A Memorable Christmas

 

There came a time in my life when I began to detest Christmas.  

When I was a kid though, Christmas was kind of magic.  

Santa was busy back in those days, bringing presents to kids all over the world, even distant South Australia. His heavy red clothes, long white beard, sled, and reindeer, didn’t prevent him from mysteriously appearing in Australia in the middle of summer –  when 35 degrees centigrade was nothing out of the ordinary.

So there it was in our lounge: a synthetic Christmas tree covered in fake snow and bright coloured lights. Christmas dinner: roast turkey and vegetables followed by plum pudding and custard.

The air conditioner working overtime.

Even then I detected a kind disconnect about Christmas.

At the church I attended I heard about the supposed reason for Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ. On the one hand this divine miracle and on the other, Father Christmas and his reindeer and a plastic pine tree covered in lights and the next morning, presents under the tree.

A time came when I was too old to believe in Father Christmas. I became rather cynical. Strip away the hype and Christmas was really just an orgy of spending, over eating and drinking; a consumer event accompanied by an advertising blitz. This whilst all over the world, there were so many people living in dire need.  

From that point on, Christmas was to an event to be endured. The idea of having a memorable Christmas seemed impossible. I did my best to be somewhere in the world where they didn’t celebrate Christmas. Which was how I ended in a place which I thought was as far away from Christmas as you could possibly get: a small town in southern India famous for its Hindu temples.

Safe bet, leastways that’s what I thought…..

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Taj Mahal Part 2

The Taj Mahal, one of the world’s most beautiful and best known architectural wonders was also a favourite haunt for the Indian vulture.

It was a seeming contradiction, even, profanity, the sight of those vultures circling high above that tomb and its high towers, there in that human representation of Paradise with its gardens and waters and its architectural wonders …..a bird of carrion, a scavenger….yet it was richly symbolic of the splendid contrasts and contradictions of India.  

Eight centuries ago, the armies of Mohammed had invaded the subcontinent but failed to convert the majority of the population who remained Hindus and surely the most graphic example of this failure was the Hindus worship of the vulture.

For over two thousand years, the vulture was a sacred bird for the Hindus.

And then a time came when they ceased regarding it as an object of worship and it was a portent of trouble ahead, of dark and pungent clouds gathering over the Taj Mahal….and also the human race….and you and me.….

How did this happen? How did this metaphor of our collective crisis unfold?

In the fate of that holy scavenger, our fate…..

 

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Taj Mahal Part 1

He joined us on the flight to Adelaide in Singapore. I found myself sitting next to him – he had the window seat, Anya the aisle, and I was in the middle – and we began making small talk.

He was an Indian Australian who had been visiting family and friends and was now on his way home and it soon became obvious that Australia was for him very much home – and not only because he had a good job and was married to a Caucasian Australian.

There was also namely the issue of air pollution.

‘The air pollution’ he exclaimed, ‘it’s bloody awful!’

To emphasize the point, he told me about a visit he had made shortly before leaving India to see the famous Taj Mahal.

‘It is one of the most famous landmarks in India and I had never seen it. Well  I went there but I still didn’t see it! The air pollution was so bad! It was as thick as a fog. I was in a group and if it wasn’t for the tour guide I don’t think any of us would have found it. When we got there, all I could see was this wall in front of me. I put my hands on the wall and held them there for a while…that’s as close as I got to the Taj!’

Anya and I had spent years travelling in India (something I hadn’t got the chance to mention) and we had experienced dramatic changes in that country’s history, some of them far from positive, including the air pollution. On our last visit, our flight had been diverted because of the thick cloud of smog over Delhi.  

So I could well believe what he told me about the air pollution and hence his recital of his experience at the Taj Mahal, meant to get a reaction from me, fell flat and our discussion moved elsewhere.

Later, as the lights were dimmed and everyone hunkered down for the night, I put my sleeping mask on and lay back and tried to drift off into a slumber …..and instead, found myself reliving the memory of our visit to the Taj Mahal… so many years ago….

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Third Class Unreserved

 

Third Class Unreserved!!

Who would have thought it?

Me on that living nightmare!

Don’t get me wrong.

I liked Indian trains. Didn’t need First Class or Tourist Class or anything like that.

Second Class was fine.

I mean, Second Class Reserved.

But not Third Class Un – Reserved.

Hell no!

Here’s the deal for Third Class Unreserved: an unlimited number of tickets are sold. Once you have a ticket, you get on the train anyway you can. Your options are: being crammed inside a carriage like sardines in a tin or sitting on top of the roof or hanging off the side of the train along with hundreds of others.  

Third Class Unreserved is for poor Indians (ie, the great majority of India’s billion people).

I got on that train because I didn’t have any choice. Like, none.

How did I end up on it?

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The Slum Girl

 

I was on my way back to my hotel, when she ran up behind me, yelling.

It was a high pitched sound, bird like.

Before I knew it, she was standing in front of me and pointing at my camera.

It was a young girl wrapped in a blanket and all too obviously from a poor, lower caste family. She was sleeping on the streets, along with so many others……..

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