An Indian Christmas, Blessings Abound

I began Christmas morning with the most amazing bath of my life. Now, it was just a tub of very hot water that I poured over my head, but it was incredible. The water was actually hot, not tepid (often, the definition of “hot water” varies). The water was so hot I pulled the giant tub down from the stool it was perched on and soaked my freezing feet while I poured the hot water over and over again – singing “Happy Christmas to me, happy Christmas to me” – long after I was clean.

After I was dry and cozy in my new secondhand grandpa sweater, I went to book my train ticket to Varkala. I had the most curious experience with that simple project. The old Indian man who worked at the government booking agency was ruputed to be short tempered and of little help. He recognized me, though, from the day before when we’d stopped in just to get information. He gestured for me to fill out an information card. Then he opened his office door and stepped out.

“I go for smoking,” he said. “Two minutes. You want coffee?”

“Sure,” I said.

A couple minutes later he reappeared with a small grocery bag. He came over and showed me what was inside: milk and sugar. He was going to make coffee in his little office area. Foolish of me to think he was going to buy an actual cup of coffee.

And so the lean, be-speckled, grizzled old Indian handed me my ticket and offered me a seat in the office, which he told me doubled as his bedroom. He worked and slept in the tiniest of spaces. Clearly a creature of habit, and most often alone, he moved through the room with purpose, boiling the milk on a tiny gas stove. He went over and checked to see if the milk was boiling, staring at it for several long seconds. He went and sat back in his office chair…then he got up and checked the milk again.

He spoke very little English, so we sat in silence. He sat at the desk, doing work with his back to me. I sat on the couch that was also his bed. He watched the milk. Then he inspected two cups, and, choosing the cleaner, brought it over to a container. He added several scoops of sugar until I stopped him, and a small dab of coffee grounds. He pulled out a bag of white bread and offered me two slices, which I politely refused.

Finally, the milk was boiling and he added it to the cup and handed it to me. I could feel him watching me take the first sip, anxious that I should enjoy it. The coffee grounds hadn’t dissolved or mixed in at all, so what I was drinking was really warm sugary milk. I nodded enthusiastically to show him that the drink was delicious. When he wasn’t looking, I dumped it down the sink located directly to my left and made a gracious and if not somewhat graceful exit.

The day developed splendidly, with a late western-style brunch with coffee, toast, and homemade muesli served with freshly whipped curd and fruit. It was market day in Kodai, so after eating Danci and I went down and shopped for a couple day’s worth of food to bring with us to Vadakanal, where we’d have a kitchen.

I’ve been counting my Post-Christmas Blessings:

1. Thankful to celebrate Christmas in a hill-station where Indians specialize in homemade chocolates.

2. Happy to sit next to a glamorous Indian grandmum and her grand-daughter on the bus from Kodai to Madurai. Though I had little to no room on the seat, the grandmum made great efforts to chat with me (I learned they were in Kodai to celebrate her 94 year-old mothers b-day – whew!).

3. Lucky that I was in a “ladies only” bunk on the train so as to minimize creepy Indian men staring at me while I slept.

4. Had the good fortune to arrive in Varkala where my friend from Sadhana was already staying, so I could dump my baggage and look for a clean room in my budget without my pack. With Tristan’s help I nabbed one next to the beach and in my price range, with wifi in my room – officially feel like a princess.

No snow on Christmas, but as far as holidays away from home, I think I did okay 🙂


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