At 56 feet, the pine conifer has entered the record books as India’s tallest, fully decorated, natural growing Christmas Tree in Adarsh Nagar, a private society in Worli, south-central Mumbai.
“I have been nurturing it the for past 40 years. Earlier, my sister Twila used to help me out, but after her death in June 2005, I have been doing it,” said a proud Douglas Saldanha, the owner of the tree. The Saldanhas’ history is entwined with the huge tree since it became a part of the four-member family Henry Saldanha, wife Grace, their late daughter Twila and son Douglas. The family hails from Mangalore.
“We had a neighbour who was growing it in his verandah, but at five feet, it became too tall and unmanageable. He sold it to me for Rs 250. This was peanuts considering Christmas trees cost heavily in the market,” said Saldanha, showing the tree growing straight to the skies, with the lowest branches spreading out to around 10 feet.
A boy of barely 12 then, Saldanha with 14-year-old Twila planted it and the duo regularly watered it and watched it with joy as it grew healthy and strong. “Every Christmas, we would lavishly decorate it, starting at least a fortnight in advance, with friends and relatives occasionally joining in. We liberally used streamers, colourful shining balls and bells, big and small cherubic angels, tiny crosses, reindeers, snowmen and, of course, a beaming Santa Claus,” Saldanha said.
In 1991, Twila got married to an NRI, Jude Bellow, and went to settle in the US the Christmas tree was left with Douglas Saldanha, who continued the tradition without a break. Whenever the family visited her in the US or when she came down to her maternal home in Worli, Twila would enquire about her favourite Christmas tree, how it was growing, and whether it was being cared for properly. “In fact, it was her dying wish that I should decorate the Christmas tree so beautifully that she would be able to see and enjoy it from heaven,” Saldanha said.
Since then, Saldanha has spared no efforts or expense to ensure that Twila’s favourite Christmas tree is not only the best in Mumbai, but all over India. “As we watch it grow each year, we believe that Twila’s spirit resides in the Christmas tree. It exudes so much love and warmth to all those who see or touch it,” Saldanha said.