have been missing for long. (The children have in all probability been suitably briefed earlier.) And in such a situation, whatever the poor host may be privately thinking, he is less than a man if he is not a sport. This is only the first of a series of minor and major irritations he should be prepared to put up with during the next few hours or days unless he is rash enough to be thoroughly unmindful of the bad name he is sure to get if he refuses to entertain his uninvited guest in the proper manner.
Then there is the extra-informal friend who, one fine evening, drops in with the grouse that it is ages since he has seen you and goes on to remark that he was beginning to wonder whether you were in this world at all any longer. While you are mumbling an apology, he has already made himself comfortable in your favourite chair and started taunting you about your absentmindedness or stinginess in failing to offer your visitor tea etc. It does not matter whether it is time for tea; most probably it is your servant’s hour off but, smitten with regret, you offer to go yourself to the kitchen and make tea when the visitor comes down a little from his high perch and condescends to wait for his cup till the servant returns. Meanwhile you are expected to keep your guest in good humour and high spirits by listening to the stories he has to retail. You do not find it possible to indulge in even secretly regretting the personal chores you very much wanted to attend to, the letters wanting to be written, the calls waiting to be made, etc. because at the first sign of your mentally sliding away, you are deluged with seemingly anxious enquiries after the general state of your mental and physical health and overwhelmed with suggestions on the ways to keep worry and absentmindedness at bay. Gradually the evening wears off and by the time your guest has had his cup of tea, has told you for the hundredth time how much he enjoys spending an evening with you, and has advised you for the thousandth time not to allow yourself to become a recluse and to keep meeting friends as often as possible, you are already looking upon the evening as lost
Perhaps the worst and the most despicable representative of the species is the distant relation who considers it his privilege to surprise you at any hour and as often as he chooses. He is most difficult to shake off and the most persistent of the lot. You have been through a particularly heavy day at the office and, returning home at a late hour, are looking forward to shedding your worries in the relaxed and intimate atmosphere of a happy home but as you reach the doorstep, you find the same air of formality which you have just left behind. You are told that so and so has been waiting for you at the dinner table and that you should change and hurry up. The whole picture changes, But to keep up appearances, you force an unwilling smile and go and greet him. Now, for the rest of the evening and may be for a few evenings more, you are almost cut off from the family as the precious visitor will insist on having your exclusive attention all the time. You are nicely fixed up. Though the visitor may not be welcome to your respect or esteem, but he has invited himself to your hospitality, and unless you are a person blessed with extraordinary nerve, you are in no position to show him the door.
These are only a few examples of unbidden guests. In case you can put up with them with a cheerful voice, you are a good man. But in case your natural cheerfulness wears thin and you show the slightest irritation, you may be sure that your fame will spread as a stingy, haughty person whose heart is an island cut off from the rest of the world.