On New Year's Day

A score and two years ago, on new year's eve it was that I relinquished all hopes of continued bachelor hood and found myself proposing to my better half. And behind this momentous moment that makes the bravest of the brave jelly-kneed, for me there hangs a tale. A tale that takes me back to the romantic little town that I grew up in, memories of which come flooding in year after year on new year's eve.

In every town, life revolves around its prominent landmarks -- the main street, the city centre or the recreation park. For Mangalore, the beautiful South-Indian coastal town that suffered the pangs of my early days, all activity was around Hampankatta, or the Maidan. That is, if one were left with any time of one's own, away from St. Aloysius' -- my alma mater for the first twelve formative years -- where, frankly, more activities abounded.

Activities were aplenty, from the crack of dawn when you went for mass at the famed chapel of St. Aloysius -- whose roof and walls were adorned a hundred years ago by an Italian Jesuit painter with graphic scenes and episodes from the Bible -- to late evening, when dusk was falling and birds were returning to their nests against a backdrop of a glorious crimson sky with hues and colours changing by the minute, as the rays of the setting sun -- that golden red glowing ball -- kept dancing on the clouds, reflected from the waves and ripples from the waters of the sea. That's when we left our playfields, worn and weary, after a game of hockey, football or basket ball. There were also other games, the choice was yours; games after school, were a must.

The tower atop the century plus edifice of the St. Aloysius' building commanded the best view all around. To the west, of the Arabian sea. And to the east, one could see upto the hill-line of the western-ghats on a clear day. But very few had access to this tower. All else had to make do with the excellent view from the Light-House hill, which view, during my childhood, included a myriad of twinkling lights from the ships anchored off-shore, and a green velvet of swaying tree tops that carpeted the stretch from the hill to the surf of the roaring waters.

The light house itself stood within a park with a terraced garden on the hill side facing the sea, between the properties of the Lobo-Prabhus and my aunt Winne's 'Summer Delight' on one side, and the boundaries of the St. Aloysius' campus, on the other. Across the road from 'Summer Delight' and the park, just where the road starts to dip on its decent down to Hampankatta, is the Ladies' Club frequented by the wives of the elite "Who's Who" among the Mangalorean Catholics -- then the centre for all activities. Among them was the annual New Year's Eve Ball that the ladies organised, and all in the community looked forward to.

To this place, yours truly had returned in 1971, after an initial bout of institutional police training, on my first holiday back to hometown. And had got roped in to play Santa Claus at the Ball. The fertile Mangalorean brains had thought up a new one. To give Santa a royal send off on new year's eve, while burning out the traditional old man of straw and crackers, and welcoming in the new born babe of the New Year's eve. The carrot they dangled before me to make me accept the role was the promise of a dance with the girl of my choice, Santa's choice. Santa obliged -- extracted his pound of flesh and got the girl of his choice. Literally.

For he got swept off his own feet during the dance, lost his heart to his chosen one, to propose to her then and there. To eventually unite in matrimony some moons later, with a wedding reception at the very same Ladies' Club across that Light House in Mangalore. Its beacon of romance still burns bright I see, going by the invitations we get year after year, to attend wedding receptions during the festive season at this romantic rendezvous point.

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Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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