The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Whitefield was built to accommodate the early Anglo-Indian settlers who weren't Church of England. Like most churches in India, it remains extremely well-attended.
Midnight Mass here used to be a quaint social occasion. You wore your Christmas Best. You wished everyone in the courtyard after mass. You congratulated the pastor before you left. If you were sixteen you ensured you got a pew with a view so you could check out the cute visitors that almost every family had at Christmas. You sang the carols, recited the responses, made eye contact during the sermon and gathered at the club for wine and cake afterwards. That would inevitably change as the congregation increased.
Today a procession of priests conducts the mass in three languages. There are monitors outside, three choirs with a full orchestra and a sound system fit for rock concerts – this is wonderful. Those who attend still follow the original pattern of behaviour, except for the gathering at the club. That is wonderful too.
What is not is that the church is being razed to build a new glass-fronted complex for communal religious observance. It also means the uprooting of much of the church's venerable mango orchard – from which my brother, my neighbour and I once stole bagfuls of raw mangoes simply because it was closely guarded. We did this by scaling a vertical granite wall and crawling in tall grass, a crack operation orchestrated by the intrepid neigbour, who would become my sister-in-law seventeen years later.
The church compound includes a little hill – called, of course, Calgary Hill – on which someone was once inspired to install the Stages of the Cross. The trees that grew thickly on it have been thinned a bit because the local romances tended to be conducted in the undergrowth here. I have a vision of the church wardens running up and down the hill with bird dogs, flushing out the courting couples before every service. The view from up here is still pleasant. From a distance, the world looks blue and green, as long as you don't look west, where, quite appropriately, the first of the tech parks gleams. (The compass on my keychain insists it's technically northwest, no matter how much I shake it.)
This is the old grotto at the base of the hill. It is as nice as it always was, but needs a security guard now, which makes it difficult to just sit aimlessly on one of the benches enjoying the sun.
The new grotto, I think, is the resurrection scene, but it could equally be one of the more obscure passages in the bible, especially as the afternoon clouds come rolling dramatically in. But the last few of the indigenous folk still walk to every service, in all weathers. They were here before the peacocks were introduced into the church compound. They're still here after the peacocks have unaccountably disappeared. In response to my good afternoon, she said with the detached sympathy of the very old:, "You must find it greatly changed my girl", and walked on. The rain held off until she was inside the building.
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