Memories of December


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Category: Reflections Date: 29 Dec 02

December is a month of tying up loose ends. The mind and heart are soggy with unfinished business, and unless the tangles are sorted into neat bundles, you know you are going to shuffle into a New Year that will be stale before it starts.


December thaws us out. Just when you think it’s all about things, and things and more things someone changes your mind. Like this security guard who told me about having to go to pick up his 13-year-old daughter from school, and then casually added, “I took her from the hospital you know, by chance, when I was visiting someone. She was abandoned, and looked so defenceless, and the hospital said they couldn’t keep her any longer. I didn’t have the heart to leave her, so I just got the legal aspects sorted out and took her home. She’s been with me ever since.”


I look at him, astonished. Here was a man in a relatively low-paying job, a nondescript man, with no particular swagger or dash, gold chain or bank account to distinguish him. A man you wouldn’t look at twice, a man no longer young, with four children of his own, simply taking a newborn home because he “didn’t have the heart to leave her there”.


And there was no sense of self-importance there. No exaggerated piety or self-righteousness. Just simple human goodness, extraordinary because it was so natural, so unself-conscious.


December is a month of perspectives. There was the secretary who was determined to have a good time at her office dinner. Her colleagues looked subdued, sad even, as December is also the month of unfulfilled longings. But she wouldn’t stop trying to inject her bubbling self into everyone else.

“What’s wrong with you?” she harangued her glum colleagues “let’s have a good time.”

“We’ve got December blues”, I replied, implying that even if she wasn’t weighed down by life’s blows, it sometimes got a bit too heavy for the rest of us.


“This year,” she replied, “two of my cousins died — young bright boys, smarter than any I’ve known, within one week in two separate accidents. My uncle literally went out of his mind, and my aunt couldn’t speak for days. I think of them, of my beloved father who died two years back.”


In fact, she was saying “Grieve when you have to, but if happiness is within your reach, even for a few hours, in the form of familiar faces over good food and drink, grab the moment.”  Because of her, we did, and the night took on a momentum of such celebration, warmth, and exuberance, that it left us glowing for days.

December can be the cruelest month. Just opposite the Kapok Hotel on a pavement, an elderly, overweight man was doubled up, just lying there as car after car went past.

“I’m suffering with my heart”, he said, and I could see the tablets under his tongue.

“I just need to get to the bank for my pension.” He told me between deep, shaky intakes of breath, sweating profusely, he was a widower, he lived alone, he was childless, his extended family “wasn’t around.”


The worst of this story was he had no expectation of anyone stopping to help. He was prepared to die on the pavement. That lack of expectation turned the festive season into a macabre farce, and I saw the monsters in us all, lapping up goodies with such absorption and gusto that we don’t notice the dying and the alone amongst us.


December is a magnificent dawn before day breaks. A woman friend diagnosed with cancer, who had undergone a year of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, says, “I don’t know where I found the strength, but I have never felt better. I have never felt more hope, or been surrounded with more love. I know I’m going to make it through.”

And somehow, you just know she’s going to make it.


December forces us to open up and drain out our neglected, soggy selves, clearing pathways to patch up quarrels, call up neglected friends to summon up the courage that may have failed us when we were clogged up.


December is the magnifying glass of human kindness, cruelty and hope. December drives us finally to be resolute, not to stay still and stale, but towards movement, to face the New Year, unafraid.


So I, too, will take the plunge and share with you, a poem written for friends, hoping you’ll excuse the lack of technique meter and rhyme.


I wish you

the marvel of the unknown

the hush of beauty

quiet happiness


a strong and healthy body


I wish you

your own bright minds eye


moving sunlight, moonlight

the many flickering shapes

of swaying branches, sand dunes

breaking waves, mountains casting

miles of cool shadow

fields of sugarcane or deep red


all of life really

all its wonder


I wish you

more faith in whatever's

kept you going

when you were emptied out


I wish you

a happy Christmas


toasty warmth with friends

or tinkling ice

with spirits 


and in the New year

your own lovely self


shed of the husk

of past sorrows



But above all

I wish you

the one thing

without which

this struggling little poem

will remain incomplete

I wish you (and send you my quota too)



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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur