This you should know: Weddings, festivals, happy occasions with food, alcohol, people and other such fun things? I’m not the person to have around. Introspection tells me I’m quite the Scrooge. I get irritable about everything - food, drinks, people; I find it no fun to play dress up and be warm and friendly towards genial people when all I want to do is read Bridget Jones’ diary under the bed covers. It’s a bad cocktail and everyone else suffers the hangover.
I had just attended a friend’s wedding in Ahmedabad where I had many arguments about how ‘giving away of the daughter’ was the most bizarre ritual I’d come across, EVAH (See what I said about being Scrooge?). I’d not fully recovered from this exercise in extroversion before Christmas was thrust upon me.
On Saturday I headed to the airport a full 2 hours before flight time. Two spoilt milk frappes from Barista, some unnecessary misplaced honesty towards Spice Jet and my wallet lighter by Rs 1500 for excess baggage later, I made my way to Mangalore.
Where it is always sunny balconies, overflowing balconies, way too many cacti, way too many flowering plants, way too much fauna & wildlife, not enough herbs, way too much Jim Reeves, not enough Amy Winehouse, way too much wine, not enough beer, way too much meat, not enough veggies, way too much mood lighting, way too many candles, an excess of natural light, way too hot, not cold enough. Where it is always Christmas in Summer.
At home, we love our offal food. The menu for the next few days didn’t disappoint one bit:
Saturday: Sting Ray Curry
Sunday: Boti - What we call Tripe in Konkani
Monday: Dukrachi Kaleez Anketi (Pig’s Kaleez = Heart, Anketi = Intestines) + Sannas
Tuesday: Christmas Lunch at the grandparents'
All the kuswar, the open bar and I just could have been on a Goan beach. Only there was no beach, only miles and miles of unending sunshine and heat.
Ever since I 'came out’ as an atheist to the parents, I have been excused from the farcical Sunday morning rituals of Mangalorean Christians. No more mass on Sunday mornings, no more lying about being at mass on Sunday mornings when I’m lying hungover in my bed-someone’s bed, no more “Bless Me” with folded hands to every old person, priest, nun and no more tottering to the church altar in heels that could kill only to partake in another dead man’s body. Body & Blood. When the nosy neighbours’ questions ask uncomfortable questions about where I was seated during mass and what I wore and what I ate, the parents say things like “She was somewhere at the back” or “She traveled to Ahmedabad” and somehow manage to confuse and convince the person to not ask more questions. Disaster involving Uncomfortable Questions about Devilish Spawn of Devout Roman Catholic Parents successfully averted.
Not when it’s Christmas at home in Mangalore.
I dress up, deck the halls with boughs of holly, sing fa la la la all the way to Midnight Mass. Here, “Midnight Mass” on Christmas Eve the sole defining moment of the Christmas Season in every devout Roman Catholic’s life is held at 7.30 pm.
All was well - the priest asked that everyone switch off their mobile phones, hymns were sung in tune and then out by the resident choir, the sermon involved some very dramatic dialogues - till it wasn’t.
An 8ft tall wooden pole that was tucked into a corner to hold up some paper lanterns was pushed down by an overtly enthusiastic annoying little kid and this tall heavy wooden pole fell on my head.
You know how it’s said that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights? I think it’s time they include “wooden pole on the head” as well.
I don’t remember the pole falling, I remember seeing it rest on my shoulder. My Mom had an expression of absolute horror on her face, Dad was yelling at someone who had put the pole back into its precarious position again for another kid to push it onto another unsuspecting stranger. Everyone else was staring at me.
“Give me ice!” I shout. No one responds. People continue staring. I make a mental note: Don't count on these stupid devout Catholics to save your life. I make my way to the altar, wag a finger at the priest who is also staring, “If something happens to me, I’ll drag your ass to court!” Mom and Dad are now next to me, get in the car, don’t say such things to Father, let’s go home.
I escaped with just a hump on the right side of my head and some bruising on my shoulder.
Thinking back, I know it could have been worse. Could have cracked my skull even, that damn pole. Mom’s taken the incident to be divine intervention for the most perfectly pitched ad for Roman Catholicism: “That pole could have cracked your skull. It didn’t. It’s God’s miracle! He saved you! Jeebus loved you. He averted a major disaster through a minor incident.”
I just think it was a perfectly orchestrated opportunity for God to prove he existed. He could have held back the damn pole from falling on my head in the first place.
He didn’t, I lived. God - 0, Joy - 1.