Bhai Lal was our electrician in Varanasi. He lived down near the Ganges River. His wife had died years before and he parented half a dozen hooligans on his own. Bhai Lal was an entrepreneur. He had crazy ideas and they worked! One year he created a boat entirely out of recycled water bottles. He would row into the middle of the river to demonstrate how clever his little boat was. His electrical skills enabled him to add lights to his boat. It glowed red and blue and green down into the water. We’d shake our heads and laugh, which was exactly the reaction Bhai Lal wanted!
Bhai Lal was an electrical genius. If our electricity ever went out, or if there was a mysterious brown out that affected just our house, or if half our house had lights but the other half didn’t we’d go up to the south-eastern corner of our roof and call down for Bhai Lal. If Bhai Lal wasn’t there we’d groan and ask whoever was down in the darkness to give him a message to come as soon as he could. If Bhai Lal was there he’d shout right back up at us that he was coming. He’d come and chatter away as he twisted and tweaked wires, fiddled with fuses, taping and splicing light back into our rooms, current back into our outlets.
Bhai Lal believed in a good sense of humour, he believed in working hard, he believed in the Hindu pantheon and he believed that as long as he stood on a piece of cloth he would not be electrocuted—in fact he’d take off his rubber flip-flops and stand on a measly rag and claim he was now safe!
Christmas in 2005 was a particularly intense holiday. Together with friends we had written a Christmas pageant and I was the director. The play would be performed on our property adjacent to our home. Lowell, the prophet Simeon in our production, had to have an emergency appendectomy on the 22nd of December. He was released from the hospital on the 23rd. We had our last dress rehearsal on the morning of the 24th. I then commissioned the cast to go home and celebrate Christmas. We would meet again on Christmas Day for the performance. The still weakened Simeon-Lowell and I walked back across the yard to our home determined to rest and celebrate the Advent of Hope. Lowell suggested we throw an impromptu party. Let’s invite all those of our friends who didn’t have any other place to be. Let’s celebrate Christmas. That was the plan.
Lowell received a very strange visitor shortly thereafter, just before lunch. Rajesh was a man we had known for years. He had dabbled in the demonic, he battled bipolar, he was a displaced soul with a need to incite and provoke. In the guise of visiting Lowell who was still recovering from surgery, Rajesh showed up. He went straight to the roof, where we often entertained guests in the winter–the river expansively displayed, the sunlight bathing the day in a comforting glow, and he settled in. From there Rajesh proceeded to shout horrendous insults. He blasphemed. He cussed. He set up several Hindu idols and proclaimed their deity over our house and over the city. He threatened our children. He promised to return on Christmas Day to destroy the pageant. He jumped over the wall and stood precariously close to the edge of our roof and the 30 foot drop to the river. Lowell didn’t know if he’d jump or not. And Rajesh wouldn’t leave. We called his wife. We called friends for advice. We called a friend with connections at the psychiatric hospital. Rajesh got louder and louder, his insults more horrifying, his threats more unnerving as the day went on. Lunch time and supper time came and went– still he stayed.
Our friends began to trickle in for the party. We no longer really wanted a party but we wanted desperately to reclaim Christmas and we needed the comfort of friends. I made hot cocoa. We pulled out snacks and tasty treats. We added space in our party for Rajesh’s wife and his two bewildered, pained children.
Suddenly, and without cause, our electricity surged. We were supposed to have 220 volts but it rarely came in any higher than 170. In the middle of that moment the current surged well over 300 volts. Everything in the house not connected to a voltage stabilizer blew! We were submerged in complete darkness. It was the sympathetic element reinforcing the state of our spirits. I felt so trapped. We lit the candles and because our invertor still was working Lowell was able to push play on our Christmas movie. None of us wanted to venture to the roof to summon Bhai Lal. That could wait. For now the party would continue. Lowell pushed play and we all tried to push mute on the sounds still coming off the roof. Alas, it wasn’t the sounds of “eight tiny raindeer”…
Eventually, about three-fourths of the way through our movie, nine and a half hours after he arrived on our roof, Rajesh came down. Lowell and I and Rajesh’s family all accompanied him to the gate. We wished them a Merry Christmas and it was over.
And then we called for Bhai Lal. He wasn’t home. We went to bed despondent in the dark.
Christmas day, after a special family morning of gifts and brunch and remembering the birth of Christ, we began in earnest to prepare for the evening pageant. Lowell rested and reviewed his lines. I supervised the tents going up, the generators set up, the lights being strung, the strings of flowers being hung. The caterers organized the food: the samosas were fried, the tomatoes and onions cut up for the chutney, the tamarind and the yogurt sauces ready for the pani puri. The sound people came in. Speakers were hung precariously from poles. Systems were tested with countless, “hello…. Hello…. Hello”s.
And after Mary had given birth to a doll-Jesus and the shepherds had rushed to see, and knocked over the lantern in the stable. After the wisemen traipsed through the crowd of nearly three hundred guests, one of them tripping over and stumbling after the star, and they discovered the Christ child. And after Simeon, the prophet who was missing his appendix, proclaimed loudly, boldly who the Christ was and why he was born… after all that— Bhai Lal showed up!
The play was over and it had been a huge success! While the music played on and the food was served I went back to change out of my costume and into my Christmas sari. I was so relieved that Rajesh hadn’t shown up! I was thrilled at how many people had come and how well the play had gone off! I was just putting on my bangles when Bhai Lal banged on the door. He shouted through the screen door that he was there! The timing wasn’t great but I was ready for the electrical problems of the previous night to be fixed. But Bhai Lal hadn’t come to fix our lights. He was full of joy and good news.
“Didi!! You won’t believe what I just heard on the radio! Did you know that God sent his son, the only one he had, at Christmas, as a baby? Did you know didi? Did you know that son was Jesus and he was born so that he could grow up and then he would die on the cross? Did you know this didi? I came to tell you! I came as soon as I heard! Jesus would die to save us from our sin? That’s how much God loves us! Did you know this didi?”
I stood staring at him through the screen door, the sounds of the music across the yard dimly playing in the background, a flashlight in my bangle bedecked hand, tears in my eyes. Yes, I nodded, I had heard that. Bhai Lal was radiant. His joy was enormous. Bhai Lal, the electrician was full of light. He had come as soon as he heard. He kicked off his shoes, and stood there, holiness all around him. We both stood, barefooted and aware of the sacred place. The dismal darkness, the spiritual claustrophobia, the entrapped spirit of Christmas eve replaced with Light and Space and Grace. I set down my flashlight. Christ was born!
Shout that from the roof tops!
Thank you Robynn Bliss for this Christmas Eve Read!