B. N. Uniyal recalls how his conservative mother began to respect Jesus Christ without affecting her traditional faith. Article in the Pioneer, Bombay edition, 25th. December 1996.
Growing Up With Bada Din.
When I was a child living in Mussorie, my mother would call my elder sister and me to the kitchen early on the Christmas morning and serve us a severe warning for the day. "Remember," she would say, "today is the krischan's bada din and, if they see you playing near the girja, they will offer you a cake. Accept it politely. Take a piece in your hands, but don't eat it. God knows what all they mix in it. May be, even eggs! Who knows? So, don't you ever eat it, understand?"
"Touching the krischans (Christians) and their cake is polluting enough," she would caution us, "but eating it is worse. And, if anybody (known to us from our village) sees you eating it, we shall all be thrown out of our caste and shall thereafter not be able to draw water from the communal well when we go back home to our village. You undestand what I have said, don't you?"
When we said, "Yes, mother, we have. We remember you telling us all of this last year too. We didn't eat anything of it last year either. We threw it all into the gutters and didn't come into the kitchen without first taking our bath even in that cold, didn't we? You sure remember that!"
"But, who asked you to throw it into the gutters," she would snap at us.
"Then, tell us what we must do with it. Do we bring it home or do we give it to somebody in the street."
"Don't bring it into the house, you fools. You may give it to a beggar, but, maybe, you shouldn't. How would you know who the beggar is? May be, he is also a Hindu or a Muslim. There aren't any krischan beggars around here. Krischans are not poor people. And, they are not short of food, not on the Bada Din anyway. The best is to place it on the platform around the peepul tree on the Library Road. After all, it is prasad, even if that be of the krischan. Place it at a sacred place. May be, the crows or the ants will take it. Remember now. You just place it at the peepul tree and let god take care of it. And, if you have accepted it and touched it, don't come into the house without first washing your hands!"
I vividly remember how carefully we used to avoid the padri-log (padres) and the krischans on the bada din, though we couldn't always succeed in our efforts. The trouble lay with the lantern show on the life of Jesus of Nazareth which was held every evening in the hall of the library. The show began a week before the Bada Din but Christmas eve would be the most alluring time of all because on that day, the padri would at the end of it distribute colourful children's books and earthen and wooden toys together with lemon candy to all those present and agreeing to chant "Thanks, Jesus."
The most exciting moment of the show came when, the padri drew a curtain apart to throw open to us a beautifully decorated scene of the Nativity with infant Jesus Christ lying in the midst of fluffy, cottonballs, which reminded us of the snow on yonder hilltops.
There would be a big, silvery star, lit with a lantern from behind it, hanging overhead, and there would be several cows and sheep standing around the basket with the faces of them all turned towards the infant Jesus as also a hooded young woman and some old men, all bent over and peering with wide open eyes at the infant. The padri would ask us to stand behind one another and silently walk past the scene with folded hands, all the time whispering "Thanks Jesus" in a muted voice.
When we came out, it would be deep dark already and we would make haste for home, clutching close to our chests the books and the toys which the padri had given us earlier in the evening. But, we never ever ate the candy given us. We did not even as much as try to unfold the cellophane in which they were wrapped, though we did feel tempted to retain these for bookmarks because they looked so beautiful with their coloured lettering around a baby face.
We would stop at the peepul tree on the way and stealthily place the candies in a hole on the platform around it and run back homewards where we would be given a bath before entering the bedroom or kitchen.
My mother could never decide that night what to do with the books and toys. After some haggling, arguing and crying we were allowed to take the books to bed to read. The toys had to be kept outside in the varandah. The books were allowed because, as my nother said, they were sacred vidya (knowledge).
Next day, I sat by the side of my nother on the nearby hill in the sun and read to her the story of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The story made her sad and tears ran down her cheeks when the story came to his hanging on the cross. She cursed the Jews who had wanted poor Jesus to be hanged and cursed Pontius Pilate too, and cried for Mariam and for Joseph. Then, touching the book to her forehead, once again cautioned us, "He (Christ) was a kind, holy man, had love and pity for the poor and said and did all the right things that a holy man can do in a situation like that. You must learn the right things from him. But phew on these padris who seek to entice small, innocent children away from their faith by giving them toys and sweets and whispering satanic words into their ears. That man would never have done that, I am sure!"
B. N. Uniyal in the Pioneer, Bombay edition, 25th. December 1996.