Christmas in India: Part three

After dinner, we once again sardined ourselves into Jakob’s SUV. This time our destination was The Church of North India, a church not too far from the site of our practice that afternoon. As our car pulled up around midnight, we were greeted by a spectacular sight.

The church was packed.

I’d had no idea this many Nagpurians went to church. This was the only church I was aware of in the city, but even accounting for the scarcity of places to celebrate Christmas, I was shocked to see the turnout for midnight mass. People spilled out of the cathedral, which was literally packed beyond capacity. Somehow we made our way under the church’s roof, and our group was let through until we had seats in the two frontmost pews.

This wasn’t the kind of crowd I was used to in India. People stared at us of course, but something was different in their expressions. There were the usual looks of shock at seeing foreigners, but also something more. On their faces was pity, with a hint of understanding, something I’d never seen flashed in my direction. The curiosity was apparent in their eyes. For once, the silent-stated question wasn’t “Who are you?” but “Why are you spending Christmas here?”

I think that last question dawned on some of us as the organ blared out and the choir sang. What were we doing here?

We looked in front of us: A priest was talking about Christmas. The high-ceilinged cathedral was decorated for the holiday. There was even a tree – a real Christmas tree!

Just like home.

We looked behind us: Rows of Indians sat watching the service, not one a familiar face. Outside, the street didn’t look like snow had ever fallen on it. Two-wheelers, not four-wheelers, were parked in abundance beyond the open doors.

Nothing like home.

We looked beside us.

For once, it wasn’t our families sitting by our sides as Christmas Eve turned into Christmas Day. But it might as well have been a family. Caught between continents, between families, between homes, who did we have but each other?

For the second time that night, we sang Silent Night. Compared to our light-hearted rendition at PC Club, the song at the church was accompanied by a melancholy, albeit oddly cathartic air. Afterwards, many went to be blessed by a priest, half of us completely unfamiliar with the custom. When we returned to our seats at the end of the service, about a dozen Indians came to wish us Merry Christmas, and only one asked for a picture.

Is it really worthwhile to report that almost each of us hugged each other as we left the church around 1 a.m. on Christmas Day? At least five of us were crying in earnest, even those who were unaccustomed to such Christmas traditions. As we stood together at the end of the night, it was as though we had weathered a great storm where the precipitation came from people’s eyes, not the sky above.

When we arrived at the Khatri’s house that night, Pooja noticed “the gents” – Jordan, Jakob and I – were among the few with dry eyes. “Why is that?” she asked.

See, I’m not the type of person to outwardly express their sadness. Only at select moments on this exchange have I even come close to tears – before my flight to Nagpur after ten hours in the Mumbai airport in July, after Mayank left home in September, and while talking to my mom in October, hearing her voice for the first time in three months.

I felt compelled to respond to Pooja’s comment. “Just because there’s not water coming out of my eyes doesn’t mean I don’t miss my family!” Because, dry eyes or not, I really did.

And so did every other exchange student I was with that night.

There’s a chalkboard at Modern School onto which inspiring sayings are often written. One came to mind as I looked back on our Christmas night:

“Shared sorrow is half the pain, and shared happiness is twice the joy.”

We shared a lot with each other that night – our food, our homes, our personal stories, our personal space. We shared in our sorrow and we shared in our happiness. Essentially, we were sharing ourselves.

In spite of all the reasons I had to be sad, that’s why I was happier than I’d ever been on Christmas Eve.

🙂

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One Response to “Christmas in India: Part three”

  1. Shawn Bird Says:

    I have missed your writing Chris, and was glad when all the tour and Xmas posts began. What wonderful images and emotions you capture. I have never particularly wanted to visit India before despite some strong family connections to to country, but your evocative blogs are stirring the desire.

    Toronto- not just because it’s “a big city people know” but because it has an iconic skyline, beside the water as well! lol Your Americanism was showing with that thrown away comment. It wasn’t worthy of the thoughtfulness of the rest of your post!

    Are you planning to be a writer or journalist someday?

    Welcome back.

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