The festive spirit would fill the air, with frantic shopping and carols played and replayed in our old tape recorder
Madras, a melting pot of culture, art and literature, has always evoked fond and beautiful memories in me, a Keralite born and brought up in the hot and dusty city now called Chennai. Though now, I have been a resident of Kerala for years, nostalgic memories, especially those associated with festival celebrations, remain.
We lived in a residential colony, where people of all religions, caste and communities coexisted. I believe that this cross-culturalism, pluralism and multilingualism shaped my personality and fashioned me into a free-thinking individual with liberal, democratic values. We celebrated all festivals with gusto, and there existed a rare camaraderie among the colony mates. Being Christian, we celebrated Christmas with fervour when the sweltering heat would give way to the cool winds of December.
The festive spirit would fill the air, with frantic shopping and carols played and replayed in our old tape recorder creating the right Christmas ambience. The curtains and cushion covers would all be brought down for a wash, the mosaic floors scrubbed clean and furniture dusted, and our home would be geared to welcome Christmas. Making Christmas cards for all my relatives and friends was a labour of love. Each card had my heart and soul ingrained into it. The glittery ones which would open up in many layers were my favourites. Decorating the Christmas tree was a big affair. My dad would take me on his Lambretta scooter to cut a good branch for the tree, which would proudly stand in a flowerpot in our veranda like a bride in all her finery. A Christmas star with a red bulb lent the right aura.
My mom would bake heavenly plum cakes and other goodies. The watchman, postman, sweeper would visit for their share of Christmas goodies.
On every December 20, my brother would be at his creative best making the crib, complete with a blue starlit sky, mountains, rivers and the broken-down cattle shed. The neighbourhood children contributed their bit, and admiring spectators would take photographs. Ecumenical carol singing was another highlight. When Christmas eve arrived, our excitement would reach a crescendo. The picture of my mom slaving in the kitchen preparing a four-course Christmas dinner for at least 20-odd guests remains etched in my memory.
After the midnight Mass, all the parishioners would wish each other and we would return home to burst firecrackers. Christmas hampers would be distributed among the neighbours. Breakfast and lunch would be followed by a refreshing nap. After a late dinner, we would retire exhausted to bed, disappointed that Christmas was over. All these memories have been shared and recreated for my daughters, but what is missing is the multi-religious, multi-cultural society which made all Christmas celebrations meaningful and unforgettable!