Our first Christmas in Anandam

 

Christmas Tree Decorating Party on 21.12.2017

We have a Fibre optic Christmas tree that has never let us down in 20 odd years. Every year she is unpacked, dusted down , dressed up and left to glow in a myriad of brilliant colours, in a dedicated corner of our sitting room. This usually happens in October in our home, as I have always needed more than one month of Christmas a year. At Epiphany , the visit of the Magi , on January 6 th she is taken down very carefully and packed away. When we moved to Anandam, we forgot a heap of essentials, like documents etc but we did not forget to pack the faithful Christmas tree in her tattered and much taped carton. This year, we shared her with Anandam and invited the Retirement Village , we now call home, to help us decorate the Tree with familiar Christmas Carols playing in the Background. This is a family tradition when relatives, friends and neighbours , kids mainly , would drop in to dress the tree and have cookies and cake. Sam and I mixed, baked, sliced and silver foil wrapped around 40 kilos of Christmas Cake with an Egg and Eggless option for the diverse crowd who RSVP -ed  Aye enthusiastically . Eggless baking, suggested by my neighbour Maya Tekwani was a life saver. Aunty Susie, non of the vegetarians will eat cake, if you do not make some eggless cakes, she said wisely,  shaking her head I have never done eggless Xmas cakes in my life and this proved to be an eye opener and a learning curve. I had no idea that puréed fruit, cocoa, ground flax seed, yoghurt , honey etc were egg substitutes that produced Christmas cakes that tasted just as good. Especially, if the assortment of dry fruits and diced almonds were hand carried in cabin luggage from Phoon Huat in Singapore on our last trip and drowned in Brandy from the local Tasmac Shop.

After the cakes, we started on the zillion traditional cookies in all shapes and combinations that appear in our home at Christmas time, be it atop the Himalayas or washed up on the ECR Road. The rate of production never matched the rate of consumption. Especially in Nepal where Rekha, Anish, John and Jenny Nakami, the formidable Cookie Munchster Quad could demolish them as fast as they came out of the oven. Eventually I learned to bake at night when they were all asleep. I am talking almond Shortbread cookies, chocolate pinwheels, chocolate chip cookies and others , including a delicious savoury cheese and green chill cookie which has just now joined the glossary.

When I suggested we do mini- pizzas , Sam put on his well practiced No Susie face and voice to match and I reluctantly gave in as my geriatric body and my ambitious mind were totally out of sync. My mind raced one way and every fibre in my body raced the other way in protest.  Before I knew it, he had placed an order for Paneer Samosas from Madurai. Since we were celebrating the birth of Our Lord and Saviour JESUS Christ , we decided to give them going home presents just like kids are given at birthday parties. We wanted to give them something to remember and we agreed that we would give them something that would last , like a sapling , rather than candy or a bauble. We wanted Anandam to be Green.

Just then a bearded fellow resident and a great sport, Shurojit Roy walked in and got sworn into secrecy and conned into doing the honors as Santa Claus. Two days before the function , a Santa Claus costume in the dusty streets of the nearest town Batlagundu is highly impossible. Just as we were talking about getting a red cassock stitched to fit Shurojit, another resident couple Maya and Vishnu Tekwani, who had gone for the day to Madurai , rang up to ask if we needed anything, as they were headed back. We looked at each other and said A Santa Claus costume  spontaneously. Never, even in our wildest dreams, did we think that they would come home with anything remotely  ho ho ho.

We were so wrong.

The Tekwanis are a sweet couple from Bombay, who will rush to help anyone in trouble, looking neither left or right, nor checking on personal safety and welfare . If someone is admitted in the Hospital, they will accompany them and sleep on the floor to take care of them. Selfless Angels in disguise. They do not speak much Tamil between them, but they managed to find a Santa outfit in Madurai with the help of another resident Aunty Kamala and brought it home , complete with a red cap and a curly synthetic beard.

Taking this as a sign from God, we left the baking and tore down to the Anna Nursery at the end the Ghat Road. When the Nursery Owner, Sebastian, heard that we needed 50 Himam Pasand Mango saplings , his eyes lit up and I could almost hear him break into Jingle Bells, in silent and dizzy anticipation.

We packed the grafted saplings in their mud soiled mud pots, into the back of the Omni. It was a tight squeeze when we crowded in and drove home with mango leaves ticking our ears. When we got home Vishnu and Subramani the gardener , wrapped the pots in colorful tissue wrapping paper, blotting out the ugly pots. Just as they were finishing, Vernon Gomez , another resident from Trivandrum whose house is under construction drove up with his grandsons Ryan and Mark .They had responded to a telephone invitation at short notice and driven all the way from Trivandrum , taking turns at the wheel. Their Grandma ,Daphne was unable to come at such short notice but she sent us book marks with a lovely prayer , which was promptly strung onto each of the sapling with green and red ribbons. Vernon grew quite nostalgic, and remarked quite huskily, Susie and Sam, the smell of the baking and the air of festivity in your cottage, reminds me of my Grandma’s home, God rest her soul.  Suddenly it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas, as the song goes.

When the 21st of December arrived every dark cloud over the south of India gathered over Anandam.  So I had a quiet word with the Weatherman above and negotiated vigorously for a drizzle free evening when the guests arrived to dress the tree. A deal was struck and it stopped raining for just the specified time and not a minute more and not a minute less.

We had a lovely time decorating the tree. The high tea was a huge success and only a couple of pieces of cake came back. Carols were sung and some residents spoke about what Christmas meant to them. But the highlight of the evening was a well guarded secret . When everyone were getting ready to leave , assuming that the evening had ended ,  Mark and Ryan turned the volume up for the song Here comes Santa Claus and Shurojit arrived in his Santa Costume, with a pillow enhanced abdomen and a white Beard, His arrival in the balloon decked Red Buggy caught everyone by surprise and the Cafeteria Lawn erupted with cheering and shouting, to welcome Santa and the mango saplings.

Many selfies were taken and each one got to take a mango sapling as a take home gift.The evening ended with Vernon announcing that the Xmas party for 2018 would be on the lawns of his new Villa.

I thought of all the past Xmases that we had spent in a zillion places across the Globe over the years. I could not remember the details. I could not remember the trimmings but I remembered many a loved face no longer seen, but never forgotten,

Never have I been more reminded of the poem  Comes the Dawn, by Veronica Shoffstall , one of my all time favorites.

Comes the Dawn

After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security,
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,
And you learn to build all your roads on today,
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure…
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn
With every move and goodbye
You learn .

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