12.23.2008

Christmas as a loyolite

I was hit by a massive attack bloggers' block for the past couple of weeks, resulting in a *cough* slight stagnation of the blog. The grey cells remained largely topic-less till now.. till I had a look at the calendar. Up came the text editor... keep in mind this is gonna be one hell of a memory-dump.

Christmas, for us in the warmer part of the world is not exactly like they have it in the rest of the earth. You know it's December here in Trivandrum when the air chills down by three or four decimal places of a degree and people start switching off fans, air conditioners and not a crow wakes up before six thirty. Christmas time would be heralded by the sudden appearance of stars in all shapes and sizes (and nativities: think "Made in China") at all shops, from the Big Bazaar to our local 'palacharakku kada' (provision store). Peeping back the memory lane, Christmas time for us school students would be marked by a sudden rush to cram up everything from the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857(?) to the chemical properties of the famed gas Hydrogen Sulphide (together, for weird combinations of exams like History and Chemistry on the same day were commonplace). In the midst of all these, like a shining star, our school's Christmas celebs.. oops, celebrations would be held.

My earliest memory of Christmas is of wondering why Santa Claus never came to our house while Thomas, John, Joseph, etc showed off their presents 'Santa gave' them. After a while I hit upon a rather logical conclusion:
Simple... our house did not have a chimney!
(Those were the days before the artificial chimneys came into existence, so my desire to bore a hole through the top of the hall fell apart. Thank God for that, for my room upstairs would have fallen through it, had the hole been dug)

The next leaf in the book is undoubtedly that of Christmas celebrations in school. Murray ma'am and her gang of choir boys (of which yours truly was a part). For days we ate our food in a hurry (I took most of the lunch back home) and gathered to practise the songs. The first song was "Silent night, holy night"... I can hear Murray ma'am's sharp voice singing it and teaching us the right pronunciation of the words... then we had in some order, songs including "The first noel", "Joy to the world", "Oh come let us adore him".. etc. We stitched ourselves white outfits (think: railway guard) for the event, had red bows tied to our necks and stood upright atop wooden benches (we were one gang of less-than-or-equal-to fourth graders), singing to the tune of the keyboard, played by our beloved 'music sir', or Jerry sir as we called him later.

Then there was the arrival of Santa. The fattest and preferably taller-than-usual(to accentuate the bulk) boy of a senior class was the Santa of the year. His job was to don the Santa garb, stick on the beard, put on the best bubbly attitude, jaunter onto the crowd and watch the kids go ga ga over him. Great job it was :) He was also allowed a few words on the mic... "HO HO HO!!! Hows Christmas dear Loyolites? What's that?? Father Principal, you've been giving them exams, eh? NO presents for you this time sir!" and the kiddies would go crazy :) *sigh* one could watch it over and over every year!

There was also the decoration of the buses.. A couple of us who used to stand in the front every day - (acting as the assistants to the 'driver uncle' - cleaning the vapour on the windshield during the rainy days, pulling the 'stop' switch to power off the engine, joining in with uncle to swear at people who drove rashly or very slowly, listening to him talking about his old days or just admiring the way he maintained a steady 60kmph over the very worst and congested roads in the city), we were undoubtedly the ones on good terms with the bus crew and were given charge of decorating. Walking the entire length of the bus millions of times during the forty five minute journey, putting up stars, deco-balls, bits of coloured paper, stickers, calling out "dei, cello tape evide?" "paypaar, paypaar", while the good old bus rumbled on and our youngsters looked upon us, the big-chettans, with admiration.

After so many years, Christmas time in school still holds a charm for me. The general atmosphere was so cheerful and bubbly, what with running about for "Choir practice", decoration, etc etc. I was part of a gang of 'musical people' whom Jerry Sir always used to recruit for 'Christmas duty', 'Onam duty', etc. A couple of years into this thing, when the senior guy stopped playing the keyboard for the songs, either out of boredom arising out of repetition or seeking VRS, I was promoted to the position of lead keyboardist. (There wasn't any accompanying keyboardist, but there was someone always accompanying the keyboardist, and that was someone who always carried the keyboard cover, or the AC-DC adapter along with the lead keyboardist when the heavy Yamaha PSR-210 was being transported from the music room to the stage and back.) I, as lead keyboardist, had the elite power of choosing my accomplice in this matter ;)
At the moment, a couple of songs come flooding to mind: "Christmas time comes once a year.. into most people's thoughts", "God bless you merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay", "Christmas praises in the year.. Alleluia".. there are more but my favourite was "A long time ago in Bethlehem.. so the holy Bible says.." These were the usual songs that were sung every year, albeit each one by a different class, and one by the teachers.

The gift exchange slowly turned from 'Coca Cola' water-bottles to pens, hair gels and what not as we grew up. The concept of a feast was also started later.. with hot, spicy biriyani from some restaurant arriving in boxes towards teh afternoon, invariable causing a "that's for OUR class.. your's still late!" or a "Man.. this food looks cold.. this is not ours" squabble. Finally the 'feast' would be eaten sitting on grass under nice shady trees which were aplenty every nook and corner.
Our eleventh standard Christmas was the most memorable. The class had earlier written what had turned out to be an extremely difficult Chemistry exam, and the majority was sure of flunking. We brought all our question papers, put them in one heap, and burnt them to ashes. The ashes we smeared on our foreheads, as a sign of.. no not luck anyway.. maybe as a sure sign of a red mark(fail) in the progress card.

Our sixth standard Christmas was a different experience.. our class visited a home for mentally-challenged children. It was a real sad, but enlightening experience to talk to the children, sing songs, and bring true smiles to their faces. We realised what a lucky group of kids we were.

These are just a few snapshots from the memories of Christmas in school. As the end of 2008 creeps in, let the spirit of Christmas spread joy, brotherhood and hope to the world as it is today.

Here's wishing you a merry Christmas and a happy and fulfilling new year 09!