This is the first year in AGES that I am spending Christmas without my daughter. Traditionally she and I head out on a 10 day adventure that spans the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. In recent years we have taken off to Tunisia, Marrakech and Prague…always returning with hysterical and wonderful memories. I’ve always really loved these times together because my daughter is always away from me in summer so we never experience the traditional ‘summer holiday’ like most families. But this year she headed back home to Spain to visit friends and family so I am going it solo.
My choices for how to spend Christmas were varied but until several days ago I hadn’t made a decision. A work mate of mine invited me to spend Christmas dinner with his family, or our remaining group of expat mates in town planned for brunch at the Leela Palace hotel or finally I could decide to head out of town for a bit of an escape. In the end I chose the latter and on Christmas eve I checked into a five-star spa hotel just a short hour’s drive outside of Bangalore.
After checking in I spent the afternoon at the pool, which was completely deserted so I had the entire place to myself. It was bliss! I ordered cocktails, ate my lunch sitting meditation-style on my lounge chair and listened to a funky megamix on my MP3 player. That was exactly what the doctor ordered, I’ll tell ya! I lounged on that chaise in my bikini and swam for hours without a single soul around to check out this ‘inappropriate for a woman’ behaviour that was making me so very happy. Well, silly me though! I thought I’d be able to do the exact same thing today on Christmas day but boy was I wrong!
Today’s blog post is being written in real-time. I’m sat poolside on a chaise lounge chair but this time I am fully clothed. I’m eating Tandoori chicken and sipping a yummy cosmopolitan that they served over ice and with a little umbrella but this time I’m in the shade to avoid tan lines. There are roughly 200 people around the pool and I am the only white person. The majority of the men are bare-chested and in swimming trunks playing and dancing and goofing off in the pool. But where are the women? There is ONE woman in a 1920s style swimming costume that goes from her knees to her shoulders but that is it, the rest of the women are looking glam and fully clothed, complete with scarves and bling bling accessories. There are literally dozens of men in the pool or running around outside of it in their swimming trunks and less than ten women in the pool…all of whom are fully clothed except for our 1920s gal.
The rest of the beautifully dressed women are simply trying to stay in the shade because it’s 28 degrees today with clear blue skies. Basically it’s the perfect weather for lounging in a swimming costume and swimming on Christmas day with the family. But unfortunately that is not in the cards for Indian women, even on Christmas. So instead of enjoying the sun and the pool, the closest the women will come to that experience is acting really excited about the fun and games the guys are having. I’m sorry but actually HAVING the fun is WAY more fun than looking on and having to appear excited about the fun that someone else is having. I have a hard time believing that if the tables were reversed that the men would have as much fun watching the women frolic in the pool, play water polo, dance to the rockin’ music in the shallow end, etc. No way.
But this is India and this is the reality of life for women based on a long and rich history of tradition. And because of that I am reluctant to lounge in my bikini even with this perfect weather and gorgeous pool so I am still wearing my sun dress after more than hour that I am sat poolside. I would be the only woman in the entire place showing some skin (well, in a sun dress I guess I already am the only woman showing some skin!) and I can only imagine that everyone would stare even more than they are now if I stripped down to a bikini. So when in Rome, stay clothed girlfriends! I’m not a happy camper about this though because the pool was one of the main reasons I chose to come here and not stay in Bangalore.
Well, okay… so if you can’t beat them, join them! And I really am having fun taking in the sights and sounds of Christmas in India. Here at the hotel there is a wild Christmas party going on at the pool complete with a massive spread of Indian food and a DJ blasting rockin’ house, commercial and Bollywood music with a few people here and there even busting a move and shaking their tail feathers! There are carnival-style games going on around the pool as well as some silly audience-participation stuff that the MC initiates (yes, of course there is an MC to officiate Christmas … this is India!). The pool has a water polo net and there are tons of balls bouncing about for the kids. This is nothing like the somber and boring Christmas parties I have been to at hotels in Europe or the U.S. This is truly Christmas, Indian style – colourful and loud!
And like on so many other occasions, the women here are lovely and kind and just as curious about me as I am about them. When I went on walkabout to snap some photos a few minutes ago I was stopped a couple of times by women wanting to take their photo with me (not sure why exactly but it’s sweet). Two of them even asked if I wanted to dance with them or go swimming, which I found so sweet. But there is no way I am getting this dress wet and the bikini seems like an impossible mission at this point. Although, I just might take them up on the dancing in a bit because that does sound rockin’ and the DJ is playing hit after hit.
In general, Christmas is very different here in India. Most of my friends are Hindus but I do have a handful of mates who are Christians and have long-standing family traditions surrounding Christmas that I was surprised about. I didn’t ask around about this but I assume that Christianity was brought over during the time when India was colonized by the British??
Things are quite different at work for Christmas, too. There is no ‘Secret Santa’ or Christmas parties as such but on Good Friday we had yummy muffins delivered to everyone’s desk by a very white but somehow very Asian looking Santa, it was really fun and Santa was very cute. The HR team decorated the office as well as they do for all major holidays so I actually started getting into the Christmas spirit for the first time at work.
Shopping at Christmas isn’t that different from back home from the little I saw. Knowing that I was alone, a friend wanted to cheer me up and took me on a shopping spree to Garuda Mall in Bangalore last week. I was in heaven and bought a gorgeous new Dupont pen, some Dior makeup and a new camera (mine broke during my birthday party in October when it fell on the dance floor at F Bar and I’ve been without one since. At each of the three stores they had a small Christmas ‘gift with purchase’ to give as incentive to shoppers, including a Christmas basket full of chocolates at William Pen, a bracelet and bag full of samples at the Dior counter at Lifestyle and an upgraded memory card at the Sony shop where we bought the camera. Rock on!
Christmas cards, massively HUGE in the UK and the U.S., are simply not given here so when I passed out the handful of cards at work or drove by my friend’s homes to deliver them – even though I only gave a card and no gift – it was really appreciated here and came as a surprise. Just like so many things are new for me, it was fun for my Indian mates to enjoy something new as well.
As far as gifts for our domestic help, there are also traditions to uphold. Our driver is Hindu so he is given a gift during Diwali and he doesn’t expect anything during Christmas. However, our housekeeper is Christian so we gave her a gift on Good Friday, which tradition dictates should be at least one sari and I love sari shopping so that was fun as hell. We gave her a sari, 200 Rupees to have the blouse for it tailored, a small purse and some sweets for her family. I was also advised to gift the security staff of our building with cash, the senior guys receive Rs. 500 and the junior or newer security guards receive Rs. 150, plus I like to bake brownies so everyone enjoys one brownie too.
All in all I’m happy that I decided to spend some time alone at a spa instead of with the cats in our flat in Bangalore. It feels less lonely here for some reason, I suppose because everything is different and new and doesn’t remind me of my daughter. And thanks to video chat from Skype I spent over an hour in the wee hours of Christmas day catching up with my brother and sister in Colorado and then right afterwards with my parents in California. Mom even took me on a tour of the house to show me her decorations for this year and the tree … and even set the laptop in the oven for a few seconds so I could catch a glimpse of the turkey. It was perfect and made me feel a bit more connected even though we are so far apart. Bless Skype for that!
Now it’s time for some TLC with an afternoon at the spa. But I am going to miss watching the activities going on around me here at the pool. Tonight I will eat Christmas dinner at the hotel restaurant – Indian food, hehe.
Happy Christmas to you, wherever you may be.