We finished out our time in Bombay during the holiday season. Bandra is one of the city’s two predominantly Catholic neighborhoods, so Devorah’s belief that we would go through an entire holiday season without hearing Christmas carols everywhere was mistaken. Plenty of houses were decorated with Christmas lights in displays similar to those you might see in the states, but there were no giant Santas and reindeer made out of lights. Instead, there were Christmas mangers in random places.
On Christmas morning, I was awoken at 7AM by giant loudspeakers blasting “Jingle Bells” outside from a courtyard close to our apartment. It’s quite strange to hear songs about snow when you can still stroll about outside in a t-shirt and flip flops. Most shops were closed and the streets were eerily quiet – it was like walking through the Jewish part of Crown Heights on a Saturday. Of course, quiet by Bombay’s standards is busy by New York’s.
Chanukah in Bombay was a lot smaller than we’re used to, but fun all the same. We went to two Chanukah festivities. The first was a party at our friend Rob’s apartment in our neighborhood. We got to light a real Chanukia and eat latkes, which the Indians called “Jewish Pakodas.”
The second Chanukah celebration we went to was in a synagogue in the suburb Thane. Thane is a very large neighborhood at the end of Bombay. The train station there is one of the largest and busiest in the city. When we got off the train, we went up the stairs in a crush of people the likes of which are not seen anywhere in the west.
When we finally arrived in the synagogue, it was packed beyond capacity. There were at least two hundred people there. Since the synagogue could only fit about one hundred, chairs were set up outside to accommodate the rest. We were the only non-Indians there. At one point a five year old Indian girl came up to us and timidly said “Shalom.” It turned out that her parents had moved to Israel and came back to visit for the holiday. After we returned her greeting, her shyness quickly disappeared. So excited to find someone new she could easily communicate with, she went off in Hebrew, telling us all about the intimate details of her family life – her parents’ fighting, her uncle’s drinking, etc. It was uncomfortably funny for us. When we told her we were not from Israel, she was baffled at how we could speak Hebrew.
Although the services were technically for Chanukah, it was more of a celebration for the synagogue’s 132nd anniversary. We found out later that these Jews (B’nei Israel) didn’t celebrate Chanukah traditionally because they separated from the rest of the Jewish people before the events of Chanukah happened.
New Years in Bombay once again showcased the city’s obsession with fireworks. Unlike Diwali, the crackers did not go off all night. It was relatively quiet until midnight, when all of the firecrackers appeared to go off at once. For a three minute period it sounded as though we were in a war zone. It was so loud you could barely shout over them and so bright it may as well have been daylight. By 12:05, the display had ended and for the next three hours we were serenaded in our apartment by people drunkenly singing along to bad 80s music. An interesting start to the New Year…