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Roundabout: Jingle bells of remembrance on Christmas Eve

It happened to the Anglo-Irish novelist, Iris Murdoch, our own brilliant story teller in Urdu, Ismat Chughtai, who set the East ablaze with her daredevil ‘Lihaaf’.

punjab Updated: Dec 24, 2017 11:52 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Nirupama Dutt
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Christmas Eve,Jingle bells,Ismat Chughtai
Slowly, I start turning pages: ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens, ‘The Gift of the Magi’ by O Henry and so on.(HT File )

Six girls gazed in awe, saying I was the luckiest because I had got so many lovely gifts. I smiled with pride for Santa had indeed been benevolent in making me a subject of envy

When silver strands glimmer on the once jet-black hair, things are not quite the same. You see the mind starts playing all kinds of tricks; it takes you back to childhood. Some term this phenomenon as regressing into childhood. Others call it a mental state quite close to Alzheimer’s, best to leave out the word dementia, when the first signs are that short memory is gone and long is longer than ever. That is what is happening to me.

Anyway, it has happened to better minds than mine. It happened to the Anglo-Irish novelist, Iris Murdoch, our own brilliant story teller in Urdu, Ismat Chughtai, who set the East ablaze with her daredevil ‘Lihaaf’. Now it is me and that too in the season of festivity. Perhaps, even Hindi poet Mangalesh Dabral, who was holding forth at a city lit fest. I am prone to taking these poets seriously, more so the male ones! He quoted some Polish or Czech writer, as he is prone to, saying that a piece of one’s childhood should always be kept in one’s pocket.

So I pull my red-bordered shawl tightly around me, rest my feet on a heating pad and start recalling all the Christmas stories that I had read in the distant past. This I am doing to be able to write these 700-odd words because let the mind wander, writing must be seasonal.

Slowly, I start turning pages: ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens, ‘The Gift of the Magi’ by O Henry and so on. But the heart was seeking out a Christmas Eve family dinner story that was part of my Class 2 or 3 Reader. But the name of the heart-warming story eludes me. All I can remember is the glowing fireplace, crackling chestnuts, oranges aplenty and a woman bringing in a ball of the Christmas pudding with liquor aflame on the top. The rest is blank.

Bracing myself, I bravely decide not to rehash a read story but recount a lived one. So it was time travel at once to the cantonment of Danapur near Patna and age 9, happening quite often these days.

Hard times

Those were hard times as Dickens would have said. The Chandigarh home was mortgaged to the Estate Office, father was no more and we were in the care of our older brother, a Major who was posted there soon after his Wellington course.

We lived with him in a huge old house with a couple of acres around it. It was called the Remand Home for it had been the haven of juvenile criminals in colonial times. Now it was divided into two and one half was with an Anglo-Indian, Major Knight and his family. The two Knight sisters, Jennifer and Beverley, were beautiful blondes. Sixteen-year-old Jenny jived at the club and played Elvis Presley records at home. Their darker sisters like me had found an idol in Joy Mukherjee swinging his guitar and singing ‘Phir wohi dil laaya hoon’ to Asha Parekh.

Gift of joy

Amid all this came the Christmas party at the club and parents and were asked to deposit gifts that Santa would hand out. It seemed that I would have to stay back from the fun fare as there was no money at the end of the month to buy a gift. My mother and bhabhi put their heads together and rummaged through their cupboards. My mother found a tiny blue bottle of her favourite ‘Evening in Paris’ perfume and a Japanese paper fan with a gilded cover and my bhabhi discovered a wooden comb and a small wicker purse. A couple of my new ribbons and hankies were added and packed in an empty plywood cigar box covered with a bright blue wrapping paper.

The party was joyous and the gifts placed beneath the Christmas tree were handed out by Major Knight in the Santa garb. While all others opened their gifts, I did not. I knew what was inside and was afraid that girls would come to know of the odds and ends collected from home.

Bev took the gift and opened it and a group of six girls gazed in awe, saying I was the luckiest because I had got so many lovely gifts. I smiled with pride for Santa had indeed been benevolent in making me a subject of envy.

First Published: Dec 24, 2017 11:49 IST