Jiya put the plates on their six-seater mahogany dining table. The overflowing sleeves of her tawny sequined gown got stuck between the table and the plates.
At first, she thought of just giving in to the ire and yanking out the sleeve in one motion. Her friend, Maya, gawked at her from her chair, but Jiya ignored her.
Who cared about the expensive Bone China plates that had hung around in their family for nine generations?
“Don’t you dare, Jiya!”, her mother, sniffed the sadistic idea bubbling in her daughter’s head and whispered a statutory warning through gritted teeth.
Jiya had no choice. She carefully lifted the plates with the other hand and pulled out the sleeve.
The dress abundantly covered every inch of her body and then overspilled. It was the cause of her chagrin, tonight. It belonged to her elder sister, Rhea, who was two sizes bigger than her.
Maya looked at Sam, Rhea’s friend, sitting across her on the dining table. Both the guests in the house carried an awkward, uneasy expression that they could not hide. She then pulled her gaze to the family photos carefully stacked on the matching mahogany cabinet.
Jiya avoided her mother’s glare and returned to the kitchen.
Rhea was putting the freshly baked flatbreads in a basket, looking far too relaxed in night pyjamas. Seeing her sister busy, Jiya grabbed the bowl of a special mutton curry called rogan josh and pudding crafted especially for the occasion by her mother and headed out.
It was June, the thirtieth.
The Sharmas had had this peculiar tradition running in the family for the past five generations. When half the year was over, they would each pick up an attire from the closet of a family member and dress up. The idea was to put oneself in another’s shoes and be grateful to them. Jiya’s great-great-grandfather had named the occasion the Sharman Thanksgiving.
Five years back, a twelve-year-old Rhea had sported her mother’s turquoise knee-length dress. Just that, it was rather a full length for Rhea. That time, an eight-year-old Jiya had put on her father’s tie and hung it around her neck like a scarf.
Two years back, Jiya had sported her mother’s baby pink scarf, until it almost got burned when she went to pull out the muffins from the oven.
Their mother usually borrowed something from their father’s closet. It was only her father who was allowed to pick up accessories instead of full attires, obviously. Though, he had once seized their mother’s maroon cardigan and almost torn it after trying to shove his forty-eight inched torso in that tiny piece of clothing.
Learning from their mistakes, and a lot of bruises, the Sharmas never picked up each other’s footwear. Jiya had tried doing it though. Flopping around in her mother’s one-inch heels as a nine-year-old, Jiya had tripped fifteen times throughout the Sharman Thanksgiving Day. That was the end of the tradition for her feet, as she knew it.
This year, Rhea had picked up Jiya for the swapping. While Jiya donned her elder sister’s most expensive gown, Rhea was sporting Jiya’s most comfortable pyjamas. Because that’s who Jiya was.
While Rhea liked mingling with people, Jiya loved the comfort of her room more than anything else. Rhea would go out shopping with their mother every month and that would mean a day of complete, unabridged solitude for Jiya.
Right now, Jiya was smoking green eyeing Rhea in her favourite PJs, regretting woefully at her own selection of the orange tarp instead.
Rhea brought the basket of flatbreads out to go with the rogan josh. She was adept at making them now. Learning that her children had invited their friends to the meal, Mrs Sharma had gone all out and prepared Chicken Gilafi Kebab as well. She placed them along with Rhea’s favourite potato and cheese nuggets on a lavish white Bone China platter, careful not to stain the white embroidered top she wore today.
It was a gift from Mr Sharma and she had paired it with his oversized blue trousers, folded at the hem so they didn’t pucker at her feet. Her stoutness made it quite difficult to handle those pants, but she managed to keep the annoyance at bay. For now, at least.
Once the dinner table was set, the Sharmas settled down in their seats, Rhea and Jiya sitting next to their friends. The room was well lit, and to add to the celebrations, Mrs Sharma had gone ahead and lit a set of candles on all cabinets and four on the dining table as well.
It felt like dining directly under the sun. The food on the table seemed all the more extravagant, with each colour and texture gleaming brightly under the spotlight.
It was time to begin the feast. The family held each other’s hands and began the chant,
“We, the Sharmas, are grateful for having this dinner with the people we love the most in the world. We are grateful for every moment we got to spend with the people at this table in the past six months, and look forward to the next. We are grateful for every contribution made by each one of you and hope for many more such moments of togetherness in the times to come. I wish everyone a Happy Sharman Thanksgiving Day. Amen.”
