Tuesday, 3 January 2012

A Christmas Tale




My first Christmas in the UK. In 2011. The first year that I did not fly back to India with my son to be with my family and friends. And it did not disappoint.

I have always resented my husband's family for being. Sometimes, just being. For being around him when he needs them. Whereas I always have had to pretend that I am happy to be thousands of miles away from home, content with just three weeks holed up with them every year. So every year I fly back to India to be with my own people, especially during Christmas. But this year was very different. I stayed put in a foreign land, taking part in a foreign fuss.

I often get asked if I celebrate the big day or whether I make turkey curry on the day? Curried turkey? Not everything can be made edible by adding in curry from a jar.

What makes a celebration, any celebration is when family and friends get together. Not all my near and dear ones in this country celebrate Diwali, and anyway it is not even a holiday, making it so much more difficult to arrange a feast on the day. So Christmas it is then. Add excitable kids to any of these occasions, and it makes it so much more memorable.

My son made my Christmas. He was almost at bursting point on Christmas Eve, making the day just perfect. Trips to Santa's grotto, Christmas tree, Christmas dinner with all the trimming, a never-ending mountain of gifts, Christmas markets. This was one of the best ever in a very long time. But not the only one. It reminded me of how my sister and I used to celebrate in India.

Coming from an Indian middle class meant that we were both sent to an all girls overly-strict Catholic school and therefore the images of Jesus Christ, Mother Mary and even Mary Magdalene stayed with us through our growing years. Our Christmas day started with our parents driving us to the local orphanage as bearer of gifts for those "not as lucky as us" and spending time with them, followed by us building a "shrine" for Mother Mary and the baby in our garden. Me and my sister used to spend hours looking for the choicest flowers and stones to build our shrine, followed by some tinsel, balloons, and Christmas decorations going up on the guava tree in the garden. We were then joined by our two favourite cousins for a Christmas feast. Mamma, a teacher at our school (she's still there!), at the time must have felt duty-bound to join in the Christian fun (it is a marked day in her calendar these days, which she celebrates just as she would observe Baisakhi) and would bake cakes and samosas. And of course any excuse for gifts. We were of course the lucky ones, who would get presents for not birthdays alone but also for Diwali, New Year and Christmases.

But our festivities did not end here. We took it extremely seriously.

One year, we planned to put on a play-- it was some sort of a ghost story. I think I was 12, my sister nine years old and my two cousins 13 and 10. We wrote the script, did costumes (spent months!), and even managed to convince the 14 yr old son of one of our family friends (who I used to have a crush on) to come and join us in our production! We wrote invites; rummaged the drawers in our homes for any old junk that we could wrap and then give away as Xmas gifts at the end of the show. Come the day of our show-- December 25, 1985-- and the four girls and one rather tall, gawky lad were all ready to go, dressed in some white robes held by safety pins. My sister and my 10 year old cousin were both statues who come alive (it was a ghost story). We had an audience of about 15 people in our garden, and the play progressed beautifully I think, though the din of the crunching of samosas and gurgling through the straws failed to cease. We were finally coming to the end, when the two statues who had been still for a rather long time started getting a bit itchy, resulting in my sister's robe getting undone. Unflinchingly, she just picked it up and resumed being a statue. Always the pro. But me and my other cousin collapsed on the stage in a fit of girly giggles, the 'other' statue joined in. Forsaking all reverence for Baby Jesus, whose picture was on the 'stage', we were rolling on the floor hysterically, my sister was crying in anger and the boy walked off the 'stage' in disgust- with the rest of our audience. We never managed to finish the final scene of our play, and anyway the audience had had enough and were being called to get back to their homes and finish homework.

Never one to give up,  a year later it had to be done differently.

This is one of the best memories of childhood. Me dressed up in a padded red jacket riding on my red bicycle around the city of Chandigarh, shouting "Merry Xmas" to everyone. Perfectly choreographed, the 'Santa' on the bike was followed by my three helpers- my little sister and my two cousins. My sister and my two cousins, running after me singing Jingle Bells. My bike was adorned with balloons and I was throwing hard-boiled sweets at everyone! Naturally.

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