…My thoughts turn to the Lenten Season and how it unfolded in Bandra, Bombay, when I was a child; in particular, the triduum of Maundy Thursday-Good Friday- Holy Saturday/Easter Sunday.
The grand solemnity, the religiosity and adherence to ritual that ran through these liturgical services were so different to the relaxed way things are done here in Australia. Over there, everything was done on a grand scale – from the thousands of parishioners attending these services held on school grounds, to the soprano-alto-tenor-bass parts of the choir singing in perfect pitch, and even to the priests’ fire and brimstone sermons…
My dad’s daily morning routine consisted of attending mass and buying the milk-bread-newspapers. But on Maundy Thursday, and ONLY on Maundy Thursday, the hot-hot gutlis would make way for hot cross buns for breakfast.
In the evening, all the Catholics in the neighbourhood would congregate at St. Andrew’s school grounds for the Maundy Thursday service. The high point was when the priest would wash the feet of 12 male parishioners (I always wondered if anyone had stinky toe-jam feet) in memorial of what Jesus did at the Last Supper.
At the school ground’s exit, a tableau of the Last Supper would be set up; life-sized statues of Jesus at table with his 12 apostles. Us kids would look for Judas clutching his moneybag with 20 pieces of silver.
After Mass, hawkers sold gotwal filled into paper cones made from old textbooks. I didn’t even like the bitter-butter taste of these beans, but made mum buy them just for the perverse pleasure of peeling off the tops which looked like dirty fingernails!
The next day, Good Friday, started with us going to church for the Stations of the Cross to reflect on Jesus’ suffering on His way to Calvary. One Way of the Cross for children and another for adults. With each genuflection: “We adore Thee O Christ and we bless Thee.” Response: “Because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.” another drama unfolded before our eyes – people giving up their seats (some, quite vigorously!) to the old “aunties” since the church was always overflowing. A few fainting spells were thrown in for good measure… Well, it was the height of our Indian summer!
Good Friday was a day of fasting and abstinence it. While the adults fasted all day, the kids were allowed to eat a simple lunch: perhaps, dal and rice. But definitely no snacking or treats. So of course you’d feel deep, deep pangs of hunger – starvation even! For one, you were at home because it was a public holiday; and two, the parents had banned all forms of entertainment – no TV, no music, (no internet back then) which only amplified the rumble-grumble in your tummy!
At the Good Friday service, the sombre mood over the Lord’s crucifixion and death was evident from the congregation dressed in austere, 'mourning' shades of blacks, whites, greys, pastel blues and mauves. Even the altar would be bereft of all accoutrements. The Gospel, called “The Passion” on this day, would be chanted, as would the “Reproaches” during the veneration of the Cross. Then everyone would rush home to break their fast. Egg curry never tasted so good!
Holy Saturday was usually a flurry of activity in every Catholic home – scrubbing-dusting-polishing the house clean, changing the curtains, sofa covers and linen... The lingering scent of almond essence wafted through the neighbourhood as marzipan was fashioned into Easter eggs, bonnets, chicks and bunnies and decorated with beautiful icing flowers. Chocolate eggs were a rarity; you probably got them from abroad or a fancy shop.
The triduum reached its zenith at the mid-night Easter Vigil. The mass started out in total darkness; the children watched in awe as the priest lit the Pascal candle and then, one by one, from person to person until everyone’s candle was lit, dispelling the darkness and spreading the light of Christ’s resurrection.
Easter Sunday usually meant a family feast at Nana’s house. While the kids raced around in our starchy new clothes hunting (not without some bickering and brawling) for Easter eggs, the mummies, grandmas and aunties put on a spread which usually starred at least one pork dish – sorpotel or suckling or vindaloo, plus the must-have potato chops, chicken curry and fugiyas that were robbed by the uncles as chakna (snacks) for their drinks. Yum!
What childhood memories do you have of Easter? Post a comment below: