This is my second Christmas on my journey and contrary to any plans I made before, I spend it in Delhi. I am so busy with myself that no Christmas feelings occur. Somewhere in my head, I have the idea to bake cookies in order to get a little bit into the christmas spirit. On the 24th I go into the local supermarket around the corner and find no flour, almonds or eggs - not because they don't exist, just because I am blind - I give up my plan quickly. I don't have the ingredients, nor do I trust the small electric oven in the kitchen to meet my requirements. It seems too risky. My solution is Starbucks. I buy a piece of chocolate and carrot cake - because I can't decide, a pack of Oreos and Indian chocolate biscuits. Then I ask A. to show me the way to the "liquor store", whereupon he puts me in the car, drives around the corner and carefully accompanies me into the dark alleys of the dilapidated shopping center. I buy two beers and a red wine recommended by A. ("Miss J. always drinks it, it's good.") I wish I could mimic the Indian accent. Unfortunately, my imitation is an insult. I will forever smile when I hear it though.) Then I ask A. to let me out at N-Block Market. It's the fancier local shopping square (if you can call it that). I buy another cappuccino. To move a little, I go around the whole place. When I arrive at the opposite end, I see an Indian Santa Claus on a carriage pulled by a white horse. From one of the many shops a British version of Jingle Bells blares into the street and suddenly I'm in the mood. By chance, my eyes fall on a deco shop and following an impulse I buy two hands full of tea lights with lavender scent. I know exactly what I will do. I'll take a hot shower (a luxury), wrap myself in lavender, eat cake and sip red wine, read a book and Skype with my family. Not very Christmassy in the German sense, but fully satisfactory and to my taste.
As soon as it gets dark, I turn on the candles, pour the red wine into a wine glass and brew a pot of tea. After all, I don't want to get totally wasted. (After having drunk no red wine since Georgia.) Then I start to read a book that was recommended to me a few days earlier by P., a new Indian friend from J. circle of acquaintances. It's the best book I've read in a long time. Full of admiration, I immerse myself in the most poetic version of "creative non-fiction", which I ever had the pleasure to read. "A Handbook For My Lover" by Rosalyn d'Mello is a great book, with a prologue that I read over and over again, chanting it aloud and putting it aside giggling. The text appeals to me at all levels. It's honest, shameless and adorable. It's literary, uses form and poetic tricks with an elegance that makes me laugh. Rosalyn d'Mello does not make any beginner mistakes, makes no compromises and stays true to herself all the time. I am deeply impressed and spend the rest of the evening in a cloud of relaxation and in the ecstasy of intellectual discovery.
The inevitable Skype conversation with my assembled family is beautiful, a wild back and forth with excited nephews and tired adults. This year, a lot of my family gathers at my sisters place. For the first time, Christmas isn't celebrated in our parents' homes. This fundamental change means that my nostalgia is limited. I am not yet ready to replace or reinvent my native ritual. However, I am very willing to celebrate Christmas alone and abroad and to make it a contemplative and joyful evening at my discretion. I don't quite understand that point yet. I let it stand. Growing up doesn't follow any rules.
For the 25th, I am invited to the family lunch of the widely branched family W. Here one is accustomed to integrate and care for the visitors of the extended family. To my surprise, an e-mail with a picture of me was sent in preparation for the celebration. As in a company newsletter, the family has already been informed about my plans, my journey and my job. This leads to a juxtaposition of amusing conversations. First, everyone knows who I am, but I have no idea in return. With difficulty, I arrange the faces of the people I have met at a previous lunch. However, I had understood how they connect with my J. only after I had left. My own family is an intimidating crowd. The W. clan in comparison are refreshingly friendly, but no less intimidating. At the beginning, I am a bit shy. I keep to the edges of the crowd and don't know where to go. I talk amicably with some elderly ladies whose elegance I gaze at with wonder. As soon as I dare to voice how beautiful their saris are, I realise that that is probably a culturally insensitive thing to say. But they are truly stunning. Carefully embroidered in beautiful colors, bound in incomprehensible pleats. This family depicts something that has struck me. There are a few saris, but just as many western women. Their stile is almost a little American. Everybody wears greens and red garments (a family tradition, as I'm told). I'm dressed in blue, with a few green shades on my freshly bought short tunic. A bit Indian, but not too Indian, I had thought when I bought it. A balancing act, I had hoped. This “balancing act” doesn't exist in India. It's either... or. Here one doesn't shy away from opposites. Rookie mistake. It's easy for Indians. There are the traditional ones who like to wear saris and those who don't like it. Both are fine. The difficult thing for me is, that I experience the western dressed people as very Indian. For me, it's complicated to understand this juxtaposition, because what Indians declare to be "normal", isn't normal for me. The differences are as obvious and as subtle as in the language. Although excellent English is spoken without exception, I always hear the characteristic Indian accent. Often, I have to ask because I don't understand it. Sometimes that's because of the emphasis on well-known words, other times when new-word creations are used. Here in India, for example, it's not "I took a picture" but "I clicked that". A terminology that I like so much that I take it into my personal word pool.
I soon get summoned and encouraged to try the street food. It's is heavenly. However, I start to sweat, when I see the ease with which people eat food with their hands. The problem at this point is less in my hands than in the combination of standing, talking and eating simultaneously. I can't help but use my ignorance as an icebreaker. Whomever I meet at the buffet, I ask for tips. How do you eat this, how do you eat that? This morning, I learn to rip Roti (a kind of bread) with one hand by balancing the plate with my left hand and holding the bread between my thumb and middle finger but at the same time pressing the Roti against the plate with my forefinger. Soon, I succeed in tearing the bread into small bite-sized pieces and after a few concentrated attempts I even manage to listen to my counterpart during that procedure. Everyone is very friendly and happy to help. Some feel sorry for me. I probably look pathetic. I don't mind that much, because I feel comfortable in the role of the beginner. I am used to being stupid and providing amusement to locals. This morning, I try most of the things that I've been cautiously walking by on the street. Everything tastes delicious. Nothing is so foreign that it would be disgusting to me. For example, there are dough balls that are hollow. Inside they put a liquid that tastes of vegetables. You quickly put it in your mouth, make a bite and swallow. They are called Pani Puri or Gol Gappa. There is also a strange mixture of white, green and red sauce, which is poured over something like chips. I forget the name. This is followed by various pea and lentil stews, as well as sauces, which are taken with different Roti versions. Of course the breads are not all the same, but there are so many names that I can't't remember them. Some are fried, others baked or put over an open flame. They are made with different types of flour, have different colors and different sizes and thicknesses. In other words, they have nothing in common. And yet, all are flatbreads.
Back in my own four walls, I am completely exhausted from so much communication. I lie down in my bed, pick up my fantastic book and take a break from my head. A completely different, but thoroughly agreeable Christmas.