Fairy lights and balloons deck up the manger depicting the Nativity scene at the century-old St Mary’s Cathedral in Ranchi on Tuesday
The Bible says that when Jesus touched them, they were made clean. But here, in the 21st century, though the tin-roofed room that is their girja (church) was decorated with balloons and coloured streamers, they had no midnight mass, no special prayer and no Christmas gift.
Instead, Nikodin Tirkey, a beggar affected with leprosy, did not go to work. He bought chicken for his children.
“It is bara din. So I thought, why not have a bara khana?” Nikodin, a resident of Nirmala Kusth Colony under Ranchi’s oldest flyover, near the railway station, said.
The colony, a cluster of some 50 families — each staying in a one-room, one-verandah unit — has two Christian households. It overlooks the southern bank of the once-picturesque Harmu rivulet, a Subernarekha tributary.
“We are just two families here. So we attended a special service this morning at Roman Catholic Church, Doranda. A small congregation may be arranged when some people come here on Thursday,” he said.
Many residents have to be on a regular medical regimen to keep leprosy or Hansen’s disease under control. But some of them have deformities. Unable to earn a living otherwise, they beg.
Nikodin, who used to be a tailor’s assistant when he was healthy, said he took medicines regularly. “I sometimes go to Radharani Hospital on Itki Road or get medicines when the missionaries come to our colony,” he said.
It hurts his self-esteem to say he is now a beggar. When asked how he managed his livelihood, he replied obliquely: “Ab hum bhi nikalte hain (I also go out),”
Benjamin Tirkey, the head of the only other Christian family, still manages to work as a mason, Nikodin said.
Nikodin’s disease has not crippled his children’s education. “I haven’t studied beyond Class V. But all my five children study at boarding school. My oldest daughter studies in Class X in Ramgarh, others study in Dhanbad district,” says the proud father.
They study in free government or missionary residential schools. “We don’t have to spend money on their education and upkeep,” he said.
He is obviously happy that his children are all home for Christmas. “I didn’t go out today. We are having chicken for lunch,” he said.
On life in the colony, Nikodin said they were on friendly terms with neighbours.
“Most of our non-Christian neighbours celebrate Manasa Puja,” he smiled. Snake goddess Manasa is worshipped on both sides of the Bengal-Jharkhand border in monsoon.
Then, this most marginalised of men said something that even world leaders fail to understand.
“We also chip in. And why not. After all, they are our neighbours and God is one and the same, no matter how you worship Him,” said Nikodin. Jesus would have approved.