Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Yule-tide

Christmas slipped away as silently as it came, this year. The lack of cause for celebration leads me to a deep retrospect. A furious avalanche of neglected memories pins me down with its weight. I taste in my mouth the cobwebs of half-forgotten Christmases, and the little baubles on the tree are only half as brilliant, tarnished by the passage of time and the degenerative capacity of the human mind.

I cannot say that I am haunted by ghosts of Christmases past, for I have many pleasant Christmas memories too. I do remember the smells of fir and balsam, and the sights of overstuffed Clauses and candy canes. But a remembrance of one particular Christmas sticks up its hand first - like that awful first-bencher that every class possesses.

I was eight and a half when my mom was putting up Christmas lights on the patio, and I was watching mindless Christmas specials on television. The phone rang just as Spongebob in a Santa suit serenaded Sandy with a soulful 'Silent Night'. The phone rang persistently, but my mom was trying to make one light work, and I was transfixed by the sight of a yellow Santa. The phone rang for the third time, when I finally snapped out of my stupor and picked up the call. It was from back home in India. Why I hadn't we realised that it was an international call, I wondered. My uncle asked me to hand over the phone to my mom, in a subdued voice. I knew something was wrong. My grandfather had passed away, he told my mom. My dad looked more upset than I had ever seen him, and my brother stared cluelessly from face to face. I remember crying a lot, and still watching the rest of the Spongebob show, and suddenly being back in India. Christmas had died that year.

The eve of my sixth Christmas tops my list of momentous Christmases. And it manages to diminish the pain of the eighth, although the latter always meets the mind's eye first. I landed in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve when I was six, and suddenly I wasn't at home any more. I was in a land full of people who smiled at me for no reason, and I was scared. I couldn't see my grandparents waving and smiling at me on this side of the airport. I wondered why. I asked my parents when we could go home again. I didn't know at the time, that this place would be home for the next five years. That Christmas was my first encounter with a Christmas tree not made of plastic, and I remember being awestruck by the shiny angel on top of the fir in the lobby. So I didn't pout or cry more than necessary, because Santa Claus was coming to town.

Other Christmases in the States are a blur now. I remember malls with obscenely large trees at their center, and wondering what wonderful presents lay unopened at the base of the trunk. I remember sitting on Santa's lap, and trying to figure out how hard it would hurt the man in the suit if I snapped his beard. I remember caroling and drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows at my friend's house. I remember the scent of fir and chocolate fusing to produce the most wonderful perfume that I had ever smelled. I remember the Christmas production of the school choir, and my rendition of a Hannukah song in a falsetto that would put Bianca Castafiore to shame. I loved Christmas. It made me want to sing nonsense words like fa-la-la.

Back home in India, twenty fifths of December have been spent in sabhas of Chennai. The Music Season has nothing to do with Christmas, but I remember watching many dance performances on Christmas or the Eve. I am ashamed to say that I have not attended a single concert this season. The reasons for that are a combination of lethargy and inertia. I am not proud of it, but I wonder whether there's a connection between Santanagopalan and Santa Claus. I gave them both a miss this year.

I spent most of yesterday sitting bleary-eyed - alternating between reading Uncle Tom's Cabin in fine print, and watching Christmas movies abounding in red and green. I caught the eleven forty p.m. Show of Manmadhan Ambu, the Kamal Hassan movie I heard about three days ago. (Besides laziness, I have also been guilty of being woefully ignorant.) It was pretty awful, and Kamal Hassan would make a very good Santa: he needn't even spend on stuffing himself for the suit. It was more a celebration of Boxing Day than Christmas, really.

I like the spirit of Christmas. But I took a sleigh ride out of winter wonderland this year, and caught up with sleep instead. This day also marks the tsunami disaster that ravaged the shoreline. For me, the Yuletide spirit was tided over by the thought of the countless innocent lives claimed. I sincerely hope that the victims of the tsunami are resting in peace in heaven above, or have the peace of mind that eluded them four Boxing Days ago.

'Joy to the world, the Lord has come.' I really think it's high time.


Jwala Creations said...

good one again!excellent vocabulary and used well! now, what are " Boxing Days"? american usage?

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