Ask any Catholic in Bombay how they start their Sunday and the answer is sure to be “by attending Mass”. This I how I remember it from the ‘olden days’…
Our Sundays started an an (un)godly hour when I was a kid – no sleep-ins and definitely no big breakfast; we had to abstain from food before Sunday mass.
First things first: we dressed in our Sunday best. Those were the days when Mum stitched my clothes: pretty pastel frocks with puff sleeves, ribbons and lace, frothy frills…
My brother Jason suffered in silence, tugging at his stiff shirt collar, while my dad slicked back his puff with Parachute coconut oil. We over-zealously powder-puffed our faces with Yardley talcum powder (“foreign” hence extra-special!) and buckled our formal shoes that Dad had polished with Cherry Blossom the night before. All that was left for him to do was to spritz on some Old Spice aftershave and we were good to go.
And how did we go to church? Glad you asked!
The four of us – dad, mum, my brother and I – all perched precariously on dad’s Yezdi motorbike. That feat itself required divine intervention!
With ten minutes to spare before the Entrance Hymn, my brother and I watched the regulars make their way to their regular spot. Our eyes followed as they first “crossed” themselves with Holy Water and then genuflected at their particular pew. Now this was the 11th commandment in action: ‘Thou shalt sit in the same seat every single Sunday.’ God forbid, a stranger unwittingly took their spot!
“Her Sunday is longer than her Monday,” I would half-giggle, half-whisper to my brother, while mum gave us the death-stare. If you’re saying, “Sunday, what…?”, it simply meant her petticoat was longer than her dress.
The older generation of church ladies (they always belonged to the Ladies’ Sodality) often covered their heads with lace-trimmed veils. I clearly remember my Nana Violet wearing her blue East Indian paan (veil) to church. With their money for the Sunday Collection tied in their hankies and tucked into their ample bosoms, they fingered their rosary beads. As for us, the high point was when Dad would hand Jason and me a couple of coins to drop into the red velvet bags during the Offertory.
While the congregation rose, sat and knelt as the Mass progressed, we tried to follow suit. Thank God it wasn’t in Latin like in mum and dad’s time! No fussing or fidgeting, no talking or teasing, and definitely no eating in the house of the Lord. The exception? If it were a ‘High Mass’, my brother and I were rewarded for our good behaviour with Ravalgaon hard-boiled sweets.
The readings always filled us with awe: stories about creation and compassion; parables and psalms of praise; about Jesus and His many miracles; about pestilent plagues and prodigal sons; about walking on water and making wine from water, about loss and love; about forgiveness and faith…
Then came the sermon. The priest preached from the pulpit – sometimes fire and brimstone, sometimes a life lesson laced with humour, sometimes a message that got lost after a time-stretching 22 minutes making the congregation surreptitiously glance at their wrist watches. The “out-standing Catholics“, so called because they chose to stand outside the church, were often side-tracked by the sideshows: crying babies, pretty faces, fainting spells…
But everyone joined in the Recessional Hymn with gusto. And after the congregation had dispersed, we badgered the church sacristan Robert for some unblessed host (we were too young to receive Holy Communion).
And once in a while, our prayers would be answered when mum and dad would say, “Let’s go to Hindu Hotel (a tiny Udipi cafe on Hill Road, now replaced with Balaji’s) for sheera and idlis.”
Amen to that!
Here’s a joke I heard on Ellen recently:
Q: Why is it okay to take a doughnut to church?
A: It’s because it’s hol(e)y!!
So tell me, does your family have a particular Sunday routine? How do you like to spend your Sundays? When do you dress up in your ‘Sunday best’ now, if ever?
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