Going to Brahmanpalli for Christmas was always planned among us and most exciting, more so for the children who loved being with their cousins in their grandparents’ home. 1990 was maybe the first Christmas we all spent there together. Even the Swamis would get caught up in all the excitement of the festivities. We would haul all kinds of things there, from our own homes or that we bought, to fancy up the place but mostly made do, especially that first year, with dry twigs for a tree, festooning it with anything lying around.
Then years later we found a moth-eaten old tree from goodness knows when. We tied up the bits that were falling apart. It held itself up rather well but would not take the weight of anything right on top, so it was made to look rather pretty with a star hovering above, from a nail on the wall…a brilliant idea one of the children had.
Of course Santa came, making tractor wheel marks around the large bonfire lit at night, (to add something breathtaking for the children)….much ho ho hoing going on to the screams and yells of childish appreciation.
The church in Toopran was small inside so midnight mass was also held outdoors with a surprising amount of people making up the congregation. We would shiver out there, nights could be pretty cold, but it was always an event to go to church for.
Of course every few years my parents would make it to Pune to spend the time with us, often meeting a few old friends who had settled down in this city. On their very last Christmas visit some of the grand children were present, and all three of us sisters.
We had no grand children as yet. I remember my parents gifts. These came from a very limited budget for festivities, pension funds not allowing much scope for grand gestures of affection. We were gifted still lives painted by my father who had made their subjects from various groupings composed of kitchen utensils and dishes to books from the bookshelves, his spectacles, and some blossoms from the garden.
Mummy got three hefty murder mystery books, her favourite genre of the moment. We were not really a very gallivanting family but we did all go to Manney’s, Pune’s most famous (sadly now closed) bookstore to pick up even more for her to take back to Brahmanpalli. We all liked sitting around talking and listening to whoever was dominating the conversation with thoughtful or funny stories, mostly my father or one of the kids.
That year, 2006, my mother, leafing through a cookbook gifted to my father announced that she was going to start cooking again. I remember those words of hers so well because she had so completely lost interest in cooking, though had taught my father rather well. I thought that if she felt like she wanted to do something that she was so excellent at and that she did with such ease and economy of effort, it was a sign of how settled, happy, and healthy she was.
Then of course, not even two weeks later, her life changed. Christmas changed. If Denis was alone with her in the village he would not leave her for midnight mass. He started attending church more regularly than once a year, even though he had been the person who in our younger days had said he did not like organized religion. My parents did not have pictures of the Sacred Heart or an altar in the home like other Catholic families. But as Mummy’s health deteriorated, her memory started stumbling, times were harder than before, and he felt increasingly lonesome, he found some calm and strength from Sunday mass.
The Christmas of 2010 was the final one for them together in Brahmanpalli. That year none of us could go. On the 25th evening I phoned to ask about how things were. He told me on the phone that he had gone into town some days earlier, and bought a homemade cake and some wine and the very nice lady had added as her own gift, some sweets made by her. It was really good fare, he said, and just as well because on Christmas Eve, the parish priest and some parishioners turned up with a guitar, their own goodies to share and with jolly good natured smiles went into their room and surrounded Mummy’s bed, carolling loudly. He said, with a laugh in his voice, your mother lay there beaming back at them, quite pleased to be the audience for this terrific show of goodwill, silently mouthing the words to some of the carols. She who was always fond of music, had found something flooding back when this joysome noise ensued.
All morning we had been thinking how forlorn and alone they would be feeling on this day of days when people liked to have company. I could hear the delight in my father’s voice as he recounted this Christmas experience. Your mother, he said, has never looked like she had a more generous Christmas present.