Christmas in India: Part one

I knew before Christmas that the day’s events would probably be worthy of a blog entry. I was wrong. My Christmas was worthy of several blog entries. I’ve written nearly as much about a 40-hour stretch over three December days as I did on the 25-day South Tour. Enjoy!


It would sound better if I said we spent months preparing for Christmas Day.

It would sound better if I said we’d put in hours of arduous practice every week before the District Conference, that we’d diligently prepared and rehearsed for our presentation in front of 1,500 Rotarians, that the showcase of exchange students from Nagpur, Nasik, Bhopal, Indore, Jalgaon and Yavatmal would be flawless.

It would sound better, anyway. But the truth is that we learned just about everything we needed to know in less than a week.

The six of us from Nagpur (Anaïs, Dascha, Franziska [Germany], Jakob, Michelle and I) had been taking tabla and dance classes since August, and yoga classes since October – kind of.

Our tabla classes, which were supposed to last one hour three times a week, had dissolved into ten to twenty minute classes twice a week, if that. Our dance classes, which were supposed to be just as frequent as tabla, faced similar results as attendance slowly dwindled. We took drama/yoga classes for about two weeks in October, and had about five more classes in the days before the conference.

Much of what we did in those classes, too, wouldn’t apply to our Christmas Day presentation. In spite of this, we were to be performing four classical Indian dances, a musical fusion with tablas, flutes and drums, and a five-minute group demonstration of yoga. Save some of the tabla in the musical fusion, the entirety of our presentation had been learned since the end of the South Tour, much of it in the last two days. Jordan, Kelsey and Amanda had arrived from Indore and Bhopal on the 22nd, which lifted our spirits considerably, but they’d had only three days to learn their parts.

As our final practice began, we were still a long way from being ready to perform. Just before 1 p.m. on Christmas Eve, I biked to the flat where we always had yoga class, only to see Jakob riding away with our teacher. The location had apparently changed to Modern School, the site of our tabla and dance classes.

So I rode my bike to Modern School, and that’s where I spent the next four and a half hours.

Compared to the other practices, our dramatic yoga reenactment was coming along quite nicely. Brii was to be the yoga-goddess, and the other 12 of us were to file in and toss flower petals on her in worship. After sitting cross-legged and chanting “om”, we would then demonstrate various yoga positions while Brii explained them to the audience. The performance would conclude with us contorting ourselves once more as we constructed a human-temple through which Brii would walk at the end.

Except for Brii, who had several lines to memorize, yoga-acting looked like it would be a test of nothing more than our flexibility.

The same could not be said of music. Anaïs, Jakob and I had become adept at playing our 42-line, two minute main part – so long as we had a copy in front of us. But we still didn’t know what else would be going into the fusion, and how it would fit in. Olivia and Brii had been recruited in recent days to play “drums” with Jakob and I, which meant we’d be playing on two drums and two modified plastic buckets. Franziska and Jordan had learned what they’d be playing on flute, but how all three parts would fit together remained a mystery.

As for our four dances, I noticed a strong correlation between practice time and execution. None of the kathak I’d been learning since August helped me much, but I felt reasonably confident with the Maharashtran dance that I’d had ten days to practice. The same could not be said of the Bengali dance which I’d learned 48 hours before – a full half of the steps I was taking were erroneous or delayed.

Nevertheless, practice that day was transcended much more by Christmas cheer than stage fear. TV crews, photographers and journalists came to interview, photograph and film us. Jakob and I were interviewed by a TV reporter who asked us about our lives in India – in Hindi. The only responses I could give were “bahut acha” (Hindi for “very good”) when asked about Indian food and “Maha Laxshmi” (the huge festival at our house in September) when asked to name my favorite festival.

I’ll never know if our 30 seconds of fame found airtime. By the time I found myself in front of a TV once again, our interview was already yesterday’s news.

Our plan for what was left of Christmas Eve was to go to dinner as a group and attend midnight mass at one of the only churches in Nagpur. But our plan for the latter was in jeopardy.

Jakob’s host family, which would be taking us to a club for dinner, could provide transportation to the club and the church. But driving us back to our six respective homes at one or two in the morning was just not possible. We grew despondent as the sun set, and the possibility of Christmas without church dawned on us.

That’s when Pooja and Jagdish Khatri stepped up for us.

The problem of transportation would be resolved if all of us spent the night in one home. The Khatri’s home. Two rooms would be enough to accommodate all of us. Having us dropped in one place simplified the transportation situation considerably. It didn’t matter if they had a chimney or not. We had a plan.

Most Indians are very hospitable, but something about this gesture made it a little more meaningful.

Sharing your home on Christmas night just doesn’t compare to anything else.



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