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New Year & Christmas Celebrations – Then & Now

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By Kulbhushan Kain

I grew up in beautiful, green, sunny, mountainous Dehradun. Our house was (and still is) on the fringes of what is now Rajaji National Park – in the then suburb, Clement Town. A large number of British and Anglo Indians families settled there because it reminded them of England. Many of them had served in the Indian Railways during British rule, and some were tea planters and school teachers (Miss Lumsden for sure!). Dehradun was known as a town of green hedges and grey hair – a town in which more people died than got married.

Not surprisingly, the town imbibed a large dose British culture. Christmas was celebrated with gusto. Miss Lumsden always came to our house and told us that though Christmas was about the birth of Christ, it was more about the good things of the past, the courage of the present, and hopes for the future.

“Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share with the less fortunate, all the snow on the Mussoorie Hills won’t make it white,” she would remind us over and over again.

It was a lesson in secularism I never forgot throughout my life. For at least one day in a year, I become someone who I always wanted and hoped to become! It has nothing to do with my religion, formal education, success or failures.

Winds of change started blowing towards the end of the ‘60s – when the Anglo Indian families started to disappear. However, the smouldering embers of colonialism can still be felt and seen in some homes and families the way Dehradun used to celebrate Christmas and the New Year.

Christmas and the New Year were important events – and the confectionary of the town had to rise to these occasions. After all, what is Christmas without a walnut or a plum cake? I write with absolute honesty that I have never tasted the quality of buns, bread, pastries and cakes like the ones we used to get in the Dehradun of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I have travelled a lot to some of the biggest and oldest cities of the world – but Milkmade (later the name was changed to Elloras), Standard, Sunrise and Grand (in Paltan Bazaar) were stand out bakeries, and good old Central Stores dished out the best bacon, ham and sausages that one could ever hope to get!

Those days, the Doon Club was the only club and my father used to frequent it. It is one of the oldest Clubs in India which was started in Colonel Young’s Bungalow on the main Rajpur Road, which was the Heritage Building of my school, St Joseph’s Academy. It was later shifted to where it now stands –opposite the Parade Ground. My father got easy access to it because he was physician to Sir Edmund Gibson (who lived in Ramgarh Estate) who was its President for two terms. By strange coincidence, I have never been to the Doon Club after my father’s demise (52 years ago) even though its Presidents have been dear friends from school – Deepak Nagalia, Sudhir Kishore,Vishwadeep Singh (and many more), as also the legendary late journalist, Shri Raj Kanwarji.

Sometimes, my Dad used to take us to it (mostly he liked to go alone because he loved to drink and play “Teen Patti- which he probably thought was a bad thing for children to see!). I remember it as a typical British kind of Club – a bigger and more elaborate version of an old pub in England. Dimly lit, one could smell the amazing aroma – which was a mix of cigarette smoke and alcohol! Old British type “burra sahibs” would enter it and pause at the door, while either the bar boys or the valets peeled off their overcoats and hung them on the pegs. But they always removed their top hats on their own. It used to be a very special place to be in during Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Those who did not go to the Doon Club used to either celebrate at home with a special meal, music, dance and drinks. Those who ate out went to restaurants like Kwalitys, Napoli and even Hackmans and Savoy in Mussoorie. Royal Café, which used to be next to Orient Movie Hall and was owned by the Pasrichas, used to have a crooner. It had a small dance floor – enough for 3 couples to dance. The music was soft – not noisy. The fastest one could dance was to do the “twist” (on popular demand we would ask for the Beatles’ hit, “I wanna hold your hand” to be sung). But, mostly, it was ballroom music.

As Christmas is now in the past and New Year approaches, I am tempted to compare the change that has taken place over the decades in the way these days are celebrated. It’s like the difference between the music which is played by a band in a baraat, to the music played in a concert in Vienna. The cars (mostly outstation) jam the streets, honking loudly, music blaring from car steroes, beer and liquor bottles litter the roads. Call me an orphan of the British Raj in India. Call me old. Call me anything – but it seems I don’t belong here anymore!

But I still celebrate these days, like we did when I was young – cocooned with a friend in a sprawling bungalow with a bottle of wine, cake, dry fruits and cheese. And I do listen to Doris Day sing “Whatever will be will be” and Asha Bhonsle  “Aaagey bhi  jaane na tu”. I do find a piece of the Dehradun of the ‘60s and ‘70s in them.

For me, the smells of Christmas and New Year are the smells of childhood.

I find it in their homes.

I will end optimistically, by quoting Lord Tennyson when he wrote – “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering “it will be happier”.

Happy New Year!

(Kulbhushan kain is an award winning educationist with more
than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain@gmail.com)