Wow! Now, India's tallest Christmas Tree dazzles even on Diwali
Mumbai, Nov 4: This year, amid all the glow and glitter of Diwali lights in Mumbai, one unusual landmark stands out - and tall - in Worli.
For the first time, India's tallest natural growing, 55-year-old and 70-feet-high Christmas Tree has been lit up for Diwali.
As the tree was lit up in full colour on Wednesday evening, hundreds trooped out to gaze at its awesome beauty, gently swaying in the early-winter breeze from the Arabian Sea nearby.
Its proud owners, Douglas Saldanha, 60 and his mother Grace Saldanha, 88, watched with pride the 50,000-plus lights that cast a warm glow on the gigantic Christmas Tree.
With moist eyes, Douglas remembered how, as a 12-year old kid along with his elder sister Twila, 14, had bought the tree from a neighbour, lovingly tended it for years, and along with their parents Henry and Grace, watched it grow and branch out majestically for over five decades.
It was in 1991 when Twila married an NRI Jude Bellow and settled in Houston, USA, where she trained and worked as a nurse, leaving her kid brother Douglas to act as the 'Guardian Angel' for her favourite Christmas Tree.
Suddenly, 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 passing, she made me promise to decorate our beloved Christmas Tree so beautifully that she could view it from Heaven. I have kept that promise for the past 16 years as a tribute to Twila," Douglas told IANS, as the specially-created multi-colour signboard winked its "Happy Diwali" instead of the usual "Merry Christmas".
In fact, this is the third 'avatar' of the tree in the past one year after its traditional decorations spanning the Christmas 2020-New Year 2021 season, the lightings were extended to celebrate India's Republic Day - 2021, and now Diwali too.
"We lit up for R-Day as our tribute to Twila and millions of health care workers like her and world over, battling the horrors of the coronavirus pandemic, and beam as a 'shining beacon of hope for humanity' facing the crisis courageously," explained Douglas.
Now, the mother-son duo say they will not dismantle the Diwali lighting, but continue till Christmas with a few changes, and hopefully even till the next R-Day in 2022 and probably the 75th Independence Day anniversary in August.
A pine conifer, the Worli tree has already entered several record books like Limca Book of Records as India's tallest, fully-decorated and natural growing phenomenon.
In its maiden Diwali decor, the tree has thousands of tiny lamps (diyas), small paper stars and lanterns, streamers and festoons, twinkling multi-coloured fairy lights, all adding to the festive season's warmth pervading all around.
The tree stands imposingly beside the Saldanha home in Adarsh Nagar, and thousands jostle to click selfies whenever it goes up in full glory, with the lowest branches jutting out more than 13 feet on all sides.
Douglas said he and Twila tended to it for nearly 35 years but after her demise, he continued the tradition since 2005, with help from his mother Grace and his late father Henry Saldanha, who passed away in March 2017.
"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 expensive even in the 1970s," Saldanha recalled with a smile.
The overjoyed siblings carefully replanted it in their garden, regularly watered and watched over it as the little plant grew strong, healthy and straight up.
Whenever the family visited Twila in the US, or she flew down to India, her first concern was for her beloved Christmas tree and she would ask them everything about it, enjoying every titbit.
"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... This time, some people even offered us boxes of Diwali sweets," smiled Douglas.
A financial consultant with an MNC, Douglas spends over Rs 1,00,000 each year to decorate the 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 Heaven."
Now, he wants some sponsors to chip in with the huge expenditure and the revenues would go to educate street kids and other social activities.