By Ananya S Guha
Winter would mean Christmas first. Of course, they also meant school vacations and the dreaded exams. To add to this, there would be the fire place, orange peels, and the pavements lined with oranges. These are my rich harvest of dreams, sustaining my childhood memories, evoking continuity with the past. I used to be mesmerized by Christmas trees having a faint notion that they resembled the trees in my house or the trees in the house next door, a drooping fantasy. Jim Reeves’ songs added to mood and color of things. As a child I would excitedly run to the front door when carols in procession went singing by. And when a group would enter the house, I would excitedly hug and shake hands. It was much colder in those days than it is now, though the mood and frame of winter is the same. The sun would suddenly turn grey as everyone speculated whether the winter was colder this year.
But the days of thick mufflers, woolly caps, and leather gloves seem to be gone. Call it environmental change, cutting of trees, and the effervescent population. But what remains of winter are still the bluish grey, wooded hills. In winter, they become more poignant and picturesque, reminding me of my picture postcards, ensconced in time’s frame, or rather in a piquant timelessness.
Christmas and winter also meant the morning frost, flakes of white strewn on the grass, my numbed hands, and the face pressing against the window. I would wait for more carols in the evening or the mythic Santa roaming the streets with his motley crowd of young singers. But as years passed, carol singing on streets almost vanished, appearing, say, only two days before Christmas or young boys and girls sitting on a bus or truck greeting people.
Yet I would love to hum some of the songs I knew, still reverberating from my childhood. Christmas and winter in Shillong are an integral part of my time machine, my quintessential childhood, which also included the grey blue skies, whispering pines and the basket-full golden oranges lining streets. And playing cricket under the winter sun.
And when the school re-opened after three months, Christmas once again seemed so far away, lost in the horizons of the sky.
But those green trees never left my mind. The next Christmas would be waiting for them. I reopen vistas of my childhood with winter, Christmas, memories, and a long song of winter. Yet unsung, cluttered in the mind, trying to break fetters of the mind. How I wish the fireplace came back resonating with those carols.
But modernity and development embody change: cars honking and people in shopping spree. The quaint Shillong of my childhood is in itself my most precious and ineluctable Christmas Card.
Now in the twilight of my life, I can wistfully reminisce the past Christmases in Shillong. I remember when I was in college, I was a member of the NEHU choir which presented carols, under the tutelage of the legendary Brother Mc Carthaigh, one of the founders of Serve, a school for deprived children in Calcutta. K.J. Alphons, who is now a member of the Union Cabinet, was also part of this group. Every week at least once we waited patiently for our mentor for practice in St. Edmund’s college, precluding the day of the event. I was very excited to be a part of this team, so much so that when my parents went to Silchar to meet my brother, who was posted there, I stoically stayed back only to be a part of this performance.
That was in the seventies. In the eighties, too, the same mood of Christmas continued, what with winter’s charm, the sun’s mellow warmth and the evening’s fireplace. The carols wove down the lanes, into the main road and silence erupted into sonority. I slept with these songs on my mind. The nineties were different, more bravado, rash driving, and more noise. The carols were mere whispers, vanishing into Shillong’s new found crescendo of night life. And that is when I found that something was amiss in Christmas celebrations in Shillong. There was too much of flurry in shopping, too many cars honking. The twenty-first century continues in this vein, mad rush of traffic for a few days, and only crackers at midnight. The Don Bosco cathedral perhaps is the only silent witness to this change, as its lights bring that aura of peace – something that Christmas truly represents or seeks.
Throughout all these years of Christmas that I have seen till the eve, the day itself is quiet, with church going people seen on roads, but celebrations stand still and a quiet fervor of spirit takes over. Christmas in Shillong has been a unifying force for people with all kinds of social and linguistic backgrounds. It lights up the skies, its inner sense is palpable. That is the wonder of our country; we are cultural mixes and innately not religious zealots. My picture post card of Christmas, winter and singing carols once again gives me this year a throwback to the past, a connection with the present and the sights and smells of it, I drown myself into.
Ananya S Guha is Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Shillong.
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