Total Pageviews

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Quiet Christmas

Our first week at home in our brand new apartment passes in a blur. New beds and sounds, on top of long travel and stopover hours, an inverted sleep schedule (Indian time is 11 and 1/2 hours ahead of Minnesota's) mean unanticipated.moments of sudden sleeping or disorientation during the week.  Still, we manage to get a lot done, tuning in again with the the household staff in the process of last minute details to the apartment and the assembling of Christmas treat bags for neighbors and those who help us regularly.

We had a relatively quiet Christmas. I use the word 'relatively' advisedly (is that acceptable grammar?) . Friends had brought family and staff a few days earlier to rejoice in the progress of their tiny inner city hospital , as well as to welcome us with Christmas hymns and prayers of blessing. Other friends sent fruit and sweet treats.  Our families with whom we might have spent the holidays were in Chennai or Bangalore with relatives, had gone on a tour of Kerala, or stayed home in Hyderabad this year.  One brother and his wife who live in the first floor of the same building went to church, and only one group of carollers came around our street Christmas eve, so it was  quiet in the neighborhood.

But on Christmas eve we drove with Raghava's (driver) and Pushpa's (household helper) children town to look at Christmas lighting around town, and sit a few minutes in meditation at each of several churches :  St. Matthew's West and North parishes, St. Joseph's Catholic Church, and Trinity Congregation in the old Kugler Hospital Campus.  Darkness fell soon after we set out.

You would think that, after fifty years I'd worked things through, but as we passed through thronging shopping areas, and over a bridge spanning a number of railway tracks, I had to admit to what could only be called culture shock. ( Second time in fifty years isn't too bad a record, but I wasn't thinking of that at the time.)  There was more than just amazement at the unforgiving sea of auto rickshaws, motor cycles and cars, all of them with bright lights and none of them particularly observing the lane system, the closeness of the exhaust-polluted air, the scene stitched together with people intent on their various ways, determined, really, to keep moving despite traffic, ignoring signals and danger, clambering over medians and between cars.  By now, you, as well as I, realize that this is India:  To put it tritely, up close and personal.

In one dark lane, an lone older woman with a cane waited and watched for her chance to cross an unbroken stream of cars.  None slowed or stopped. Neither did we. And for a moment the intellectual knowledge of class and cultural disparity became irrelevant.  I was one with the stream of people; I was that woman waiting for a chance to cross. What did a passport in my purse and the relative spaciousness of our vehicle matter?  I was in a car contributing to both the mass and the mess. I was the old woman unsure of crossing a busy street. I was both problem and solidarity.  The mind could not encompass what it wanted, or needed, to think, except to admit that, in that moment, I could not process the thought, as I felt myself shrink, speechless, wordless, into my comfortable seat.

The next day after church, again, we make short visits to four churches. First, we stop to worship at St. Matthew's West, under tinsel and styrofoam decorations hung from high rafters, and saints keeping their watch from stained glass windows --brought here by German missionaries a hundred years ago, damaged panes here and there patched with faded imitations of original images. We observe the scene and remember simpler Christmases past at each of the churches, awed at vast shamianas shielding thousands of chairs and temporary outdoor stages from the sun. People attending the neighborhood Lutheran church's outdoor service walk past beggars at the gate, or are driven in to be dropped off, each in their own due time, arriving anywhere from an hour early to very late, during the three hour worship service.

Back at home, I break open a bag of candy kisses to share with the helpers who'll care of us and our household this season.   Raghava is nonplussed, and starts to unwrap his.  Pushpa takes her cue from the rest of us, but pauses at the sight of what (here, she turns toward Raghava and lowers her voice) "looks like a turd..." The three of us eye each other tentatively: Raghava-- wondering whether and what to explain about this observation, either to me or to her, Pushpa-- seeking a social clue, and myself-- hesitating to say more lest I appear to belittle small cowpies topped with fresh flowers which actually do figure in a local celebration every January.

A beat.

Pushpa looks surprised as Raghava pops a candy into his mouth, and she hesitates before slowly following suit.  Raghava and I wag our heads to indicate that it does indeed look like what she thinks, but I go on to explain that it's a popular American chocolate treat, called a candy kiss. This is too much for Pushpa, whose eyes bulge with an attempt at restraint, before the three of us burst into laughter at the multicultural incongruities of this conversation.

The rest of the day is quiet, as families throughout the neighborhood and town get together with their own, and we are thankful.  The hours-long worship broadcast on loudspeakers from our nearby St. Matthew's North Parish is heard in the background.  My husband and I take part in preparing a holiday lunch to share with Raghava and Pushpa and their families--we are six adults and four children, and pass the time together amiably at noon, when the spirit of Christ, our Savior, is born once more.

No comments:

Post a Comment