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The Statesman: The magical charm of a wonderful city

Time:2017-01-08 09:48Shoes websites Click:

Christmas Kolkata Santa Claus Barrackpore Club Calcutta

This Christmas, I found myself reminiscing about past years when I celebrated this special day in Calcutta with gusto and gaiety like most Bengalis. I realised once again that most of the elders in my family with whom I celebrated Christmas are no more. Now all I have are fond memories of those precious moments, which are indelibly etched in my mind.

I recalled how fun-filled my Christmas was when my parents used to take my younger brother and me to the Barrackpore Club, a private club nestled on the banks of the Ganges, where both Indian and English members would come together to celebrate Christmas with much pomp and splendor. For several years the Santa Claus at the Barrackpore Club was a white man of generous girth who would arrive at the club in a horse-drawn carriage adorned with Christmas ornaments.

I would wait with bated breath in an enormous hall, where all the children congregated, for my turn to go up toSanta to receive my Christmas gift. In his inimitable English accent, Santa would announce the name of the child whose turn it was to go up; sometimes Santa would butcher our names so badly that an Indian club member had to come to his assistance, pronouncing the name correctly for him. I remember trembling in fear and awe as I walked up to this massive Englishman with rosy cheeks and a booming voice to receive a huge hug and my gift.

The gifts that we received were ever so thoughtful, ranging from quiz books, chemistry sets to ping pong bats and balls, and more. I was quite disappointed when I had my first encounter with the new Santa who replaced the Englishman; he was a Bengali gentleman, one Mr. Banerjee, who not only came in an old rickshaw instead of the usual horse-drawn carriage (due to lack of funds), but also happened to be our family friend. For me, all the mystery and the magic surrounding Christmas and Santa were gone. Much to my dismay, I also found out that my parents were actually paying for the gifts and choosing them for us; Santa had no hand in this gift giving ritual other than handing over our gifts.

I often celebrated Christmas or Boro Din, as the Bengalis call it, with my uncle and aunt and my cousins in their bungalow within the premises of a jute mill in Barrackpore. My cousin and I would get up early in the morning on Christmas day to go out looking for a Christmas tree. We were always lucky to find something that served the purpose. Once we got the tree in the house, we would have a delightful time decorating it with beautiful ornaments. And to simulate snowflakes, my uncle cut white paper into snowflakes and pasted them on the glass windows.

When it was evening, he would turn off the lights in the living room where the Christmas tree was while keeping the Christmas lights on, which lent a magical glow. My aunt, who was admired in our family for her culinary skills, prepared for us traditional English fare consisting of soup, mutton roast, sautéed vegetables, salad, and her pièce de résistance: caramel custard.

My Christmas was certainly not confined to Barrackpore. I enjoyed my visits to the iconic Park Street, which was always adorned with Christmas lights while the sidewalks were decked with Santa Claus and Nativity scenes. Hordes of people of all classes and creeds converged on Park Street to enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas. Calcuttans, regardless of faith, attended the midnight mass at the historic St. Paul’s Cathedral where the inspirational sermons were delivered that were about loving-kindness and compassion for our fellow beings. It was a time marked by grace, warmth, kindness and, more importantly, openness to other cultural traditions.

Even in those days, there were lines inside Flury’s for their famous plum cakes, fruit cakes, chicken patties, and tortes; the staunch loyalists braved the snarled-up traffic to pay a visit to their favorite bakery, Nahoum’s, for stickjaws, macaroons, walnut and plum cakes, and fruitcakes.

The traffic was still quite chaotic but nothingcompared to what we experience now. There were no serpentine lines like the ones now found in front of famous eateries such as Bar-B-Q, Mocambo or Peter Cat. But years ago, I recall gingerly navigating through the vast throngs on Park Street while my ears were constantly being assailed by the cacophony of sounds of traffic. Even this madness could never dampen my enthusiasm for Christmas.

Calcutta had something of a magical quality during the festive season with many people scrambling to be in the right place to be seen, whether that be a ritzy hotel, plush restaurant, or a posh club.

Many Calcuttans sported their Sunday best as they ventured out of their homes to partake in the Christmas spirit. The prestigious clubs of Calcutta, of which there were many, strictly enforced an antiquated dress code, possibly from colonial times when men had to wear either a suit or a sports coat with a tie and shoes to match, while the women were expected to wear saris or western dress.

During my college days in the 1970s, I often accompanied my parents to the Christmas Eve parties at the Calcutta Club. To enliven things, there was always a band with a crooner singing English pop songs of the 1960s and 70s while folks danced away until the wee hours of the morning. Being of a shy disposition and never possessing the temerity to ask a young lady for a dance, I spent most of the time observing men and women in their sartorial splendor.

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