<br>Extending a month beyond Christmas-New Year, the famed Christmas tree has been lit up in full glory for the first time on Republic Day by its owners, Mumbai-based Douglas Saldanha, 59 and his mother Grace Saldanha, 87, in their tiny garden in Worli, as they fondly remembered Douglas’ deceased sister Twila.
The tree was jointly grown from childhood by Douglas, when he was 12, and Twila aged 14, and the siblings lovingly tended it for years, watching it grow and branch out majestically.
In 1991, Twila married an NRI Jude Bellow and settled in Houston, USA, where she trained and worked as a nurse, leaving her kid brother as the ‘Guardian Angel’ for her favourite Christmas Tree.
But tragedy struck in 2002 when Twila was detected with cancer, but she seemed to have miraculously recovered till a severe relapse two years later and she succumbed in June 2005.
“Before closing her eyes forever, she made me promise to decorate our Christmas tree so much that she could see it from Heaven. I have been keeping that promise for the last 16 years and 2021 is even more significant. We lit it up for Republic Day as a tribute to Twila and all other health care workers like her worldwide battling the coronavirus pandemic,” Douglas Saldanha told IANS.
Last weekend, before the 72nd Republic Day, the tree was magnificently lit up with the familiar shades of the tricolour, surprising and amazing people in the neighbourhood and as word spread, more started trooping in from different parts of Mumbai to gape and marvel at its towering beauty.
A pine conifer, the tree has already notched entry into several record books like Limca Book of Records as India’s tallest, fully-decorated and natural growing phenomenon.
During Christmas, it resembles a divine creation with over 10,000 twinkling multi-couloured fairy lights, cherubic angels and fairies, tiny reindeer and grinning snowmen, balls and bells, streamers and festoons, small crosses and a beaming paunchy Santa Claus waiving from the ‘cotton snow’ for a month into the New Year annually.
It stands imposingly beside the Saldanha home in Adarsh Nagar, Worli and has become a landmark by itself with thousands coming to click selfies when it goes up in full glory, with the lowest branches jutting out more than 13 feet on all sides.
Douglas Saldanha said he and Twila tended to it for nearly 35 years and after her demise, he continued the tradition since the past 16 years alone, with help from his late father Henry Saldahna and his mother Grace.
“We had a neighbour nearly five decades ago who grew this tree on his verandah. But, at five feet, it became unmanageable for him, so he sold it to us for a paltry Rs 250. This was peanuts considering Christmas trees were very costly in the markets even in the 1970s,” Saldanha recalled with a smile.
The overjoyed kids Douglas and Twila carefully replanted it in their garden, regularly watered and watched over it as it grew strong, healthy and straight up.
“Whenever we visited Twila in the US, or she came to India, her first concern was for the Christmas tree and she would ask us everything about it and she enjoyed every tiny titbit…,” Douglas said.
“At it continues to grow, we feel that our Twila’s spirit resides in the Christmas Tree. It exudes so much love and warmth for all those who see or touch it. Absolute strangers walk in and after admiring it, walk out as old friends,” said Grace Saldanha, whose husband Henry passed away in March 2017.
Douglas Saldanha, a financial consultant with an MNC, spends over Rs 1,00,000 each year to decorate the Christmas tree for his sister and his dad, who said before dying: “Celebrate my life, don’t mourn for me and Twila and I shall see our beautiful Christmas tree from the heavens.”
Feeling elated by the response, Douglas, a bachelor, now plans to extend the Christmas-New Year celebrations till Republic Day and may consider if the tree can be decorated even during Independence Day or Diwali.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)