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   If I was a religious man... (December 25, 1991)

If I was a religious man, or a superstitious person, I would have read some significance at last night's unseasonal rain, almost at the hour when Christ was bron. Being neither, I have dismissed it as freak weather, owing either to low pressure or high pressure.

And it is a good thing that, unlike a few years back, most of the midnight masses are now helf indoors and nto in the open. Because the rains did come down at some strength and would have ruined some of the solemn occasions.

I remember the Wodehouse Cathedral's Xmas masses were always helf at the nearby Cooperage football ground. And in those days the stadiumwas not floodlit yet. So the masses were held in the glow of candlights, coloured bulbs strung in trees on the outskirts of the stadium and the soft glow of the stars above. They made a perfect setting, with the church choir singing (minus Father Joe Pereira, whose voice was still to be heard), the organ playing, the dramatic voice of Cardinal Gracias delivering the sermon, the Christians in their best clothes, many of them dressed to proceed from the mass to a post mid-night party or dance, occupying the front rows.

I used to be there as a reporter. And for years and years I covered the mid-nights mass at the Cooperage, delivering the message of the Pope, through the cardinal and the Times Of India to the nation.

I used to cover the mid-night mass because the Times, in those days, used to be packed with Christians (D'Souza, Sequeira Brothers, Rodrigues, Noronha two Fernandeses but not brothers, Colaco, Mendes, St. Claire) and they would be off on that day.

Actually, I did not mind, it was an easy assignment. Cardinal Gracias, though God's own man (literally and professionally), was also a very practical person and fully aware of the power of the press. On the morning of Christmas Eve, he would personally come to the Times's office and present an advance copy of his speech to the news-editor, Mr. Venkatraman. Then, after he had left, Mr. Venkatraman would call me and handover the copy to me. I would prepare my report from it.

In the night, I would go to the Cooperage only to check that it was delivered and add a few bits of colour to the copy. Such as: The mass conducted in the open-air cathedral of God, under a canopy of stars, with the Star of Bethlehem shining like a steeple in heaven. In those days, I used to write a lot of tripe. But that was many Christamases away.

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