So Christmas came and went… And I managed to spend most of it sleeping.
On the one hand, I had plenty of rest to catch up on as the previous night I barely closed my eyes. My accommodation for the last night of my travels was a far cry from 1-star luxury and the mini-fan on the ceiling was hardly a match for the burning heat bursting from the synthetic sheets. That, and the buzzing of mosquitoes, and the itching of the bites on my legs from previous days, made for a less than comfortable night. So a refreshing night’s sleep in my own bed between freshly laundered white cotton sheets, in a fairly mosquito-free zone, was the order of the day.
On the other hand, after almost two months of taking every precaution in the book not to succumb to tummy bugs, I paid the price for carelessness and politeness… So as not to offend my host (kayak navigator on the Alleppey backwaters), I had to eat a delicious lunch prepared by his wife. And I am sure that the food withstood all rigours of hygiene, but presented on a banana leaf that may have been cleaned with the waters from the surrounding lakes and rivers and washing my hands with cold water with no soap or disinfectant available, would not have been the best way to deal with bacteria collected on my travels on the waters… At the same time, eating with my right hand and dispensing with unnecessary cutlery is becoming second nature. So, on Christmas Day, I nursed the results: I skipped breakfast and instead of a turkey roast dinner, I managed two slices of plain toast and a cup of ginger tea… I had a small portion of pasta with an improvised version of ratatouille for supper and was in bed by 8.00 pm…
But I did glimpse a little of the true meaning of Christmas and how it is celebrated in Kerala. Lured by the sounds of passing bands, I ventured out to buy some tomatoes and witnessed the biggest get-together of people of all ages and probably all faiths in a procession of fun, laughter and Christmas cheer. Whilst all and sundry in the UK would be spending Christmas afternoon in front of the television watching films and favourite TV shows, or maybe even the Queen’s speech, or would be engaging in family fun and walks and opening presents, in Kerala schools and churches put on a show for all to enjoy in a display of unity of all faiths. The coming together of all faiths and celebrating of all important religious festivals has created a religious tolerance in Kerala that allows people of all faiths to live together in harmony.
In the Christmas Parade exuberant Father Christmases joined Joseph and Mary in the stable; shepherds came to visit and the three wise men brought gifts; angels sang songs and their voices were drowned out by the schools’ steel drum and brass bands; jubilant youngsters danced to merry tunes and children dressed representing Christians, Hindus and Muslims. And ribbons of church faithful in Kerala’s national dress crowded the street. Christmas was a feast for all to revel and take part in.
Although the real Christian faithful will also have spent their morning in church in prayer… So when I bumped into one of the teachers of Sai Krishna School, a devout Christian who joined the parade small child in tow, she asked whether I had gone to church in the morning to pray, I could honestly say that I did not as I had not been feeling well – which was very much the truth. But whether I would have gone out of my way to find a church to spend Christmas morning in prayer under different circumstances, I cannot honestly answer… However, I did catch the end of a Christmas Carol service last Sunday in Cochin – does that count????