Calcutta Christmas


It’s Christmas Night. This morning we opened our gifts and had breakfast at Flurys. It’s an Oldy Worldy bakery-tea-shop on Park Street. We had a wait of about half an hour in the cold Calcutta morning. Outside, were people in their jackets and shawls, designer shoes and sunglasses. There were young and old, families and couples, all waiting for breakfast at this reputed establishment because it is ‘The Place to be on Christmas Morning.’ 

As we waited we shivered in the fresh breeze because we chose to ignore the fact that it was winter. People looked at us like we were crazy or stupid or both. It was an interesting experience. 

Eventually we made our way in, we were seated, we had our English Breakfasts and fresh, hot buttered croissants and we were satiated. But outside a man made monkeys dance, a small girl in an oversized jacket fell asleep as she waited for customers to buy Santa hats from her pavement store and a woman in a headscarf sat begging with her half naked baby, in the cold. I chewed guiltily from my warm seat in the café. I laughed a little too loudly to drown out my unease when I couldn’t finish my meal. We clearly had too much.

Back at home, we were surrounded by Christmas and warmth again. Gifts were played with, packed away for another day and everyone was happy, lit up with the glow from the Christmas tree lights. The pavements of Park Street were forgotten for a time as I uploaded pictures onto Facebook and replied to Christmas wishes from friends and family. I put the children to bed and I walked out onto the balcony. 

The winter nip was there again. The slum dwellers were in their shawls, scurrying about their evening and as I watched I remembered the little girl who sold Santa hats on her pavement stall. 

In the air a repetitive tune, familiar words marched towards me, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare…”

It was a comfort, a balm on my guilt. It took me higher for the time I listened, transported to somewhere other than this physical arena of rich and poor, good and bad. It stirred something that had changed within me, for whatever Calcutta has taken away, it has given me something more; there is an optimism now, where before there was only anger. There is a calmess now, where before there was only unrest. I can be strong, I will be strong and I already have everything that I could ever need or want. 

The people who live in apparent poverty, just outside my front door are fighting, they are working, they are smiling. They are dancing to the same song as me, as their lips move in time to the mantra that they hear. They will not be defeated and neither will I. 

Neither will we.


Stand Back it’s a Party!

I’ve neglected WordPress for a while and I’ve felt extremely guilty, but I’ve been busy or exhausted or a combination of both. You see, in India, it’s festival season. I firmly believe it’s a throwback to the shorter days and darker nights and basically an excuse to party hard. Religious reasons aside, it’s a time for winding down at work and cranking up the volume of the sound system. We’ve had drums and fireworks and lamps and sweetmeats and bangs and crashes and feasting and dancing and at the end of it all, it’s still not over.

Sometimes I feel like complaining. I’ve gone ‘all British!’ and held my head in my hands and exclaimed, “Please, stop!” and then I’ve been forced to ask myself, as I look down at the slums that my Ivory Tower overlooks, “why should they stop?” To find the festivity in the moment in spite of the squalor and the lack of running water and the babies who are hungry, is almost a higher plane of living. To find happiness in spite of the growing cost of vegetables and the crumbling roof and the medical costs that cannot be met is nothing short of a miracle. Who am I to complain?Just because my children find it hard to sleep with Bollywood music straight from the Eighties and the ‘Lungi Dance’ on repeat, being pumped through our window panes at Ten O’Clock on a school night, shouldn’t I just be grateful that my full bellied children are tossing and turning in soft clean beds with a good school to go to in the morning? That would be more sensible.

I guess I have a long way to go, to just letting go and letting be.


The Watchman’s daughters on Diwali Night, Hyderabad 2013