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New Year’s Day 1912 and its Eve

R V Smith | New Delhi |

New Year's Day 1912 fell on a Monday, which meant a two-day holiday for many since the previous day was a Sunday. It was bitingly cold, with Christmas trees installed in St James' Church, Baptist Church, Chandni Chowk, Trinity Church, Turkman Gate, St Stephen's Church, Fatehpuri, and in St Mary's Church, Mor Sarai, opposite Old Delhi Station, still on display. Midnight services were held at St James' Church in Kashmere Gate and at St Mary's. There were vespes in other churches.
 But at the Delhi Club, housed in Ludlow Castle, New Year's evening was marked by a ballroom dance. The next day St Mary's, Baptist Church, Holy Trinity Church and St Stephen's Church held morning services, with the Rev A S Walnutt, vicar of the last-named church, preaching the sermon. At St Mary's Father Hillary and Fr Colamba officiated in the presence of the Bishop of Simla (now Shimla).
 At St James' there was a New Year's lunch with gifts being disturbed to the poor and children. The same was done at St  Stephen's, with the inhabitants of Fatehpuri flocking to the compound. At St Mary's, the crib, depicting the manger in which Christ was born, was the main attraction. At the Baptist Church, Hakim Ajmal Khan, the famous Unnani medicine expert, was among the visitors, along with some members of Lala Chunna Mal's family from Katra Neel. At the Holy Trinity Church, Nawab Sorayah Jah and Nawab Dojana were the VIPs. Also present were the children of the butchers of Turkman Gate. They had been told that Baradin was called Kishmish (a corruption of Christmas) and they had come with the great expectation that the padre would distribute kishmish (raisins) to them on New Year's Day, at least. But what they got surprised them no end because cake pieces were distributed, with only a few kishmish in each. The cakes were baked at Kashmere Gate and Fatehpuri.
 Following the excitement of the Coronation Durbar, after which the King went for shikar (hunt) near Nepal and the Queen paid a visit to the Taj in Agra, New Year's Eve of 1912 also turned out to be a memorable occasion for both Christians and non-Christian.
 The Freemasons' Lodge in Qudsia Garden held a lunch, after which food was distributed to the poor. At the nearby Delhi Club, after lunch, most young people, including soldiers from the Red Fort, went for a picnic to the Ridge, which provided a good opportunity to courting couples to enjoy blissful moments in shady nooks and corners. By the time the evening shadows had lengthened, the picnikers and others started leaving for their homes. But a sizable number of people, both Indian and foreign, bought sweets and other condiments from Ghante Wala's shop in Chandni Chowk. Liquor was available at the MacDonald shop opposite the Fountain and Old Tom and red wine were in great demand. The merrymakers could be heard till late in the night and a few sighs too as young men and women departed hoping to meet their beloveds on New Year's day.
 While New Year's Eve at Bombay House was a grand affair, the one at Old Pataudi House was no less memorable. The house must have originally belonged to the Nawab but he left it when the new one was built in South Delhi. After that it was given on rent to Christian families, who had earlier lived at Turkman Gate but moved into it as they found its location more suitable for attending Sunday service at St James' Church in Kashmere Gate. Some, however, continued to go to the Turkman Gate Holy Trinity Church, built in 1904, after the site chosen near Ajmere Gate had to be abandoned as digging revealed that there was an underground reservoir there of Mughal days, which supplied water to the Shahji lake that once covered what is now the Ramlila ground.
 Christmas here was a big celebration but New Year's Eve was no less spectacular. Naney Joseph had a large family with sons, grandsons and great-grandsons ~ all of whom were married and, together with their wives and kids, filled up many rooms in Pataudi House. The old man was 90 then but still active enough to take charge on festive occasions. His ancestors had been Tyagi Brahmins from Mewat, who had migrated to Delhi in mid-19th century and faced a tough time during the Revolt of 1857, as they were Christian converts. They were attacked by those, who considered them stooges of the British. Some perished but the rest managed to survive by declaring their allegiance to the Mughal emperor. Their dhoti-kurta dress and "dehati" lingo lent credibility to their claim that they had changed their religion but not customs, celebrating Diwali and Holi too, besides Christmas and the New Year.
 When the British retook Delhi and Bahadur Shah Zafar was sent into exile in Rangoon, the non-Christians repaid their debt of gratitude to the men, who had spared their lives by proclaiming their innocence. After that the Tyagi Christians began to be regarded as friends, particularly by the residents of Turkman Gate. In the changed circumstances, they were greatly sought-after by those seeking favours from the new dispensation because of the Christian link.
 On New Year's Eve, the community congregated to bring the sun down with singing and dancing. There was typical rural "naach-gana" and also some ballroom dances learnt by the girls from English lady teachers. According to the late Rehmat Masih, it reminded him of New Year's Eve of 1947, which became a glamorous event as it was the first time that it was being celebrated after Independence.
 Refugees from Punjab and Sindh did not quite understand what all the gaiety was about as they were not familiar with such celebrations but those were times when even old women danced at Pataudi House, which was gaily illuminated with diyas and bunting on 31 December. Andrew and his brother Philip, who were children then, used to talk about the post-Azadi Naya Saal. Bannu chachha, who had finished off half a bottle, decided that after the young people had enjoyed themselves, no woman would cook khana at home and stuff bought from the Jama Masjid dhabas could be eaten.
 The pulao-zarda arrived, along with tandoori rotis, korma and kababs. Some ate to their heart's content while others were still on "liquid diet". Their wives and mothers, following the old custom of eating after the males, passed the time singing to the beat of the dholak and the tunes of the harmonium. Perpetua Bua, Kali Mumani and Ganno Bhabhi clapped as they were too old to sing because of cracked voices, but Alloo Bua and Sanno Ba's wife added to the fun by showing off their dance thumkas in imitation of the Bais of Chawri Bazar.
 Then William Sahib, line operator in a CP newspaper, who had had one too many, took hold of the dholak and beckoning the others, staged a qawwali until he swooned away midway and Keti Ba, taking off his turban, crowed like a cock to make the others realise that it was past midnight and the New Year had begun. Everybody then sang in unison, "Naya saal phir se aya hai, mubarak ho, mubarak ho", and the assembly broke up to sleep till dawn, when it was time to go to church but before that Chhinga Bhaiyya kissed his new bride and made her blush.