I grew up in a traditional Bengali family in Calcutta.
We celebrated Durga puja and Kali puja and Saraswati puja and Lakshmi puja – prioritised exactly in that order – in terms of excitement, spending, decorations and cuisine! Christmas was not exactly ‘celebrated’ but a Nahoum cake was a must and we had it together sitting around the dining table; Monginis at every street corner was still some years away. I used to hear about the celebrations at Park Street but actually experienced it much later.
Things changed with my joining St.Xaviers school and getting to know boys from the Anglo Indian community. The general exposure too was different from the traditionalist Bengali aura of my birth.
I was almost twelve when I got my first invitation to a home Christmas celebration to Cecil’s home.This must have been around 1980. Cecil was a sweet chap. Well behaved, not boisterous, neither much into studies or sports. He was all into music and sang songs I did not really know. I did not understand half the words either, but felt the resonating melody. That was where we connected; he liked listening tome sing my Bengali songs.
We lived at Tollygunge and Cecil at Hungerford Street. Baba dropped me in our white Ambassador and his black suit. He was invited in by Cecil’s parents for a coffee cuppa and cake, and I forgot all about him the moment we stepped in. The colours baffled me. They were everywhere.From the decorated Christmas tree to the clothes on the boys and girls, men and women, old men and old women. There was a strange aroma floating of baking cake and the sweetness of wine. There was a throbbing excitement, very different from the restrained interactions of the festive Bengali home.
Baba left soon with the assurance that he will pick me up in the evening. Cecil whisked me away to his room immediately and strapped on his guitar. Now, this was new to me. In Bengali households we found the sitar, the tabla, the harmonium, but a guitar was a rarity. I remember I had sung a lot and was lost in the harmony of the strumming with the tunes of Tagore. I had a habit of singing with my eyes closed and was mighty embarrassed when I found almost the entire household at Cecil’s door listening intently, especially his father. He had been extremely loving and caring and even to this day I remember his insistence that I taste the porridge, the pork vindaloo, the pilaf; the roar of his laughter when I declined the wine still sound so near. He had teased but I have remembered him every time I have been offered wine during occasions and office parties.
Whoever came in would offer a silent prayer to Jesus, sit near the tree, chat, laugh, and exchange gifts and dig into lunch. There was bonhomie and a strange sense of simplicity that my heart had treasured.
It was a long while back but even today at every Christmas I remember that afternoon! Cecil and I meet often but under the veneer of the successful corporate executive, I still see the young lad with the guitar, strumming away to words he did not truly understand but melodies that enthralled him.
Mylestone Champs wishes everybody a very happy Christmas and a lovely New Year.