Christmas means different things to different people. To the Christians, it is their most popular holy feast; to school children, it is vacation time and, to the younger generation, it is time to go to the club and groove with DJ Someoneortheother, who will bang out cacophonic techno Hindi-remixes. To the faithful, it means going to Afghan Church to listen to the choir, and then attending midnight mass when most people are partying.
Christmas Eve is the night to party. I grew up in Mazagon Docks, Mumbai’s prominent shipbuilding yard. My dad was a marine engineer there and the place was full of Anglicised shippies. Christians, Anglo-Indians, Parsis, Jews and us. There was a huge tennis court surrounded by Art Deco living quarters that was the heart of all festivity. Canvas would be stretched on the court and powdered to make a dance floor, flags from various shipping companies would adorn the four boundaries of the courts, a stage for a live band and white chairs and tables would be set out, with a bar at the far end. Gloved waiters, lots of booze and a buffet beyond, on the lawns. Most importantly, children were not allowed. But my little sister and I, only two years and eight years old, would peep from our first floor balcony as men in white dinner jackets and black bow-ties, and women in chiffon saris and satin dresses danced the night away to songs like ‘Number 54, the house with the bamboo door’.
But, for us kids, Christmas Eve would be at our great-aunt’s house at Chowpatty. Considering we weren’t Christian, we made a helluva big deal out of our Christmas celebrations. The soaking of raisins and dry fruits of the Christmas cake would begin a month in advance. The order for the suckling pig would be placed (either with Cobana Café at Byculla or the Willingdon or Royal Bombay Yacht Club) depending on how last year’s porker had turned out. On Christmas day, my grandfather would personally drive to the club to take the delivery of the stuffed piglet. The stuffing was usually sausage meat, strongly herbed with sage and rosemary, sprinkled with raisins and nuts, and embodied with boiled eggs. And after many glasses of Scotch and port, the oinker would be carved and consumed.
Nowadays, we talk about ordering a biryani from Jaffer Bhai’s or a raan biryani from Jeff’s for Christmas. How times have changed. For years, Alyque Padamsee hosted the most coveted Christmas Eve party on the rooftop of his building, aptly called Christmas Eve. It was just beer and bhel puri. But all of theatre landed there and revelled in the intimacy and adored the Lord, with Ernie Flannigan belting out carols with his keyboard.
The Broacha Christmas tree goes up by the first of December. Cyrus Broacha’s mom, Olivia, who is a true-blooded Goan Catholic, switches on her CD player at 8am and the whole of Jain-occupied Malabar Hill resounds with Jim Reeves baritone belting Feliz Navidad and The First Noel. Come Christmas Eve, in the good ol’ days, Cyrus and I would host the most gate-crashed Christmas Eve party ever. We never bothered with real food. It was just bottles and bottles of alcohol, wafers, peanuts and rock ’n’ roll. I’d then wake up the next morning, hung-over, and return to his house for lunch — Ollie Broacha’s traditional Christmas lunch.
Even today, for Christmas lunch at the Broacha’s, there’s always a spicy vindaloo, one signature Parsi dish like palao and daar and a leg of ham from the Rochas of Farm Products (Colaba), besides lots of other goodies including Christmas sweets like kalkal, Neuris, rose cookies, and marzipan.
Most of you will party this Christmas, but the irony of it all is that Christmas is celebrated as the birth of Christ and his followers, the Christians, don’t party at night. Christmas Eve is for midnight mass, and Christmas day is for family.
Author and TV show host Vijayakar is “always hungry”. Follow him on Twitter @kunalvijayakar