No one ever said finding a Christmas tree in Bombay would be easy. But that’s exactly what we set out to do this past weekend.
It was hot and muggy again on Saturday, probably around 85 to 90 degrees, when we hopped in the car around 11am. Our driver had tipped us off to a nursery near the racetrack in Worli, so we headed there first. We drove up to the “Exhibition cum Sale” (alas, you can’t have a sale in Bombay without an exhibition, and vice versa) hoping to see six and seven foot firs waiting to be carted away. Instead, we found only a beautiful assortment of tropical plants and some droopy poinsettias. We made note of the poinsettias and set our sights to Crawford Market.
The night before, an older friend of ours was telling Anthony about the Christmas party she has every year. She was going on and on about her beautiful tree, so Anthony asked her where she got it. “China,” she replied.
Meanwhile over beers, an out-of-town acquaintance and I were listening in to bits and pieces of the conversation. When he heard “China,” he said to me, “oh?it must be a fake one.” Then I said, quite positively, “No no?she doesn’t have a fake tree. She imports an evergreen from China each year. What do you think Floridians do when it’s Christmastime? They get their trees from Canada!” It seemed like a terribly logical argument to me.
Turns out I was wrong. We’d have to go artificial this year.
It was about 1pm and boiling when we finally got down to Crawford Market. We got out of the car, and were almost immediately set upon by men hawking tablecloths, placemats, vinyl hampers, and rainbow-colored feather dusters. Then, beyond the crowds, I could see a few stalls with an array of Christmas balls, green and red streamers, and twinkling lights. I’ve never been south of the equator or in a tropical place for the Christmas holidays, so the entire experience seemed completely misplaced. It’s hard to get in the holiday spirit when you are wilting in the heat.
Of course, given the smallish Christian community (i.e., captive audience) and holiday crunch, prices for trees and all the accoutrements were not cheap. The first stand we went to had the saddest trees you have ever seen: three to four feet and not even filled out. Even Charlie Brown would have sighed. Across the way a bit, we saw a decent-looking tree of about six feet with a dusting of fake snow. If we’re going to have to go artificial, might as well go all out. But when we inquired about the price, the vendor unflinchingly said, “3000 Rupees.” Yikes. I don’t even know if Rockefeller Center pays much more than $80 for its two-story Christmas tree.
We were looking obviously disheartened, when a man approached us about his store. He pointed down the road and up. And, there, on the first floor (second floor in America) balcony was a stunning, artificial tree looking for a home. It was like the “Annunciation,” only instead of the archangel, it was an artificial seven-footer from Dubai.
But, it wasn’t time to sing “Hallelujah.” The mysterious salesman ushered us into the decrepit building and we walked up a flight of stairs. I recall seeing three signs painted on the walls: two signs were for doctors located in the same building (a plastic surgeon and an ob-gyn), the other sign said, “Do Not Spit” in both English and Hindi.
We got to the store and it was full of schlocky Christmas stuff, from tinsel to “cherry lights” (lights with fake holly leaves attached) to candles, ornaments, and plastic nativity scenes. The store also had the trees. Indian ones were cheapest, starting at about 500 Rupees. The imported ones from Dubai were pricier.
Artificial trees from a (mostly) tropical country or a desert country: so hard to decide! The big ones were adequate, but in all the trees were a real sorry lot. We had one of the salesmen show us how the trees were set up. He went to grab an Indian model and it separated in two. Then, we had him unpack one of the big Dubai trees. It consisted of green-fringed metal rods that snapped into place, then folded down to form branches. Again, the trees weren’t even filled out. You’d think with all the Bollywood movies set in Switzerland that someone would know what a healthy pine or spruce looked like.
Given our disappointment with the selection, we bargained hard. Well, not that hard. We were willing to pay 600 Rs total for an Indian five-footer tree and some lights. The guy wouldn’t budge less than 850. So, we walked. No tree. No lights.
We tried one more place after that: another nursery on Napean Sea Road. They had some short, fir-like needle trees, but nothing with branches that could hold an ornament. Guess we’ll have to make do with poinsettias and crotons this year.