When aunty Thelma invited us to her home in Ernakulam this Christmas we did not think twice. A state that is proximate to Goa, my affair with the teardrop on the west coast has been watered by many intermittent visits.
Midnight Mass in the Roman Catholic rite was celebrated at Santa Cruz basilica in Fort Kochi about twenty minutes away from Ernakulam by car. As you enter the approach road to the basilica you are greeted by numerous stars which line either side of the road. It really feels like Christmas with the narrow roads packed and the faithful scurrying between churches of CSI and RC. The churches are beautifully decorated like brides to welcome the saviour of the world. The Mass is relayed on the public address system while the laity jostle for space with cars in the parking area as they bravely stand to attend the divine service.
The Santa Cruz basilica is a fine example of Portuguese architecture. Built in 1503 by the first Portuguese Viceroy, it is one of the eight major basilicas in India. (The basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa, the basilica of Our Lady of Good Health in Vellankani, Tamil Nadu and the basilica of Our Lady of the Mount in Bandra, Mumbai are three others. ) It is distinguished by two front minarets and reminds you of the church in Monte Hill, Margao.
Vasco-da-Gama, who scripted a city of Goa in his name died in Kochi on Christmas eve in 1524. His body was interred in St. Francis church, Fort Kochi and moved fourteen years later to Lisbon. It was also here that the body of St. Francis Xavier was brought from Malacca in 1553 and kept for veneration for three days before being taken to Goa.
The traditional annual Christmas lunch is hosted by aunty Thelma on 25th December. Three generations of the David name came together under one roof at aunty’s table at Johnson’s Villa in Kaloor. Queenie’s dad and uncle Johnson were brothers. Both died at fifty-three.
The incredible courage with which aunty built the villa single-handedly is awe-inspiring. Twenty-one years after her husband Johnson David died of cancer she believes he still loves her. ‘He is in the Gulf,’ she said. ‘So many wives in Kerala have not seen their husbands who work abroad.’ ‘He sends me money like them. I get his pension.’
Ten years back I breezed through Ernakulam to write my poem on Kerala titled ‘Chingam I’ (2008) for the Kerala New Year. The flavour still remains as we make our way to visit Mr. and Mrs. Vijayanadhan in Thiruvankulam, an hour’s drive from Kaloor. A scent of place, a sense of home.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa, on Sunday, 31 December 2017. Pix of Thelma Johnson, flanked by her son Rohit, his wife Indu and son Hrithik on the right and Queenie, Dwayne and myself on the left. Taken after midnight Mass on 24th December 2017 at the door of Johnson'sVilla, Kaloor, Ernakulam. (Middle)selfie of shikara ride on the backwaters, Alleppey. (Bottom) Spicy pork vindalho prepared for the Christmas meal. Scan of my poem from A Peace of India: Poems in Transit (2011). Courtesy Brian Mendonca.