The most exciting time of the year in Shillong is around Christmas. For months before December, there is a growing buzz that culminates in the flurry of activity around the 25th. Nearly throughout the year we (being outsiders) are asked by all and sundry if we will be in Shillong for Christmas and are exuberantly congratulated when we say we will be. And once December arrives, the whole town sort of changes gear. Beautiful decorations are put up in vantage points all over the city. Shops stay open a little later to allow for all the Christmas shopping. Offices run on skeleton staff as people take leave for the yearly house-cleaning and painting. And everywhere there are posters announcing concerts and other celebratory events.
In the hospital too, there is a change of gear. As Christmas nears, the number of patients gradually dwindles and the staff move into holiday mode. A badminton court is set up in the parking lot and every evening there are a surprisingly large number of people who brave the biting cold to put in serious practice for the tournament that comes up around Christmas. The staff recreation room is opened up and a carrom tournament begins with whole families showing up armed with refreshments and wood for the fire to cheer their favourites. And of course, there is the slew of musical activities.
Music is in the blood of the people of Meghalaya. Nowhere else have I heard singing as effortlessly beautiful as here. Nowhere else have I witnessed sundry people break into spontaneous four-part harmony at any opportunity. It appears that every single person is gifted with not only an intuitive ear for music but also a beautiful voice to sing with! The success of the Shillong Chamber Choir was a fitting tribute to the strong musical heritage of the state. And Christmas is the time when this heritage is put on display through a variety of activities throughout the state and also in the hospital. Starting from the 17th, there is a programme every evening till the 25th! And so, I find myself stretched really thin between work and the various practices! Not to mention the blog!!
The piece de resistance this year is the concert by the nursing school students on the 21st. Every time we have a programme in the hospital it is a given that the students will perform a special number. And every time they do perform it is to the amazement of all, at the rich harmony that is produced by the perfect blending of their voices. And for this concert, there are no less than 19 songs, many of them extremely difficult jazz and blues numbers. When I was told about the concert on the phone, I happily agreed to play, but now that I have heard the songs, I am wondering if that was such a good idea after all - each song will take me a day or two to master and I obviously don't have sufficient days!! And the last thing I want is to spoil the top-notch singing with some second-rate accompaniment!! So if my blog posts get infrequent again, you will know what I am doing!!
But today as I was listening to the wonderful singing of the students on one of them most difficult numbers, I suddenly realised that in all the struggle of trying to play the right chords in the right sequence, I had no idea what the song was even about! And I was convicted of the common mistake that so many of us make during this season. The mistake of letting the activities crowd out the meaning of the season. The mistake of allowing the fun, excitement and performances to overshadow the reason for all of it. The mistake that Herod and most of the people of Israel made that first Christmas. The mistake of missing the birth of Jesus Christ into this world. And going on as if nothing had changed.
The advent of Jesus into this world was 2000 years ago. Will there be an advent of the Saviour into my life and yours this Christmas season.... Into the life of the students.... The life of the hospital.... Or will this Christmas pass by like so many others in the past - with no difference to us or our way of life........