Christmas Carol

No, this has nothing to do with the ‘Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. This is the second part of my adventures at CET men’s hostel during the period between 1986 and 1989.

Every year, during the Xmas season, many groups from our college and from the churches in and around Trivandrum will go to the various houses singing Christmas carols, as in other parts of the world. The main objective of all these groups is to make money. The money got from spending a cold night singing and traveling usually went for the personal use of the individuals except in the case of the bands sponsored by the churches.

Before the Xmas vacation of 1987, we also planned to go out for Christmas carol. Our aim was to make money for our ‘spiritual’ programs. Since it was the month end everybody was dry—‘spiritually’ and financially, we needed to make some quick bucks for our Xmas party and thought that a Christmas carol was a pretty good idea. Only little investment was needed in terms of time, effort and capital.

The other groups usually spend a lot of time in practicing the songs, getting the dress for Santaclaus and uniform for the singers, getting keyboards, guitars and other musical instruments. The bands from rich churches had fancy uniforms and traveled in vans and cars with an array of musical instruments. The churches will inform the parish members the date and time of arrival of the band so that they can be prepared to receive the singers, give them refreshments and most importantly money.

We neither had the time nor the aptitude for such elaborate preparations. But everybody agreed that we need to learn a few songs. One cannot sing “Twinkle, twinkle…” on such an occasion. There were no Mohammad Rafi’s or Kishore Kumar’s in our group. When we conducted an audition, we found that all of us were equally bad in the singing department and our collective effort was horrifying. We realized that we couldn’t attempt any fancy songs and decided on the ‘little drummer boy.’

Jose had a cassette of Xmas songs and in that we had our chosen song sung by none other than Bing Crosby and David Bowie. So we practiced for a few hours with the tape running in the background.

Come they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see
Pa rum pum pum pum

Our finest gifts we bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

And so on it went. After a few hours of practice we found out that all of us could do the ‘Pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum’ part reasonably well. So we picked two of our very best singers and asked them to sing the lines and agreed that all would join when the ‘Pa rum pum pum’ part came. We also decided to take a portable tape recorder and play the song in the background.

Then came the task of choosing Santaclaus, which was decided easily and unanimously. Reji was chosen as he was custom-made to play Santa as he required no additional stuffing except for the hat and the dress. I was the runner up. Since stitching the Santa’s clothes was beyond our budget, we cut a round hole in the middle of a red bed sheet and made a poncho. Thus we had a Mexican Santa. With some red paint on the face and a false beard our Santa was ready.

Somebody went to the hostel garden and cut a small pine branch for our star. We made the Xmas star and put the CET name and logo. We also put a small torch inside it so that there was a faint glow from the star. We used the pen torch, as we could switch it off while we were traveling thus conserving power.

All of us were in good spirits as each had one for the road, one for the cold and yet another for the song; but nobody was visibly drunk. Bibin had somehow managed to get a priest’s robe and put that on to give our group some credibility. He also agreed that he will conduct the music. We had bought some chocolates so Santa can distribute them. With that all our preparations were complete.

We were around 18 in number, with some of our day-scholar friends joining the fun. Our plan was to use our bikes for transportation. So the Xmas father and the priest were on a Bullet (Royal Enfield 350) with Santa riding the bike and the priest holding the false beard from falling off. Our first stop was the woman’s hostel. There we spent 5 – 10 minutes, distributed the sweets, collected the money and continued. We then tried the posh houses from our college to the city. At each house we would stop our bikes, will light the torch, start the tape recorder and will start singing. But from college to Pongumoodu we had little luck. The collection was very bad, most people give only 10s and 20s; from one house we got a 50.

At Pongumoodu junction there was (and still is) a large residential colony. We thought we will try our luck there. In the first house we went, the lights were on and there were people outside the house. They welcomed us warmly (our first experience), they asked us to come inside the house (which we politely declined), they brought us cakes, cookies and coffee (which we gracefully accepted) and they even asked us whether we want power for our nonexistent keyboards (which we very politely declined).

Once the pleasantries were over, we started singing. Since the hosts were so gracious we thought we should spend some time there. But the problem was that we knew only one song. So we sung the same song again. Except for some minor hiccups, singing from our part was pretty OK. But the tape recorder decided to play spoilsport. Every time we finished our ‘pa rum pum pum’, to the utter astonishment of our hosts the rich baritone voice of David Bowie will sing ‘…rum pum pum.’ We couldn’t stop the tape recorder as we didn’t know the full song and could not sing without it. It was fun watching a kaleidoscope of expressions playing across the faces of our hosts. But after we stopped singing and wished them happy Xmas and said goodnight, the head of the family gave a small envelope. We opened the envelope after getting out of the house and to our utter disbelief it contained 200 rupees.

We repeated the same pathetic yet valiant performance at most of the houses in that colony. Everywhere we were received very warmly and cordially with cakes, snacks and coffee and when we departed we were given envelopes that contained money from 100 to 500 rupees. With renewed vigor we attacked all the houses that had their lights on and collected a very decent amount. While we were coming out of the colony, we saw a van bearing a church band’s name loaded with musical instruments and singers in flamboyant outfits going inside. So we had another brainwave. If this is a colony frequented by the Christmas carol groups, why don’t we go inside once again… But the idea was discarded, as we only knew one song and with that we would get caught.

We had told some of our friends who were staying with their family to expect us. Since we got enough money from one colony itself, we then visited only the houses where we had promised that we would come and their neighbors if they were awakened by our singing.

Finally around 1.30 AM, after completing our rounds of the Trivandrum city we stopped at the Medical College junction for something to eat and drink. There we counted the money and to our sheer delight we found we had more than Rs. 4000 (before deducting the petrol costs) for our ‘spiritual’ enlightenment, thanks to the very generous people of Pongumoodu. The return on investment was much higher than our Manna enterprise considering we only spent a few hours for practice and one night of singing and traveling.

“…and man will live for evermore, because of Christmas Day…”

P.S.: The next day some of our friends who were in the van we saw when we were coming out of the Pongumoodu colony seemed very dull and depressed. When asked, they told us that they were sent by the church to the colony to sing, eat, drink and collect the money. But at every house they were supposed to go, somebody had gone before them and collected all the goodies that were meant for them…

4 Comments

  1. silverine Said,

    August 14, 2005 @ 12:36 pm

    This reminded me of my carol singing days in school. The motive was the same as yours. In fact it is the motive of most carol groups here in Bangalore nowadays ie to make some pocket money.This has led to the spawning of many groups who come and badger every house with a star. Which is very irritating.Now the churches have formed their official groups and inform us in advance to their arrival.

    Your account was so funny. To think that with one carol you managed to make so much money!!!!:)) Must have been one hell of a jolly Christmas that year.

  2. Alexis Leon Said,

    August 14, 2005 @ 7:32 pm

    Thanks for the comments. Yes we did have a wonderful Xmas party that year.

  3. Jithu Said,

    August 16, 2005 @ 1:34 am

    that was cool! ;-) college life is fun!

  4. sacs Said,

    December 3, 2005 @ 11:46 am

    I can visualize the ’spiritually’ challenged singing “Ta rum rum rum ta” standing in front of Arashnmoodu Toddy shop after the tiring carol rounds!

    Great Blog, beautifully captured.

    Fellow CETian ‘95

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