Year: 1962. Location: A desolate village in Kerala with paddy fields, jackfruit trees and tapioca trees. At the time of the advent, in the days before Christmas, we avoided dairy products and meat at home – I still remember the smell of black coffee and fresh banana chips. The night would get dark because there were no street lights, but the midnight procession would be bright and cheerful, with long-tailed, bamboo-framed, star-shaped lanterns carried by young men with mustaches, their dhoti and lungi folded in the middle. . Carols were rehearsed in a small church foyer with only drum beats as a background score. Children like me (then about seven years old) would form an inner circle around a tall bamboo pole with the largest star-lantern hanging over it. The melody of the farewell song is still ringing in my ears, but I don’t remember the words anymore.
On Christmas day, my grandmother used to make bhattappampa (rice cake) – a dish that is usually made on Maundi Thursday, fall before Easter – and served with raisins on top. His head was arranged in such a way that he hid his folded pocket, he would take out the boiled banana. When she would bend down to serve us goodies, I often wondered, at that moment, if her big, heavy gold loops split her earlobes and fell on the table. I once hid one or two pieces of my favorite molasses pudding under my pillow to eat the next morning too, but woke up in the other kids ’cave, because the ants revealed my privacy.
Year: 1985-1996. Location: My wife’s river house in Kumarkom. The huge, original Christmas treat was illuminated with serial lights, even as children danced to the tune of a jingle bell played on a tape recorder and lit candles over a stray tortoise (sorry animal lovers!) From a nearby river.
My mother-in-law used to make fish moili (fish curry) using fresh karimin (pearl spot fish) and curry leaves and serve it with appam. His duck curry, to this day, remains an incomparable specialty. I also liked boiled duck eggs which went well with apam and coffee.
Year: 2000-2008. Location: Beautiful campus of National Institute of Design (NID) on the banks of Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad. The stalks and finely chopped bushes of the huge casuarina tree were illuminated and decorated, and the carol troupe rehearsed perfectly in English and Hindi songs.
Christmas at NID was a very different and a month-long affair. Since the convocation took place in December, there have been several dinners and celebrations. Coffee and cakes were served on the lawn and special Gujarati food was served at the student hostel.
Current: Our house is on the 14th floor of Gurgaon Apartment Building. Now, dinner on Christmas Eve is usually a family trip. Overall, we keep Christmas meals simple, comfortable with biryani and curry. Plum cake, of course, is always there. Previously, we used to bring them from a bakery in House Khas – my wife would stand for hours and instruct them, but now we get them from our church.
Setting up a modular Christmas tree in the drawing room has always been a well-received tradition. But there is something special here. Ever since we moved into this house five years ago, we have hung four stars on our porch, one for each member of our nuclear family. With long tails, red, electric blue, yellow and silver they look clean and bright every year. They always guide the carol singers in our place, who come from the House Khas, usually admitted to St. Paul’s School Bus. This year, my daughter-in-law will join the family, and we will have a fifth star, a white. Five stars guide them to their home and spread euliite rejoicing.
Darley Koshi is the former Director, NID, Ahmedabad, and the current Director General of the Institute of Apparel Management (IAM) and Apparel Training and Design Center (ATDC), Gurgaon.