This was no routine mother-daughter shopping trip. We were going out to buy a Christmas tree for the first time in our lives. Our daughter had recently introduced us to the young man in her life, who happened to be from Italy and Christian by faith. He had accompanied her to India and was working in a totally alien atmosphere. What better way to show him that we cared.
As we got ready to go shopping, our Cocker Spaniel, Coffee, tugged at my kurta. “We will be back soon,” I told him. Two sharp barks reminded me that I had better.
Till a year and a half ago, Coffee used to follow my sari-clad self up and down our duplex house, bound up to the terrace garden to snoop around the plants while I pottered about, and go for long walks with me through our friendly neighbourhood. All this had stopped when I broke both my legs in an accident. We had to move to a rented flat where I eventually re-learnt to walk, and he learnt to walk on newly-polished floors without skidding, and on the manicured lawn of the apartment complex without being frowned at by stern residents and strict gardeners.
So this shopping trip was nothing short of a miracle for my family, Coffee and me. It was a great step forward—within a year and a half, I had graduated from lying flat on a hospital bed to walking and going shopping in a crowded market.
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We reached the famed Jayanagar Shopping Complex after an eventful 1km auto ride; I kept up the refrain of “slow down please”, “watch out!” as the exasperated driver kept up variations of “At this pace, even my great-grandfather can overtake us on foot, madam!” My daughter held on to my hand as we made our way carefully through the crowded alleys.
I am a Hollywood Christmas movie junkie but I suddenly realised I had not paid attention to the intricate details. I need not have worried. “You will need a tree—5ft will do?” asked the same shopkeeper I remember having bought my Rani Muthu Tamil calendar from a couple of years earlier. “Give madam 4ft of red, white and green maaley,” he instructed his assistant, who pulled out a big roll of tinsel. He reeled off the other things we should get—ornaments, mistletoe and poinsettias.
Neither of us is a fan of plastic baubles but on that day nothing looked gaudy. Everything looked beautiful.
At home, we quickly set up the tree. Coffee looked on with interest. He already knew he shouldn’t touch the Ganesh that was installed during Chaturthi or topple the golu dolls that we would assemble on steps during Navratri. Today he seemed to be thinking, “Okay for me to climb this tree? Any squirrels up there?”
The daughter used cardboard to create a background for the Nativity scene. Instead of hay, we used a piece of my old cotton sari as the floor of the manger. Coffee edged closer. As we installed the crib and Baby Jesus, and the sheep and camel figurines, he inched even closer, his hot breath almost toppling them. Just as we moved away, Coffee literally pulled the “rug” from under the feet of all the figurines. He held on to it and wouldn’t let go.
“Look, we got you this,” said the daughter, trying to lure him with a flannel Christmas cap. Somehow, we had never thought of getting him one, even though he came from a Christian household. I can still remember the day my friend Matilda called. “Guess what, our Ebony met a sweet blue roan Cocker Spaniel who has just had a beautiful litter! I would like to gift one pup who has a star on his forehead to you, since you and the girls love dogs.” We picked him up from the caretaker at the kennel, since Matilda was travelling. “He has a tilaka on his head,” observed the caretaker as he handed over the pup.
As the Christmas lights went up on the tree, the young man in whose honour we had set it up seemed happy. Coffee clearly approved of this new person in our lives. Coffee also appreciated the titbits of Parmigiano rinds that he offered.
For me, the Christmas shopping with my daughter was more than just retail therapy; it was a promise of good things, an affirmation of hope and faith, and a peek into a world where religion did not come in the way of humanity.
Mala Kumar is a writer and hopes to make Christmas decorations with old fabric, as soon as she finishes watching a Christmassy movie.