It is New Year’s Eve. The city is out in its finest, busy celebrating welcoming the coming year with the usual staples – fine drinks, fine food and overpriced entertainment.
In a quiet society made up of dilapidated buildings, a small group of people dressed in their Sunday best – suits, ties and dresses – are bringing in the New Year with prayer. The church is actually an open air chapel, with a small roof and an altar decorated with a simple cross.
The Mass over, it is time for merriment. The society’s basketball court has been transformed into a dance hall, with lights, Christmas decorations, a refreshment counter, seating area and pulsating music. There’s laughter and merriment all around. The celebrations go on till the early hours.
Everard Nagar may be a sleepy, tiny community but they certainly know how to celebrate.
I moved to Everard a few years back because the rents here suited my journalist-poor budget. Besides, I found the idea of a not-too-conservative Catholic colony where the neighbours don’t poke their noses into your affairs, quite refreshing.
Couples living in, late night parties, friends coming over and staying the night or for a few weeks, bachelors or people with pets: neighbours and landlords rarely raise an objection. As long as we kept the place clean, didn’t litter, cleaned our cars/scooters parked inside, no one interfered with our daily life.
On the rare afternoons I was home or early on a Sunday, I could smell the chicken curry and pork vindaloo cooking in people’s homes, making me wish I knew the neighbours well enough to invite myself over.
Despite the proximity to the highway, inside, the society is quiet and tends to have a soporific effect on people who are there. I’ve had a lot of friends move here so an evening walk usually brings me face to face with a known person. And I’ve discovered I have other connections, either through my village or through friends in the city, with the other residents.
Any wonder then that Everard reminds me of Goa?
There are a lot of old residents here, as is witnessed by the increasing number of death announcements on the society’s blackboard. They are religious to a fault. There is Mass every Saturday evening and on the first Friday of the month. And if you don’t attend it, like me, you will be asked why. At Christmas, the homemade stars and cribs come out and talented cooks and bakers will advertise their wares, making it easy to find a nice, boozy Christmas cake.
Everard prays a lot, but then they also like to party. Ask the older residents or any Catholic friend who has grown up in the city and their eyes will mist over as they talk about the legendary Everard Balls. The black tie events continue to this day – mind you, you won’t get entry unless you are wearing a suit (men) or an evening gown or dress (ladies). The balls usually happen on Christmas/ New Year and Easter, depending on permission. There’s a live band and lots of good food and drinks.
There are get-togethers at every opportunity – Housie nights, quiz nights, karaoke competitions, rangoli-making competitions. The notices for these are pasted on the ground floor of our buildings, inviting us to come and join the festivities.
It is these things that helped me look past the leakage and flooding issues, the crumbling walls, the mosquitoes and frequent power cuts for the three years I lived there. My Sion house became a home, to me and many of my friends. Even though I don’t live there anymore, I still visit because many friends have moved there. And everytime I step in, it feels like I’ve come home.
Aside: History – Everard was built in the 1970s by Fr Sylvester Dias of Good Counsel Church (Sion church). The society has 12 buildings, with 230 apartments and two entrances. There are reports that the place will finally go in for redevelopment next year. It is sorely needed but something tells me that Everad 2.0 might lack the charm of its current version.
Read about the evolution of the Everard ball, by Shraddha Uchil here: Nostalgia and a Waltz