Friday, December 02, 2005

Remembrance of Decembers past
I love Decembers. When I was a kid, the academic year started in January and ended in December. So, the month was always associated with the end of the final exams and the advent of a long and carefree winter vacation. Then, December felt like a special month, and not least because three very significant people were born in it —Jesus Christ, my grandma and me! It was with a sense of heightened anticipation that I always waited for the month to start. There was a lot to do: visit my grandparents and demand the kind of princely treatment that only grandchildren can to; spend the mornings playing para cricket under a mellow winter sun; go shopping with my Grandpa to New Market, where the canon at the market centre would peep out of a forest of Christmas trees and the smell of plum cakes waft out of Nahoum’s.
However, all that would come once school closed. But, I didn’t mind going to school either. For December meant sports and Christmas play practise took precedence over studies. Hark, the herald angels sing…and Joy to the world…. And very soon, it would be prize distribution day and I would be standing, my stomach muscles knotting with nervousness, my shoes shining, my uniform ironed, waiting to be called on to stage to receive some award for academic excellence. (However, this lasted as long as my mother could badger and threaten me into studying hard enough to rank in class. The moment she slackened her hold in senior school, my academic performance too started flagging.) Once, way back in third standard, my parents gave me this toy gun as a present for doing very well in the final exams. We quickly became inseparable — me and my red Schmeiser sub-machine gun. I would sleep with it, pose for photos with it and, if allowed, would even have taken it along with me to the loo.
With the mega-event of the month still a few days off, my excitement would start to mount. What did the emcee have in mind this time? For when it came to celebrating birthdays, especially those of his grandchildren, Grandpa did not believe in any half measures. Balloons, confetti, streamers, you name it, and it was there. He was a man with a large heart, so even a pacemaker couldn’t stop him from blowing up the balloons himself. With him gone, birthdays have never been the same again.
After the last presents had been opened and the gift wrappers folded and tucked away under the mattress, I would start looking forward to the festivities that lay ahead. A few more days and it would be Christmas. This meant, the fruit cakes would start arriving from the baker’s any time soon. Grandma used to keep them inside a special trunk, rows and rows of freshly-baked cakes. While the trunk ensured that the cakes were safe from the depredations of rodents and insects, it didn’t provide much protection from my frequent raids. Now, years later, the sight and smell of a Christmas cake still brings back memories of those guilty pleasures.
Christmas Day meant a ritual lunch at my aunt’s. Piping hot pilau, mouth-watering mutton stew, deep fried pomfret… and more cakes! Terrace cricket with The Cousins would follow, and the day would end with a big family get-together.
Season’s greetings were meant for our feathered friends, who came all the way from Siberia. And an annual visit to the Alipore Zoo to watch these migratory birds was a must.
Before long, the year’s calendar would end up in the dustbin of history. Or, if there were some exceptionally nice photos, folded and kept aside to gather dust and be thrown away later.
New Year’s Eve. 12 midnight. The ships berthed at the Diamond Harbour would start hooting, the bells would start ringing at the St Paul’s Cathedral, lights would dim and the music rise to a crescendo at the Moulin Rouge on Park Street, and Doordarshan would pause its New Year’s Eve entertainment programme to flash ‘Happy New Year’ on millions of screens! Another magical December would have just ended!

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