All was calm, but not quiet

To say that we arrived in Shillong on Christmas Day would be to stretch definitions a little. We left Guwahati airport on Christmas morning, but the Clan Bus made very slow progress. It was after five in the evening when we rolled up to Laitumkhrah. Not only had the sun set, it was pitch dark on the road. The Family was not going to let the family loll back on their cushions. We had tea and broke open the Christmas hamper we had bought from Bandra. Then, suitably ballasted by the wonderful plum-cake, we set out to the well-lit cathedral on Laitumkhrah main road.

The grounds were bustling. A good fraction of the population of Meghalaya is Christian, and the area we were living in not only had this cathedral but also a Baptist church, a Pentecostal church, and a Mizo church. We passed bunches of impeccably dressed young people hanging out in the church grounds. I spotted tea being served and made a beeline for it. I can’t overdose on caffeine. A long queue shuffled forward quickly, and I soon had a steaming cup in my hand. What was that flavour? Niece Tatu identified it, “Bacon, isn’t it?” Everyone clutched their cups and set out to explore the place. I stuck to the little chapel on the lowest level (featured photo). A large statue of St. Mary dominated one wall; this must be St. Mary’s Chapel, I brilliantly deduced. A priest stood near the entrance smiling at people and shaking hands with parishioners. Niece Moja plonked down on a pew and started catching up on her messages.

I planted myself outside the chapel. While The Family and a few others went to explore the cathedral on the upper level, the rest of us took photos of each other in different combinations. It turned out that the cathedral was closed, but there was enough of interest to see. I looked for a refill of the bacon tea. Niece Mbili was game. We found some biscuits to go with it. The place looked cheerful with the lights and people, but there wasn’t much happening. It seemed to me that families were coming by to greet the priest, chatting briefly with acquaintances, and leaving. Younger people hung out a little longer before leaving in groups. Soon we had our fill of the lights, gathered stragglers, and left. We were faintly disappointed. We’d expected buskers and music groups, but maybe we were a day late for that. Luckily we had walked, because the traffic was a nightmare. The next day was going to be long.

(All photos by The Family; it seems that while taking photos of people I forgot to take photos of the place we were in.)

Cathedral of Madurai

I’d marked St. Mary’s cathedral in Madurai as something to do if we had enough time. We passed by as we were off to an early lunch. The Family asked “Why don’t we take a look?” It sounded like a good idea, so we stopped the car and walked in. Someone had set up shop right outside the gate. I looked at it in passing and thought that this was exactly the kind of thing which I would spend my pocket money on when I was a school child. Sure enough, when we were leaving two school boys were buying little treats here. That’s the featured photo.

Just inside the gate we had a good view of the two steeples flanking the entrance. It looked very festive; either some festival had just got over, or would take place soon. The plastic chairs piled up echoed the blue-and-white colour scheme of the facade. It was a big church, so I was a little surprised that they would need extra chairs. When I looked at the web site of the cathedral, I realized that the congregation was big enough that it might need the chairs on special days. Apparently the church was expanded a couple of times since it was built in 1841 CE, and I wondered whether it would be able to do that again.

The stained glass above the entrance was bright but quite simple. The rose window was also a simple pattern. I wonder why I did not take a photo. Perhaps it was because I was quite overwhelmed by the interior as I entered. The church was dressed up in pink and blue, with paper streamers strung between pillars and hanging from the roof. I wondered whether it had anything to do with the St. Mary who the church is named for, and it was. We’d arrived halfway between two days devoted to her.

I liked the flowers massed before the altar. The Family and I walked over to look at it. The church was very warm, although there were fans circulating air, and windows along the sides were open. We sat down on one of the benches under a fan, and looked around. The walls were painted white and orange, but there were gold highlights in various places.

Just above us a plaster cherub smiled down from his place on a pillar. The bright colour scheme was rendered louder by the decorations for the feast. I looked around and saw the next cherub frowning at me. I decided to take a photo of the friendlier one. I didn’t look at the other to check whether his frown had changed to a scowl.

I’d cooled down enough to walk around again. I’d missed the decorated statue of the Virgin on one side of the apse. It was the kind of painted clay idol which we’d seen on temples everywhere in and around Madurai. “Probably done by the same people,” I told The Family. She agreed. These statues are not replaced so very often, so there can’t be too many people making them, we thought. Later in the day we would find out how wrong we were.

Off on one side I saw a painted relief. I’m not sure I know the story which is being told here, but I noticed that the modeling of human figures and expressions was quite good. When the church was built enough money must have been spent to get the best of artisans and artists to decorate it. Lunch called us. We walked out, past schoolboys buying little treats from the auntie at the gate, pausing only to take a photo.