Wednesday, 24 December 2008


“If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” - Mother Teresa

It’s Christmas Eve and all should be at home with family and their loved ones enjoying all that the season has to offer: Peace, goodwill, happiness, contentment. Christmas brings out the best in us one would hope, but how often is it that our human nature bedeviled as it is with our pettiness and pathetic selfishness gets in the way of our humanity and the worst in us prevails? Charity coexists with cruelty, goodwill with hypocrisy, goodness with evil. How many households tonight hide some sadness and melancholy? How many people are tormented by their inner devils and how many cannot enjoy the simple pleasures of a quiet Christmas Eve at home?

The following poem was inspired by a scene I witnessed as an impressionable six-year-old staring through our balcony door one snowy day, around Christmas. It was my introduction to human cruelty and also to the meaning of charity, which was impressed upon me by my family. Fortunately, the scene I witnessed did not have as tragic an end as my poem does, as my mother intervened, but I wish its tragic ending was only poetic licence. There are many such gloomy endings being acted in various places around the world tonight and on many other a night.

Have a Merry Christmas, friends, and do as much good as you can without having to think twice about it.

White Christmas

White Christmas and the sparrows freeze
On the cathedral roof cross.
A girl in a ragged summer dress
With a voice blue with cold
Cries weakly outside the great church portal:
“Buy your candles, here please …”

Inside, the gold sparkles and the candles burn,
The incense scents the air
And choirs sing with voices heavenly:
“Gloria in excelsis, Deo…”
While bishops in embroidered copes
Read the gospels: “…et in terra pax!”

And the sparrow shakes with feathers ruffled
Roosting on the cross up high.
The sky black with not a star
(All of them shine inside the cathedral
This holiest of nights).
On earth snow cold as steel and a white Christmas.

Little hands tremble icy blue, and wide-open eyes stare
At the fat woman’s rich furs.
The diamonds on her fingers cut cold flesh
With their brilliant flame, while the tiny voice implores:
“Madam, please buy a candle
For our little Jesus due to be born tonight.”

The woman’s narrow eyes colder than snow,
But charity must be done tonight, and sharp-nailed hands
Extract from purse well-stuffed, a few coppers
Carefully counted so that the sum is right
To pay for a candle proferred hopefully
By a small girlish hand, outside the cathedral.

A snaky eye, alert, observes from inside the church
And a harsh voice commands all strident:
“How dare you, worthless urchin,
How come you choose this holy spot to sell unworthy candles?
Away, begone, there’s plenty a blessed candle
In the church for all the faithful to buy…”

With slow dragging steps in snow she goes away,
The candles such a heavy load on childish shoulders.
How will she tell him yet again,
The candles are not sold, even on this day?
Her tears, the only thing hot in her body
Roll down frigid cheeks and fall on snow to freeze.

A sparrow totters and falls from high up
To lie dead in front of the cathedral’s closed doors.
A girl child further down stumbles, falls
Under her load and gratefully expires, freezing in the snow
While dreaming of warm grates and a full belly.
White Christmas so picturesque, outside the cathedral…

Inside, the choir sings, the gold and silver sparkle,
Hundred of candles burn like stars. and incense smokes
The atmosphere redolent with a hundred perfumes.
The fat ladies are too warm under their furs
And the deacon smiles contentedly for
His candles are all sold and his alms box is full…

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