Christmas in India: Part two

I have no prevailing fear of rickshaw drivers, but it took until Christmas Eve for me to ride alone in an auto in India.

For five months, I’d gotten around without many rides in the three-wheeled, open-air miniature taxis that are found in abundance across India. My ride to Jakob’s house, where most of us would be congregating before dinner, was uneventful except for the fact it was the first auto-rickshaw I’d taken without a companion (or two or three). Heretofore, my bike had taken care of all my transportation needs in Nagpur, its convenience outweighing its relative slowness (and relative safety).

I was so full of sugar after my two-hour stopover at Jakob’s that I don’t even know why I ate dinner. In addition to the sweets Jakob’s host family had provided, Amanda had brought with her a huge tin of desserts she’d been sent for Christmas. By the time we left Jakob’s, I’d had peanut brittle and Skittles, Indian sweets and Rice Krispie treats, chocolates and chocolate-chip cookies. Our brief meeting had turned into yet another full-fledged food party.

At about 10, I got into Jakob’s car to go to the PC Club for dinner.

And so did 13 other people.

Allow me to put our ride in context before judging us. On the South Tour, some of us were among 18 fit onto a jeep after seeing a Kathakali dance. A couple days before, six girls squeezed into a rickshaw supposed to seat three. All facts that I know will have the parents reading this digging fingernails into their palms.

But that’s all nothing compared to what you’ll see on the streets of India everyday.

Two-wheelers are supposed to be two-seaters, but it’s common to see four people on one moped. I’ve seen rickshaws on national highways carrying over a dozen people. As for city buses, I don’t think there’s any limit on their capacity – you’ll often find them packed with 100 people or more.

As we drove to dinner, we broke out into song. What need was there for a radio? In the course of our 20-minute ride, I think I heard every Christmas song ever written. Everyone but the driver had heard Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer, O Christmas Tree, and Jingle Bell Rock. Hoarse, antsy, and considerably more hyper than usual owing to the night’s circumstances, we belted out the lyrics to the songs we knew – and hummed or whistled to the ones we didn’t. My voice was considerably more off-key than the others but what did that matter on a night like this?

The front windows were kept open as we drove. Although most of our faces were obscured, our voices rang through the open windows anyway. I wonder what the people on the streets thought as we passed them by. It was probably the most bizarre Christmas caroling they’d ever heard.

It was certainly nothing like riding alone in an auto.

And I loved it.


But the caroling didn’t end when we got out of the car (with some difficulty, as both finding the handles and refraining from toppling over each other posed problems). No, our Christmas Eve was just beginning.

CP Club is a classy, high-end establishment, the kind of place to which you only go for very special events. The pavilion was decorated for Christmas, with green and red festooned everywhere. We’d barely walked inside when we met Santa Claus – barely five feet tall, with a face and beard that quite literally seemed to be made of plastic. With most of the club situated outdoors, our voices didn’t carry that far – a fact which mattered when we discovered they had a karaoke machine.

Playing Christmas songs.

We rushed towards the microphone before we were shown to our seats. The first song I remember hearing was I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. For some reason, the word “kissing” had been changed to “tickling” in half the verses. Even for India’s high standards of censorship, that seemed a bit much.

But it was music. Christmas music. And that’s exactly what we needed.

Why was it so much easier to broadcast our voices in front of a couple hundred people on Christmas Eve than it would be to showcase our talents the next day? Some of us were more willing to come onstage than the others, but there was no pressure to perform here, no stage fright. One of a group of about eight, my back was to our audience as we sang, and most of the crowd was paying more attention to their immediate conversations than they were to us. There wasn’t a single butterfly in my stomach as I sang Jingle Bells, my voice alternating awfully between the two octaves in which I was capable of producing sounds.

Christmas karaoke came to an end, giving way to music videos for Ke$ha, Lady Gaga and Madonna songs. We snacked on cotton candy and popcorn, putting off dinner even as midnight drew closer. Our dinner was an appropriate one: instead of individual plates, we ordered several dishes and offered everyone at least a bite of each.

After a month of eating like this on the South Tour, how could our Christmas dinner have been any different?



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