By Kumar David –
My Editor, I am sure, gratefully joins me in bringing you the good news that you will not have to suffer a weekly mid-week column from me beginning 2020. But oh dear, there’s a downside; you will have to endure a fortnightly version. Let’s make this last weekly offering a happy one; let’s talk about Christmas. From my childhood buried somewhere in the depths of bygone years, to parenting my own kids, to grand-fatherhood, I know that one can best behold the wonder of Christmas is in the shimmering eyes of a child. In my childhood the excitement started weeks ahead, then on X’mas eve everyone gathered at Chinnama’s for the arrival of Santa loudly clanging a great bell, an old family heirloom. Presents all round and Santa’s departure in a rickshaw, carefully tailed by the older and less credulous brats to the top of the lane, ended that part of the evening. Then it was fireworks and a grand dinner – chicken curry and mutton curry, fried meat balls, battu paahi, tasty vegetable curries, milahu thanni and rasam.
Christmas day was at my home when again the clan and friends, mostly non-Christians (I too was a rational non-believer as far as I can tell from birth – a congenital deficiency?) who didn’t have their own family functions would gather. Santa would not come again but presents beautifully wrapped would sit under a colourful lit tree. At the appropriate time my parents would call out names and hand them out to the assembled who would have to feign great delight and kiss host or hostess at some decorous spot on the anatomy. Chinnama did Ceylonese food for dinner, my mother’s fare was turkey, ham, mash, baked vegetables and of course rice would always sit somewhere on the table; and invariably it was lunch. New Year’s Day was lunch at Amama’s for as long as she was alive; after that Chooti, my youngest aunt who by then had married and littered twice, took over.
Someone thumped on the piano and everyone bellowed Christmas Carols, loudest the boom from both sides of cousin Prem. Oh and I forgot, everywhere there would be loads of ‘old stuff’, sherry and beer – we didn’t know about mulled wine in the early days but it started making an appearance later. My delight was to get Roseantie sand Rasamantie tipsy; tipsy to the point where old cigar chomping Uncle Ben would make a pass. “Chig Ben!” my grandaunts would scream to be heard over the din of the jollifications. At some point Joanis and Pabilis were retired and I took over as family Santa. I am told I was hilarious and kept not only the little runts but aunts and uncles well enthralled. A bit of a spoiler was when cousin Mano, four years my junior noticed that Santa’s shoes beneath his splendid red gown, mask, bonnet and long flowing beard seemed to resemble his elder cousin’s. After that the older cousins were accomplices, deceiving the under 10 year olds.
Why should any of this interest you? There are good reasons. Family bonds are important and will stand you in good stead through the vicissitudes of time. Second, damn the politics, let your hair down, replenish the glass and indulge in an uproarious honk in the festive season. Do the same at Sinhala and Tamil auvrudu and at anyone’s birthday. And when it’s your turn to go, tell them to marinate your carcass in the left-overs in your cellar before they set it alight or confine the dust to dust. However, I recommend that it is better to give it to a medical school (like Prof Carlo) unless it is so pickled in alcohol, like my Editor’s cadaver is likely to be, that no self-respecting anatomy laboratory will entertain it.
To come down from the clouds and end on a serious note; it is true that the spirit of Christmas can mend fractures, reconcile families and heal nations. Curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge got it wrong when he said it was all “Bah! Humbug!” Notions of “past, present and the yet to come” must give us pause; Tiny Tim is the world that we must care about; or else Marley’s ghost will follow us all the days of our lives.