Their mother picked up the bowl with rogan josh and served each one before putting some on her plate. Jiya and Maya started with the chicken kebabs first that looked exotic. Everyone else picked up flatbreads from the basket on their own and the dinner began.
Jiya still struggled with the oversized sleeves and the sweat beads tickling every inch of her frame that remained enveloped by the gown.
“How’s the rogan josh?”, the mother asked seeking feedback, or compliments, for her culinary skills. If the others didn’t praise her efforts on their own, she would make them do it. Rhea, Jiya and their father chorused,
“It’s great, mom! Thank you for this amazing food!”
“Thank you, Mrs Sharma, for this lovely dinner.”
“Thank you aunty for this amazing food!”
“The best you have ever made, mom. Thanks!”
“It is not as good as the one you made in 2016”, the words were out before their father could filter them.
Her mother’s eyes shot at their father seeking more explanation. Treading with caution, he spoke the consoling language,
“Wh..What? I mean it is great, honey. Really, it is! But…I just think the rogan josh you made in 2016 was the best you ever made. You had outdone yourself then, milady!”
Rolling her eyes, Mrs Sharma remarked, “So much for gratitude, eh?”, and went back to the food on her plate. Maya failed to hide her grin which spread like a contagion among Sam and Jiya too.
And then, the only noise that came was from the clink of the spoons on the plates and some loud chewing from Sam.
While everyone was trying their best to focus solely on the food, Mrs Sharma decided to break the silence.
With a quiz, of course.
“So Maya, Sam, did these girls tell you the origin of this occasion in the family?”
Sam and Maya exchanged glances, trying to rack their brains for a response that would help them sail out of this situation.
“Err…no, Mrs Sharma.”, said Maya.
“No, ma’am.”, Sam responded nervously.
While helping herself with a second serving of the sumptuous rogan josh, Rhea’s gaze drifted to the stain on their table runner. It was from last year’s celebrations. Her grandmother had gifted the runner when they were refurbishing the house after Rhea was born. Rhea’s birth had marked a hundred fifty years of the Sharman Thanksgiving.
A hundred and fifty years since her great-great-great-grandfather had first started the tradition. The day, he had struck a life-altering land deal mere hours before his financial obligations consumed the best of him. He was so filled with gratitude athat he decided to celebrate that day every year for the rest of his and his family’s life. The Sharmas decided to continue the tradition thereon.
Or so Rhea believed.
She decided to steal the show by answering before her sister. She was fairly certain Jiya would fail anyhow. She narrated the story as it popped in her head and received a blank stare from her parents.
Jiya looked as if she had just defeated Albert Einstein to win the Nobel.
“Honey, that’s not why we celebrate this day”, her father pointed out.
Shaking her head, her mother asked Jiya to narrate the story instead.
Jiya took over the stage and began her version,
“A hundred and fifty years ago, when India was still ruled by the British, our great-great-great-grandfather liked their concept of Thanksgiving and wanted to start it in our country too. He convinced all his family members to start the annual ritual. They selected the midpoint in the year, June the thirtieth to make merry.”
“Errr…Jiya, beta, Thanksgiving is originally an American concept, not British. And why do you think they started wearing each other’s clothes then?”, her mother countered.
The pride on Jiya’s face deflated. She felt all eyes on her, and one smirk too. Rhea’s pride was restored. Maya and Sam were still silent, unsure whether they should concentrate on the lavish meal in front of them or the reason why they were celebrating in the first place.
Her mother exhaled the ire building up within and turned to their father. She raised her brows at him and gestured to speak.
Their father took a deep breath and started narrating animatedly,
“Girls, let me tell you the correct story. About a hundred and seventy years ago, your great-great-great-grandfather was diagnosed with a fatal disease. At that time, there was no treatment and the medical assistance you got was terribly limited. His wife, your great-great-great-grandmother, decided she was not about to leave her husband’s life to fate.”
