A Christmas tale

Rohan Swamy
Saturday, 23 December 2017

The season of normalcy took a while to return, but boy, return it did

The time towards the end of a year always puts me in a ‘taking stock’ mood, just as it does to big businesses, vast corporations and institutions, amongst others. This Sunday, in the middle of December, was no different. Escaping the shoppers that were scurrying into the city centre, I took a walk down Samuel Beckett bridge, towards the end of the Liffey River that opens up into the Irish-Liverpool Sea. There is a little bench, which is right across the road from the 3 Arena, overlooking a small pier — this was my perch for the day.

I sat there reminiscing about my first Christmas in Dublin. Raw and brittle, I was desperately trying to avoid the holiday season. My friend Brianna would have none of the reticence though. She dragged me for the evening mass to St Patrick’s Cathedral after which we shared a hot chocolate by the Liffey Pier and danced to a Christmas carol (which sounded like a slow Waltz) on O’Connell Street amidst a flurry of people. Brianna brought along laughter and sunshine when I was struggling to afford a smile in the dark.

Last Christmas, I was in the rebel city of Cork with El and her little boy. Their house felt like home and I enjoyed waking up to the smell of coconut-flavoured air fresheners, and Thomas the Tank Engine hoots, interspersed with a liberal doses of Corkonian dating humour. In its own way, the time spent with El, who I had been friends with before I left India, and her son, was catharsis. If the previous Christmas got me smiles, this one began rebuilding me.

Christmas in India would usually be a midnight mass with my father. On a rare occasion, I would bring a date, much to my amusement and hushed gossips permeating through the pews. There was an element of familiarity. But more importantly, it had a sense of normalcy — something I had lost in transition and was slowly trying to find.

This time of the year was always about giving. In Pune, Christmas for me was about spreading smiles, or getting cakes for my work colleagues from the famous Kayani Bakery, a gift for a friend (complete with a handwritten letter) or volunteering my time to charity.

The cold winds of the sea brought me out of my mind palace. I looked at the perfect redness of the skies, and the construction cranes standing tall like machine gun sentinels in an age of millennials and decided to shoot the image. I calibrated the light and took a few shots and saw that they were good. It pleased me. And then just like that, I went over the time it had taken for me to get here, and the road ahead.

I marvelled at it. I thought of the gifts I had gotten for my friends here, all neatly wrapped with letters. I thought of my closest friend, a former colleague from my journalism days, and how she would jump with joy on receiving postcards and other quaint old world antiquities. I thought of my first friend in Dublin, ‘her ability of effortlessly owning the universe’, as I put it, and our initial struggles.

I thought of a filmmaker, from the FTII, who I became friends with on a chance history walk in Pune and my promise to send her some of my new writings. I thought of a friend who recently released his song and its music video — a project he had been working on for over a year. I thought of my friends from work, school, city, India, and Europe. I remembered the kindness of strangers, the infectious laughs of my little neighbours. 

And I realised that normalisation is a process and not an end result, and that despite the night, there is always the promise of a dawn. Sitting there on the bench overlooking the sea, I knew dawn was coming. There was a lot to be thankful for. There was still a lot of joy to be spread. There were still enough moonbeams filled with vanishing smiles. And the new year would only build up upon it, even if it were a slow process.

This was the holiday season in its entirety (and its normalcy) for me. And I hope it’s as such, for everyone.

(Rohan Swamy is a former journalist, writer, and photographer, now working at Trinity College Dublin)

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