The month of December is upon us and Christians all over the world are preparing for Christmas. This is a time, when I tend to fondly recall distinct childhood memories of the holiday season in the ‘city of my birth’ – Lahore, which at one time had a much larger Christian population than what we see now. When a wave of intolerance swept the country, many families, who could afford to, migrated to Europe, United States and Canada leaving a void in the diverse nature of the city.

The Anglo-Indian community played a huge role in making both Christmas and the New Year memorable. The product of intermarriage between a ‘native’ and a ‘gora’, the Anglos displayed the best of both cultures and character. They ran the Railway and the Police and ran it efficiently, both before and after Independence. I can still recall the sight of Eurasian sergeants emerging from the Civil Lines police station on Queens Road on their high powered motorbikes, their very sight instilling fear of traffic laws, in would be violators. These police officers lived in a block of flats facing the road that branched off towards the Zoo from Lawrence Road from what is now Plaza Chowk. Passersby could see these flats decorated with colored lights and beautifully adorned Christmas trees through the windows and on balconies.

The most popular ‘watering hole’ for Lahore’s Anglo community was the Burt Railway Institute. Dating back to the era immediately after the advent of trains in Lahore, this was a majestic sprawling building with one of the best ball room and billiard tables. Many Anglo-Indian families lived in the Railway Colony and the adjoining suburb of Garhi Shahu, which reflected a festive air as celebrations began.

As winter arrives, a happy change comes over me. My friends and family have now learnt to tolerate my passionate fondness for the cold season and some even appear to be infected by it. With childhood summers spent amidst pine trees and wooded trails around Murree, I and all my siblings have developed, what some of my family members term as ‘winter mania’. I love the season since it provides me with windows for indulging in exciting activities. I can light up the logs in my fireplace and watch the reflection of dancing flames on the walls, while gorging myself on roasted peanuts (with attendant after effects). Or more often than not, I just sit staring at the flames, as my ancestors may have done in prehistoric times, after ‘polishing off’ the results of a well conducted hunt.

Winter also stirs me to move outdoors and build a bonfire. If any of my readers have not experienced the excitement and thrill of sitting around a fire under the starry winter sky, roasting ‘chestnuts’, sausages or chunks of meat impaled on wooden sticks, they have missed much and should make amends, without any more delay.

Eating dinner before a fire place or ‘aatishdan’, while sitting on the carpet is an unforgettable childhood memory, made more profound by the ‘baraat’ (a term concocted by my late mother). Sometimes the carbon deposits at the back end of the fireplace chimney caught fire producing miniscule pinpoints of light that snaked across the black surface, as if we were watching a torch lit wedding procession of antiquity from a great height.

Winter for me has another and more personal advantage. The casual jackets that I wear, hide my growing paunch, which otherwise tends to produce a lot of undesirable criticism from my children. In addition, the multiple hideaway pockets help me to successfully evade frisking by my better half, when I hang up my outdoor wear in the closet.

At the end of it all, I have no hesitation in declaring that in spite of the frost, sleet and snow, this part of the year beats the rest of the seasons hands down. It makes me happy and benevolent, so much so that I pay no heed even, when my youngest granddaughter walks up to me and informs me that she has charred the wooden floor in my ‘man cave’, while trying to start a log fire.

 

The writer is a historian.