City Faith – Christmas Traditions, Nizamuddin West
Bhajans and rotis from Jharkhand.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
A day before Bada Din, a day also known as Christmas, The Delhi Walla met a migrant from Jharkhand, eastern India, who left her land to make a living in Delhi. A third generation Catholic Christian, Anima Dungdung lives in the servants’ quarter of a bungalow in Nizamuddin West.
Ms Dungdung was making plans for Christmas. No, she was not baking a cake on Christmas eve. Don’t doubt her skills. After working for 30 years in expat households, her apple pies are as light and buttery as the one they make in New England, but she said, “Christmas cake is a angrez (British) thing. No one knows how to make a cake in my village near Ranchi.”
Ms Dungdung’s husband, employed as a cook in the same bungalow, swears by her irsa roti, the traditional Christmas-time dish of deep fried dumplings made of rice-flour. Her two children have a weakness for dubni roti, the equivalent of Christmas cake in Jharkhand.
But Ms Dungdung, who cooks delicious pasta and steaks, has never made dubni for her employers. “They never asked for it,” she said.
Delhi has a large population of Christians from places like Chhota Nagpur, a plateau that covers a large expanse of states like Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa and Chhattisgarh. A significant number of people from this region are employed as domestic helps in the city’s posh localities. For them, Christmas is not about carols, but bhajans (Hindu-style devotional songs); not cakes but irsa roti; not grape wines, but rice liquor; not midnight mass, but meesa puja.
In the meesa puja, the bhajans are sung in languages like Khariya, Sadhsi and Munda.
“Christmas is more exciting in the village,” Ms Dungdung said. “In Delhi we return home after the midnight mass but there we dance till morning.”
The fervour reaches its climax during the Christmas day when the village’s young people gather together, collect food from each household and go to the riverside to have a picnic.
“In the village, we make music with dholak, nagadas and manda,” said Gilbert, Ms Dungdung’s 18-year-old son who is learning a computer programming language and is also an altar boy in the church. “But here we dance to Christmas songs played by decks-and-DJ.” Ms Dungdung added, “It’s not even half the fun.”
The Dungdungs have a little discord with their Hindu neighbour, a domestic in the same bungalow, who often objects to their eating habits, saying, “We eat anything and everything.” This has lead to squabbles that led Mr Kapur, the bungalow’s sahib, to scold them for fighting like “slum people.”
On Christmas eve, at the church of Our Lady of Help in Okhla, south Delhi, Ms Dungdung plans to “pray God to give me strength to forgive my neighbour.”