December’s foggy freeze

You remember celebrations by the smiles, don’t you? And the convivial atmosphere. But doesn’t the weather also play a role? From my school days I’ve been conditioned to a long winter break. Those were years when only children had a long break in winter; the adults had a day off for Christmas, and another for New Year. So winter holidays came without travel. Ever since, taking a trip over Christmas has not been on top of my mind. If it happens, it is usually a last minute improvisation.

Kolkata, 2020. Our first flight after a hard lockdown involved masks and face shields, PPEs, enforced distancing in flight. But I was glad we took this trip. We decided to go to Park Street in the evening. Past experience told me that this would be incredibly crowded, but The Family had never been to Kolkata for Christmas. It was the best possible year for us at Park Street. It was festive, there was live music, there were people dressed up, but no crowds. We sat at Flury’s and had coffee and a chocolate rum ball before walking on.

Kochi 2019. We’d just recovered from a bad flu which left us drained for weeks after (we realized half a year later that we had come through a COVID-19 infection), and welcomed a recovery trip. The Nasrani Mappila of Kerala are one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, tracing their roots to the arrival of the Apostle Thomas in 52 CE. The western church traditions are a much later, colonial, overlay. We loved the festive look of the ancient port city, and had a lovely time eating out.

Shillong 2018. This was one of our few well-planned Christmas trips. The Clan decided to take a holiday together. You can never get twenty people to agree on anything when you are traveling, so it was a week of delightful chaos. It all started with a discussion about whether to walk down to the neighbourhood church before tea or after. By the time the decision was reached, several rounds of tea were history. The mass was a long time away, but we stood with the throng of people and had the cake and wine. I think the older nieces made sure that the under-age got their sips of the terrible wine.

Mumbai 2017. The Family’s cousin had found a beach house for a party. It was a wonderful evening: a large number of people dressed to the nines, lots of food and drink, a dance floor. I stood with a knot of people watching the sun go down. Below us, on the beach, Christmas was on. A young couple had decided to bring a bag of goodies for the poor children playing there. Why hadn’t we thought of that?

Port Blair 2016. We hadn’t thought of Andaman as a Christmas holiday. We were there to watch birds. But on the eve of Christmas we decided to stay up late and go into the bazaar. Why was there a crowd at this temple? I asked a passerby, and he looked at me as if I was from Mars. “Christmas,” he grunted and went away. Religions are not so distinct; people will celebrate.

Mumbai 2015. “Let’s go to Bandra,” The Family proposed. She wouldn’t be deterred by visions of traffic jams that keeps bears like me at home. We walked through the festive lanes of Bandra, where the old villages of East Indians have become incorporated into the city. Parties were in progress and some spilled out into the lanes. The Family found someone making hampers of the traditional Christmas goodies: kolkol, several kinds of biscuits, mango jellies, marzipan, and the traditional fruit cake redolent of spices and rum. We had to get one.

Lava 2011. This was a birding trip gone wrong. But the day had been lovely, bitingly cold, and with grand views of Kanchenjunga all day. In the evening we reached the then-tiny village of Lava, and found a Christmas procession. A group of people singing carols went from house to house, and were welcomed with something to eat or drink at each. I don’t think they insisted on a figgy pudding.

Mumbai 2008. On Christmas Day the spell seemed to break. The streets had remained deserted even after the terrorists of November 26 were all killed or captured. No one wanted to be out. We went out for a walk late that morning, and found that large numbers of people had come out to exorcise the ghosts of the trauma. The media was clustered around the collapsed remnants of Chabad House. That’s what the photo shows. We walked round to the Taj and its blackened dome and exploded wings. We looked at stray bullet holes in buildings around it. The mood was somber.

Bremen 2005. We’d planned a Christmas holiday in Vienna. We’d bought tickets to two evenings of music, booked hotels and airlines. Then, at the airport in Duesseldorf The Family’s hand bag was stolen. It had her passport. We had to cancel the trip and stay in Germany. Between visits to the embassy and police, we made a few impromptu trips. One was to Bremen, and its warm Christmas market. The week was tense, but we had a lot of support, families I’d known for years invited us home every day, or met up at Christmas markets. Eventually, The Family got emergency papers for the return trip, and the police found her bag, with not much missing.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

23 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your memories down the line. These holiday photos are precious, and they tell stories. Sorry to hear about your Bremen trip, IJ. When we traveled between Belgium to Amsterdam, hubby’s backpack was stolen on the train. Luckily, he had passport,etc in his neck pouch.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow I.J., that’s what I call variety! I read all of your entries with great interest, especially the last two. We honestly do not see much news of your world, except for disasters such as the one in 2008. As one who has widely traveled around the world I’m embarrassed to know so little about a place of such importance. My resolution for the upcoming New Year will be to fix that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I don’t think one can quite blame oneself here. There’s a structural problem with the way news is disseminated. It makes it much harder to get news on other parts of the world, you have to keep it in mind constantly.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I always prefer a Christmas break to cooking, but so long as the family are there. But you know, I had trouble concentrating after your first sentence. How many of us had Covid before all the hype started? I’m fairly sure that I did, and a neighbour and close friend. So why are we now isolating and jumping through hoops at the whim of governments?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Several reasons that I can think of. First, it is possible to catch it again a second time, although the indications are that the next time it is mild. Second, with the more contagious variants now, it is easier to pass on, so I’m perfectly happy masking and not meeting my younger not-yet-eligible-for-vaccines relatives less frequently. Third, it is possible to develop blood clots and damage your kidneys or pancreas after an infection; we were lucky it didn’t happen the first time, and I don’t intend to take chances.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Celebrations to be remembered! I agree with Tina – we know too little about several parts of the world. But news are handled differently in different parts of the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True enough. It is easier to get news about the US in Sweden than it is to know about the recent happenings in Sweden while sitting in the US. And it is hard to get news of Uganda in either country. And when you go to smaller countries, the little world news that you get is picked up from wire services, and is highly west-centric.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I only came to Bremen by chance last year for a two-week cat-sitting. It was windy, rainy, cold and Covid, but I still loved it.

        I was living in the Ostertor/Steintor area with lots of shady bars, posters calling for communist revolution or to join the Kurdish peshmerga and plenty of people putting out second-hand goods and books in front of their door, for everyone to browse and take away. It had a wonderful community feeling to it.
        And I have never seen a city so crazy about its football team. (Back then, they were still in the first division.)

        Well, I really ought to write the article about Bremen one day…

        (They also have the highest vaccination rate among all German states, by far.)

        I personally prefer Vienna in summer, when they have free concerts every night in front of City Hall.
        But the family for whom I used to do house-sitting there every summer are not going on long holidays anymore. They got another baby instead. Wrong priority, if you ask me. But nobody ever does.

        My next big (city) assignment will be in Leipzig this summer, for four months. I am already so excited!

        Liked by 1 person

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