Waiting for Christmas


As a kid, I loved Deepavali. (Who doesn’t?) When the lungs and stomach could take all the festival entailed. I liked Dussehra and the bommala koluvu, too, and the sundal. And Vinayaka Chaviti and the undrallu. I loved them all as a kid.

But Christmas was my first ‘adult’ festival. Christmas, it appeared, was my own thing, something I discovered thanks to a new set of friends. And something that discovered me in return. Christmas was what I could do because I wanted to — without being told by someone that it was tradition.

It would be easy to dismiss my partiality to Christmas as having to do with the wine (oh, yes, I had plenty), the music, the ‘forbidden’ (I use quotes because I had absolutely no restrictions regarding what I ate as a child) cuisine or, above all, the lovely girl I adored then. And that would be partially true.

I also liked it perhaps because, thanks to my reading and movie-watching tastes, I so loved all things ‘Western’. And that would, no doubt, have been a factor, too.

But it was a little more than that, I suspect.

It had to do with how Madras felt in December. Especially at night. It had to do with the cool sweater you had to put on to stay warm, because you’d be on someone’s terrace or off on a bike to church to attend mass. It had to do with how it proved to me that I was likeable enough to be embraced by a new set of people, supposedly different from me, and included in their festivities like I was their own.

It had to do with the singing. And the dancing.

Perhaps it pre-dated all this and had to do with how one of the first pictures that greeted anyone who came to our place was of Jesus, put there by my grandfather.

It was about how, when a young man from Andhra (who had come to our house looking for a break in Telugu films, like several young men did) was simply shown that picture by my mother when, on being asked to have lunch with us, he had ‘confessed’ — ‘But I am an, er … and you are, er, well … and I don’t want to deceive you.’

It had to do with how I wasn’t the only ‘outsider’ in Madras who felt this way, that Christmas was special. And it was our festival.

It had to do with how even my mother, father and sisters happily came along for the Christmas lunch at my friend’s place.

It had to do with how my family didn’t seem to even notice that my friend was from a supposedly different culture.

It had to do with how my father did a beautiful watercolour of Jesus Christ (with the gentlest brown eyes) and presented it to my friend’s mother because we had all got gifts from them.

It had to do with how the same friends came by on Deepavali in silk saris and veshtis. With how almost every other house in Madras sported a lit-up Christmas star. With how things seemed seamless. And, of course, with cake, kulkul and rose cookies. It had to do with the Anglo-Indian community and their warmth and affection. With what they refer to as Christmas spirit.

The coming week, I will eat cake, drink wine, listen to Bing Crosby, and remember old friends scattered around the world and what’s above it, who helped in no small way in making me who I am today.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

Krishna Shastri Devulappalli is a satirist. He has written four books and edited an anthology.

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