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Sydney, Australia
My musings and meanderings on childhood - mine juxtaposed with that of my kids'. Everyday incidents and images from our life in Sydney turn my thoughts towards my own wonder years growing up in Bandra, Bombay, India.

19 March 2008

As Easter Approaches...

…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…

Maundy Thursday

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!

Good Friday

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

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

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:


  1. Traditions do not die but live on ---so this Easter Sunday evening, the 'Khandan " meets for dinner at Enid's place, & hopefully it will be a memorial occassion,----for Clive is down--- with none saying that we , or my son has to go to work tomorrow, & puts the dampner, on the , party--wish the whole lot were here--Happy Easter Al & Bres, not forgetting Caitland---Trevor R

  2. That definitely brought back some fond memories of Easter Celebrations in Bombay!
    Christmas & Easter is about family & I'm glad we have family to celebrate it with here in Canada. Arnold's brother Noel & his family will come over to our house & instead of the usual East Indian fare we are going to try Greek cuisine this time around.
    Happy Easter Alison, Breslyn & Caitlyn.
    From the three of us, Arnold, Melanie & Sheley

  3. helloooo there friend in far off australiaaaaaaaa

    I loved ur blog ya and just remembered how well u write and y u were a fav of ur teacher Eunis (is the spelling wrong?...anyway since she doesn’t write a column for us anymore…I can get away with it right)
    actually what u say about the celebrations in Bombay vs how they r done in Australia ..I kinda remembered how Indian festivals were so imp when I was abroad and how the Indian families used to get together to celebrate them and since this was one way of making us connect to our culture would tell us about mythological tales etc or the significance of each festival....

    now that I live in India, but away from family it’s so different, we celebrate festivals the way we want to unlike my mom who would do the puja the way it’s meant to be done...sometimes I do yearn for those times...where my mom would take charge of the situation and guide us thru the various rituals. while the rituals may not be imp in itself the mere rendering of those brought a sense of continuum, which this living in a self created exile lacks

    u know while the youth was all about rebellion and moving away from what mom and dad did, as my son is growing I wanna give him those same experiences I have gone thru as a child…funny how life seems to turn a full circle!!!

    Wish you all a very Happy Easter!

    Bobby, Arjun and Vandy

  4. Immediately after receiving your blog on Nana I sat and continued with the thought process. But it was just one of those things that were never to be. I don't know what became of it, and Trevor tried desperately, but failed. So here are a few more thoughts.

    'They are not gone who live in the hearts of those who loved them" which I think is a fitting tribute to Nan, I wish I'd written earlier, but it was just one thing after another and the number of church services didn't help. Alla, here's something you might wish to share with the family.Did you know that Nana's mother, Lucy Cordeiro, who originally was Lucy Pereira, lost her mother at childbirth. Her father, who firmly resisted all attempts to marry again, brought her up single handedly till she was l9. Then panic set in. He knew that at any time in the future she would marry and leave him to fend for himself. So, he did the next best thing. He married a young girl, 23 years old and kind of made up for lost time.He had five children in quick succession, four girls and one brilliant son, and died soon after. His poor widow was left with the onerous task of bringing them up alone. Do you remember Mary Joan Fernandes and Ceila Williams, who were teachers in the convent? Their mother was Nana's half sister.
    To continue, Lucy Pereira married John Cordeiro who became a Guard on the GIP Railway (GIP stands for Great Indian Peninsula Railway) and was transferred to Bhusawal. where he brought up four girls (Angela, Jessie, Irene and Evelyn, and one son, Bertram.)Angela married Joseph Valladares, also a Guard on the railway, Jessie married Philip Veigas, Irene marrried Luke Athiade, Nana married Wenzil Pereira, and Bertie married Nellie Pereira. John Cordeiro's father was a doctor with the troops in the Boer War and he (john) was born in Aden. There's a medal he got and I think its with either Sydney or Derrick Cordeiro, which other members of the family would love to lay hands on. John was an outdoor man, he loved to hunt, fish and make his own buck shot which he did by melting old tin boxes and putting the molten metal thru a strainer!! Grandpapa also loved to fish so Lucy took along her knitting, since she was not allowed to talk... it would frighten away the fish. Here's another piece of info... once when he was on a shikari with a friend, his a friend saw a hynea and ran away with Grandpapa's gun. Poor Papa was left to face the fury of the hungry hynea, but overpowered the animal by stuffing his throat with stones.Papa came home badly mauled but he never lost his love of shooting and it was part and parcel of his life till Bertie took over.
    Alla, I've left out the Pereira side of the family, but I will fill you in later with whatever I remember. Thank you for your work on the blog, keep it up.


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