Shankha International
Shankha International in Bengali
Summer Edition

The Big Day

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
(San Francisco)
I am a Hindu, brought up mostly in India. But the Christmas season is special to me in a surprising way. 

Calcutta Christmases were different. Poinsettia trees and colored lights on Chowringhee Street. Afternoon skies over the Maidan Park filled with moon-shaped kites. The nuns at our school teaching us to sing Away in a Manger for the annual Christmas Carol concert, rapping our knuckles if we didn't learn the words right. The Anglo-Indian store windows decorated with Christmas scenes, miniature sleighs set down in clumps of cottonwool, which was all I knew of snow until I came to America. We even had a different word for Christmas in Bengali: Baradin, which literally meant "Big Day." 

My favorite part was when my grandfather and I would make a special trip to Firpo's Bakery for red and green Christmas cookies and fruitcake studded with the sweetest cherries I've ever tasted. Usually Firpo's was too expensive for our slim budget, but Christmas morning they gave a discount to any children who came in. Grandpa and I made full use of it. It was during one of these trips that I learned something that has stayed with me all my life. 

I was eight that year and very curious. Almost all my sentences started with "why." Coming back on the tram, mouth crammed with sugar cookies, I asked Grandpa why Christmas was called Baradin. Even I could see it was one of the shortest days of the year. Grandpa could have said something ordinary, like it was a big day of celebration. But this is what he told me instead. 

He said that Christmas, the birth day of a very special soul, was a special day, a day to grow big. Not physically, not even in the way of fame and riches, but in the truest way, in our hearts. 
"How do you grow big in your heart, Grandpa?" 
"You do it by thinking of other people, shona, by doing something that will make them happy. Something you don't have to do. By putting their needs before yours at least for this one day. It's a good start for trying to live a big life." 

My grandfather died many years back, but every year at Christmas I think of these words and try to live a big life. It's not always easy. Fortunately there are many opportunities around me. And as I remember my grandfather and those Christmas mornings he gave for a little girl's pleasure, I know that often a big life starts with doing small things. 

I now live in California with a wonderful husband and two little boys. My oldest, Anand, is five, and just as curious as I was. He's always asking questions to which I don't have answers. One day soon he's going to ask me about Baradin, what the word really means. 

I'll take him on my lap, Grandpa, as you did with me so many years ago. And thanks to you, I'll know what to say.

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