“She travelled far and wide the country with her ailing husband by her side. She treaded paths unknown, went to every place of worship there was and met with every medical staff who happened to be in the country. She was a woman of real mettle.”, he punched the air with delight and a hint of honour. Then, he continued,
“After three months, when your great-great-great-grandfather was on his deathbed, two thousand miles away from his home, your great-great-great-grandmother ran from pillar to pole searching for a doctor. Suddenly, she bumped into a medical practitioner. She grabbed his arm, explained everything on the way and brought him to this humble cottage where her husband lay half dead.” the kids felt their lips curl up looking at the animated expression of their father.
“And kids, that doctor saved your great-great-great-grandfather. It was a miracle! From that day onwards, he got only better and better. It was his second lease at life. He was so thankful to the heavenly deities that he started this tradition of the Sharman Thanksgiving on the day he was saved.”
Mr Sharma was beaming ear to ear, oozing pride at his new conquest. Grinning, he turned to his wife, who looked as if all hope had been sucked out of her with every word of his version of the story. Mr Sharma felt his face get wiped clean of all expression, leaving a crease between his brows.
Mrs Sharma rested her forehead on her palm and closed her eyes. After a few moments, she opened them and glowered at each of the family members sitting around her. Summoning all the energy from within her, she spoke,
“I can’t believe none of you knows the real reason why we celebrate the Sharman Thanksgiving Day.”
She silenced her husband, who was about to interject, with the wave of a finger, “..no, not even the son of the family.”
“How can you say that? I know why MY family celebrates this day!”
She composed herself and rolled out the judgment, “No, sweetheart. You don’t. I know it because I was made to memorise and recite it for years after our marriage. Let me take over.”
She cleared her throat to nip his rising rebellion in the bud and began reciting her version.
“The idea of the Sharman Thanksgiving sprouted two hundred years ago in your great-great-great-great grandfather’s head. He was a man of honour and was kind at heart. The family had three sons who were pretty much useless. They neither worked outside the house to earn nor helped their mother with the chores. They used to quarrel all the time and blame their parents for the poor upbringing.”
“Their father, your great-great-great-grandfather, decided to do something to change their opinion. At first, he tried pushing them to do the household chores and accompany him to work. When that didn’t work, he asked his wife to take a back seat in the household chores. When the boys didn’t get food on time, they were asked to cook it themselves. The sons realised in one meal how much their mother used to slog to feed them.”
“That day was June the thirtieth. The next few days, they continued to help their mother with the household chores. Then, their father took them to work to show how much he slogged for their welfare.”
“This tradition really helped change the mindset of the sons. A few years later, when they had peace, prosperity and unity in the family, they decided to honour the day it had all begun, June the thirtieth.”
“To honour how much the sons treasured their parents, they decided to put on their shoes and do the work their parents did every day. Soon, it expanded to putting themselves in each other’s shoes to pay gratitude to every member of the family.”
“That’s how the Sharman Thanksgiving was born.”
Everyone around the table was silent. Lacking much confidence to say anything, they decided to concentrate on the food instead.
Their muffled chewing halted all of a sudden when the phone rang. It was their grandmother video-calling them.
Jiya turned the video on
“Hey, kids! Happy Sharman Thanksgiving! Hope you all are having fun.”, her wrinkled face was beaming at all of them, glowing from the merriment.
“Yes, nanna! Mom made such amazing rogan josh and my favourite chicken gilafi kebabs. See!”, she turned the phone towards the food sprawling on the dining table and then towards the people surrounding it. Everyone waved at the mobile screen.
“Hi, nanna! Mom was just telling us the story of Sharman Thanksgiving”, Rhea told ecstatically.
“Oh really? Where is she?” Jiya turned the phone to face her mother.
Her grandmother greeted first, “Hi Shruti, Happy Sharman Thanksgiving. I can see you have prepared a lavish meal, darling.”
“Thanks, mother. Happy Sharman Thanksgiving to you as well.”
“Thanks, dear. So which version of the story were you telling them today?”
Everyone on the table exchanged confused glances. Their mother looked around. Everyone had questions on their faces. She turned to the grandmother and voiced a collective opinion,
“Umm..what do you mean which version? The one you told me so many times.”
She had a hearty laugh and continued,
“Sweetheart, no one knows the real story! It is like Chinese whispers. Everyone in the family has been distorting the story for decades now. Looks like only your great-great-great-great-grandmother knows why she started the tradition three hundred years ago.”